Overwatch Was a Bright Spot in a Dim Year

2016 is coming to a close and with that comes game of the year discussions. Recently the Game Awards kicked off awards season, gifting several of the year’s best games the coveted silver statue. It was a reminder that this year was a pretty good one for games – and probably not much else.

Notably, Blizzard’s online shooter and cultural juggernaut Overwatch won Game of the Year at last week’s awards ceremony. It will no doubt go on to win many more awards by the end of the year.  And with good reason. Whether or not it was the best game of the year, it was one of the most important games of the year. Games can be escapist fantasies, but they can also be reminders of what our world could be and should be.

The first of many GOTY awards for Overwatch. Photo: Kotaku
The first of many GOTY awards for Overwatch. Photo: Kotaku

In a year filled with violence, anger, and death, Overwatch was a reminder that positivity, diversity, and community are powerful forces too.

Come Together

Overwatch is a multiplayer game by design. There’s an element of teamwork inherently baked into its DNA. But Blizzard’s shooter is much more about effective communication and playing for the team than most online shooters.

The game doesn’t always reward players who go for the most kills. Healers and strategists are just as important on any team. Commendations at the end of each match positively reinforce certain players’ achievements in areas like “most healing done” or “most damage blocked” (along with “most kills”). And Blizzard’s choice to let players upvote other players’ achievements was a great way to foster community and positivity.

We're important too! Photo: Kotaku
We’re important too! Photo: Kotaku

Overwatch is one of the few online-only games in recent memory where complete strangers will actually go on the mic in order to work together. In fact Blizzard is now testing a feature that lets players who may not know each other but meet in Overwatch to party up and continue playing together. It’s just another way that Blizzard is fostering a community by letting players come together.

Heroes

Blizzard’s dedication to positivity and community bleeds into the world of Overwatch itself. “This game and the world that we’re building has a message. It’s a message about heroism. It’s a message about diversity. It’s a message about a bright and positive and hopeful future,” said Ray Gresko, VP and Production Director at Blizzard, when accepting the Game of the Year award.

Overwatch has a truly global, commendably diverse cast of characters and bright vision of the future. That alone makes it stand out from the mostly monochrome shooters of today.

Heroes of all shapes and sizes. Photo: Youtube
Heroes of all shapes and sizes. Photo: Youtube

In Overwatch, heroes from England, Brazil, India, and Russia (of all races and genders) come together to fight for a common goal. It’s an acknowledgement of our global community, which in 2016 became even more fractured. Overwatch’s utopian vision of the future may be too simple for some people. But it’s a symbol of what we should be fighting for. It’s an acknowledgement that heroes come from everywhere.

Create Your Adventure

Overwatch didn’t only succeed because of its fantastic gameplay or hope-filled vision of the future. The game itself is light on straightforward narrative, even if it often hints at lore.

But it was the little snatches of lore and the well-designed characters that has fed the community for months. The way that players connected to characters like Tracer and Winston (and even Hanzo) was remarkable. Cosplay and fan art exploded out of the minds of fans and into convention halls and forums.

Cosplayers gonna cosplay. Photo: Kotaku
Cosplayers gonna cosplay. Photo: Kotaku

Overwatch became a platform for fans to express themselves through art or even just kind words. It wasn’t just a game, it was a way of thinking: create, play, and encourage others to do the same.

Thank You, Overwatch

If Overwatch had been released in any other year it would’ve no doubt been just as successful. But 2016 was a monumentally shitty year. It’s hard to believe that any other year deserved a game like Overwatch half as much as 2016.

So thank you, Blizzard.

Thank you for making a game that was above all else fun. Thank you for  your message of positivity, diversity, and hope. And thank you for fostering a community that believes in that message.

 

 

 

 

Cody Mello-Klein
Cody Mello-Klein is a writer, gamer, part-time baller, and full-time shot caller from Boston. He's a sucker for a good story and is still waiting for another Cormac McCarthy novel. He has worked as a narrative designer and has an interest in the ways games can tell unique, emotional, and provocative stories. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer for occasionally witty remarks.

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