I did my best to enjoy Overwatch, Blizzard’s colorful and frantic 6v6 multiplayer shooter. I tried several different heroes, got to be not terrible with a couple of them, and played on and off for an entire weekend before deciding it simply wasn’t for me. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying all the memes, jokes, pictures and videos the Overwatch community continues to churn out, though. I learned just enough during my time with it to get why this Olly Moss depiction of Mei is funny. The first ten seconds of this D.Va video just destroy me. And then there’s the gift that is the @ReaperNames Twitter account. I love all of it.
There are moments in gaming that become cultural touchstones, when appreciation of games goes beyond everyone just playing the big new release at the same time. Where the stars align and the wind is right, a game transcends its nature as an entertainment product becomes a Thing, capital T, which is where Overwatch currently rests. Credit where it’s due, of course - Blizzard provided the box full of crayons by creating a delightfully ridiculous bunch of characters with distinct personalities and play styles, then made it easy (and indeed, necessary) to swap between them during the game. Every Overwatch player has enough experience with every character to understand the collection as a whole, so even if they don’t main Reinhardt or Widowmaker, then know what they’re like. Play Overwatch for a handful of matches and just like that, you’re up to speed on a host of metacontent.
I’m not sure if this was all part of Blizzard’s plan or if it’s a happy accident, but the fact of the matter is that when you see people using their time not playing Overwatch to make more things about Overwatch it makes you want to get in on it. It usually sucks to seemingly be the one person in your social media streams who isn’t freaking out about the new hotness, but in this case, it doesn’t matter that I don’t actually play the game. I get to be in on the joke anyway. I get to participate, even if it’s only as a spectator from the sidelines.
It helps that the joke is, for the most part, very much a situation of laughing with and not laughing at. Overwatch players may be frustrated by people who park Bastion on the payload (yes, that is a sound strategy, but it’s also CHEAP AS HELL), but above all else, this community is having fun. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of ridiculous that a player base being enthusiastic and positive is an aberration worthy of note, but here we are. Amidst loads of snark, smug superiority, and genuine nastiness taking place in the gaming conversation, Overwatch is charmingly happy-go-lucky. I’m sure there’s negative Overwatch material out there, but it hasn’t found its way to me yet. I don’t go looking for Overwatch, you see, I let it come to me, and what people tend to surface is the stuff that makes them happy. It’s a self-curating stream of gaming joy, like a match where all twelve players decided to play as healer Mercy just to see what would happen or a request for a clown Reaper skin that would turn his Death Bloom chant from “DIE DIE DIE” to “PIE PIE PIE.” Here, have some Overwatch characters reimagined as cats, because internet. It’s stupid. I love it.
It sometimes gets lost along the way, but games are, more than anything else, about play. Sometimes that play is sophisticated or insightful or deeply moving, and sometimes it’s just the kind of goofing around that you got up to when you were little and you felt free to be happy with careless abandon. By cultivating the essence of play, Overwatch is encouraging a playful mindset that is driving the whimsy and creativity the community is displaying, over and over again. The online play begets the offline play which gets people wanting to hop back online, and so the cycle repeats. Maybe Overwatch’s in-game appeal to good sportsmanship is at the root of all this positivity, or maybe people are just trying to counter real-world misery with virtual cheer. Whatever’s causing the conflux, I’m happy to reap the benefits. I may not love the game, but I sure don’t hate the players.