The gaming industry is fast becoming, if not already, one of thee biggest global industries. And with these millions of fans, representation matters, including representing people with autism.
When Overwatch, ranked best game of 2016, included a character with autism as one of its’ debut heroes, the gaming industry took one more positive step in the right direction proving anyone has what it takes to becoming a hero.
Hoping to engineer a perfect society with her constructions, Symmetra is an unconventional character with an even more unconventional play-style.
While you can’t necessarily be ‘conventional’ in a game where one of the world’s top scientists is a Gorilla, Symmetra’s autism wasn’t actually confirmed on the game’s release, making her subsequent diagnosis all the more poignant.
She often missed social cues between characters and was incredibly serious through-out storylines and gameplay. Even her name is a play on her necessity for precise details.
The first confirmation of Symmetra’s condition was a letter from game director Jeff Kapla to a fan who has autism, who posted the responce on his tumblr blog.
I am so glad Overwatch is providing a great way for you and your brother to bond! Nothing warms our hearts more than hearing stories like yours.
I’m glad you asked about Symmetra. It was very astute of you to notice that she mentioned the spectrum in our comic. Symmetra is autistic. She is one of our most beloved heroes and we think she does a great job of representing just how awesome someone with autism can be.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me. I really enjoyed your letter and will share it with the rest of the team. Wishing you and your brother many fun games over Overwatch!
All the best,
(signed) Jeff Kaplan
Game Director, Overwatch”
Fans of the Overwatch were quick to deduce several of Symmetra’s behaviours, voice-lines and emotes stem from her autism.
“A Better World”
For instance in her comic stand-alone “A Better World”, which aims to explore her backstory, Symmetra mentions how she behaves different to others and is asked where she fits ‘on the spectrum’.
“Sanjay has always said I was… different. Everyone has. Asking where I fit on the spectrum.”
Symmetra’s differences were celebrated similarly to the other colorful characters in the Overwatch universe. It just so happened she didn’t like things out of place or made improper.
In an article with Wired.com, lead writer Chu says that in Overwatch, “there are a lot of instances you see on the internet, and in different gaming communities, where people who are on the spectrum or autistic are actually the subject of a lot of bullying, or negative reactions.”
“We wanted the cast of heroes to be diverse. Tracer has this [in-game] voiceline where she says, ‘The world can always use more heroes’. We wanted to be able to show in our game that the heroes of Overwatch, like heroes in our world, could come from all these different places — including a character who’s on the spectrum.”
So while the gaming community continues to grows, and will understandably attract negative connotations and skeptical views from parents, games like Overwatch are educating the masses in ways unbeknownst to themselves of the potential we all have.
Perhaps we are all guilty of what Symmetra herself says in-game; “Such a lack of imagination.”
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