In the leisure world of 2019, gaming is big news. Recent reports suggest that the sector has overtaken the movie industry in terms of revenue and is even surpassing television as a favoured pastime.
If your idea of a gamer is a teenage male, think again. Gaming is part of life for people of all ages, sexes and demographics.
Another thing that has changed about gaming is that it is far from being the solitary experience that it once was.
From the phenomenon that is Fortnite to the online slots in a live casino, the world of gaming is one in which people from all backgrounds interact, rub shoulders and sometimes cross swords.
We have all heard stories of homophobia within the gaming community, but one of the most popular games of them all is taking the lead in educating gamers and helping to bring attitudes into the 21st century.
For those not in the know, Overwatch is one of the top eSports games in the world. Released in 2016, this first-person shooter is right up there with League of Legends and DOTA 2, with both players and fans that run into the millions.
Despite being one of the most recent entries into the eSports canon, Overwatch boasts countless professional leagues and teams.
Overwatch is also a favourite among comic book fans, and it is in this sector that the backstories and personalities of the characters are drawn out.
The first two characters that new players encounter are Tracer and Soldier:76, both of whom have been revealed to be gay.
Soldier:76 comes out
Tracer was confirmed as a gay character when the game was released in 2016, while Soldier:76’s sexuality was confirmed in a recent short story published by Overwatch’s lead writer, Michael Chu.
Social media has, predictably, been abuzz with the news, and while most reactions have been positive, some have suggested that having Soldier:76 “come out” now seems something of an afterthought when the game has been around for three years.
However, others have Tweeted that the clues have always been there for anyone who paid attention.
Education through gaming
Ed Nightingale, a gay gamer from London, told BBC Newsbeat that a macho and overtly masculine character like Soldier:76 being gay will be a powerful tool in educating gamers. He pointed out that the immersive nature of gaming, where gamers are part of the action, really helps participants identify with the character – far more so than if they are just watching a movie or reading a book.
For all its seemingly inclusive nature, there are still those who see gaming as the domain of white, male heterosexuals and Nightingale says those falling outside this narrow demographic are “vulnerable to attack.”
Gaming companies like Bethesda have taken a proactive approach to stamping out homophobia, while Nightingale is optimistic that better representation of LGBT characters in Overwatch, and other games of its type, will contribute to allow anyone and everyone to play online games in a safe environment.
Surely that is not too much to ask in 2019.