Who Watches the Overwatchmen? A Digital Ethnographic Case Study of Queer Overwatch Fans

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According to the Entertainment Software Association, over 155 million Americans regularly play video games. While some players can pick up a video game and find a character or storyline that they can relate to, queer video gamers often achieve representation by reinterpreting video game lore, character profiles, and relationships to reflect their own realities. A recent example of this can be seen in the response to Overwatch, the multiplayer first-person shooter (FPS) released by Blizzard Entertainment in May 2016. First-person shooters are a genre typically associated with cisgender, heterosexual white men. However, Overwatch has become popular with players who do not typically play FPS games. Furthermore, a lot of the fandom activity associated with Overwatch features queer content created by queer gamers. Overwatch has already been lauded for the diversity of its cast in several aspects, but many fans feel that not enough has been done to show the diversity of the cast regarding queer identities.

The first part of this research, which has been completed, used digital ethnography and digital artifact analysis to explore how and why queer video game players on Tumblr have claimed the Overwatch fandom as a queer space. The initial results suggest that queer Overwatch fans have been inspired by the diversity of the Overwatch cast and that they enjoy participating in a community. The second part of the research, to be completed, will include further analysis of discussions inside and about the queer Overwatch fan community, participant observation, and key informant interviews. Understanding what queer gamers want from video games, and what they add to them, could help game developers and other players to further their understanding of the importance of diversity and representation in video games.



Amanda Cullen is currently a PhD student in the Department of Informatics at the University of California-Irvine. Amanda has previously earned graduate degrees in cultural anthropology (University of West Florida) and public service (University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service). Amanda is pursuing research that promotes diversity and inclusion in games and gaming communities.