As the game Overwatch has climbed in popularity, the component that made it appeal to so many players could now become its downfall.
When video game developer Blizzard Entertainment released Overwatch, the game gained instant popularity. This is believed to be due to its reworking of the popular first-person shooter genre. While the game is in first person, it offers a wide array of weapons and skills, some of which require minimal aim. This opened Overwatch up to a previously untapped plethora of gamers. People who were uncomfortable or intimidated by games that require gaming skills could start playing Overwatch and quickly find a character they enjoy and get fulfilment from the game.
Most first-person shooter games are based upon war, with players choosing their play-style by focusing on which weapons they wish to use. The top priority in a first-person shooter is to maximise damage.This is best achieved by proper aiming of the gun. One of the characters in Overwatch is Mercy, a healer. Mercy can use her flight suit to fly to players in need and heal them with her staff. Though she is armed, she cannot fight and heal her teammates at the same time. Because of this, her pistol gets little use. Mercy is a prime example of Blizzard’s attempt to make a more inclusive first-person shooter game. Blizzard are trying to show that not everything has to revolve around a gun or how well players can aim.
Every character in Overwatch has an Ultimate. An Ultimate is a powerful, game-changing ability that is unique to the character. When Mercy was originally released, her Ultimate was the ability to bring back dead teammates at the location of their death. If clustered closely enough together, Mercy could resurrect all five of her teammates. This would drastically change the momentum of a fight.
Because of her immensely powerful Ultimate, plus the fact that she was relatively easy for anyone to play, antagonism towards Mercy grew far and wide. She was labeled a “no skill” character by fans. Players have been known to use the in-game voice and text chat to criticise Mercy players, and to accuse them of having poor gaming skills.
Characters can be disliked by fans of Overwatch for many reasons. What makes Mercy different is that, instead of attacking the character, fans are attacking the people who choose to play Mercy. The term Mercy main, meaning a person who plays Mercy more than any other character, has become an offensive label. It is often said with disdain in game chat, used to silence Mercy players who have an opinion on the match in progress. The game has seen a downward spiral, where the hatred of Mercy has become normal and even accepted among the Overwatch community.
A quick Google search for “I hate Mercy mains” results in several thousand links to related websites. As well as this, there are quotes from professional players who openly despise her. The internet has become an accepted environment for Mercy-hate. This hate-fuelled behaviour has led to Mercy players feeling bullied in the Overwatch fandom.
Bullying and harassment are sadly rather common occurrences in the gaming world. This is particularly true of games where players are pitted against each in a battle of skills. Anger towards the opposing player, an unfair game mechanic, or simply being a sore loser have led to a toxic gaming environment. One wrong move can make you a target of harassment. The fact that online games are generally anonymous and have weak reporting systems have not helped this issue.
Gaming has previously been a male-dominated past-time. The rise of female video game players has also led to a rise in reports of harassment and sexism in video games. These reports culminated in the controversy known as Gamergate. Gamergate is one of the most telling examples of how women are perceived and treated within the gaming community. The general consensus amongst many fans of Overwatch is that the majority of Mercy mains are female players. One has to wonder if this perception has contributed to the hatred and abuse that Mercy players experience.
As well as being female, Mercy’s character background and skills are heavily female-coded. This means that her traits, such as gentleness, healing abilities, purity and goodness, are things we traditionally associate with women. Such traits are generally not present in combat-based video games. Mercy originates from Switzerland, a country known for its neutrality, which adds another layer to her non-participative identity. There are other female characters in Overwatch, but none of them have such a low skill set or the associated passivity of Mercy. Mercy seems to draw all the negative attention, most likely because of her traditionally female traits. Is the fact that Mercy receives the most harassment telling of the rampant sexism in the gaming community?
Blizzard’s lack of response towards the issue of Mercy-hate goes shows how far the community still needs to go to address it. Blizzard offers online forums as a way for players to communicate with developers about changes and ideas to Overwatch. Many Mercy players have taken to the forums to express their dislike for the mistreatment both of themselves and the character. They had hoped to use the forums as platform to express their opinions and thoughts on Mercy to developers. Blizzard subsequently consolidated any posts regarding Mercy into one megathread.
They shut down all posts on the subject that were appearing elsewhere on the forum. Instead, people are referred to the megathread. This means that any commentary regarding Mercy gets lost within pages and pages of content, with no clear order. The thread became so large that Blizzard had to make a continuation megathread to handle the flow of posts. Consolidating every post about a single character into one thread means hanging to take the good with the bad. Among well written commentary there are vast amounts of spam, jokes, and harassment, once again towards Mercy and her players.
With no effort made by the forum administrators to sort through posts and filter out inappropriate content, the megathread can feel like a silencing tactic. Especially when Blizzard has only officially replied to the thread once.
When Blizzard made changes to how Mercy could be played, many Mercy mains voiced their outcry that she had been “nerfed to the ground”, meaning that she was now so unhelpful in battle that many no longer want to play her. Those who had earlier voiced their displeasure at Mercy were rejoicing. This updated Mercy is the one that can be played today.
When Mercy players say that they feel bullied and unheard, it is not difficult to believe them. Blizzard has made no official comment regarding the treatment of Mercy players. Does their silence condone it?
Many of the women who play Overwatch prefer to remain anonymous. This includes experienced gamers who have high skill levels. They do not use the voice chat function in matches as they wish to keep their gender a secret. They do this to avoid potential harassment. The Overwatch League, a professional e-sports league for Overwatch, only has one female player signed to its roster, and that only happened after the league was criticised for its lack of professional female players.
Whether this antagonism towards Mercy is sexist, healer-hate, all of the above, or none, if Blizzard does not take action soon it risks losing a large amount of players. These players joined Overwatch on the very belief that anyone can play their game. They are slowly being pushed out by those who believe the opposite.
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