I had looked for a place where I could belong and feel normal my entire life, and I thought I may be able to find that in Overwatch, a game that features characters from all around the globe. After all, there’s a cast of characters like an Indian scientist on the autism spectrum, an Egyptian soldier, and a Russian weightlifter. But despite being a utopia, I couldn’t find myself in Overwatch. New heroes were introduced, including a hamster and a debutante turned outlaw, but I couldn’t find a black woman. Both Overwatch and its esports scene is built off inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance, but I still felt like an outsider.
This familiar disappointment goes all the way back to my childhood. Chris Rock once said, “When you’re white, the sky’s the limit. When you’re black, the limit’s the sky.” Overwatch has joined the numerous number of games that did not depict a single playable original black character. In 2015, one reporter counted 14 playable, original black female characters in gaming history. Things are improving, but we still have a long way to go.
I still remember trying to dress up as Kitana from Mortal Kombat my senior year in high school. My best friend at the time, who was white, immediately told me I couldn’t dress as her. I didn’t look right; I didn’t have the same skin tone as her. I still remember my tears hitting the aluminum foil that I used to make her weaponized fans.
I tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter. Kitana’s race was technically Edenian, and it wasn’t specified whether she was black or white. But it made me realize that because of the color of her skin, she would be viewed as Caucasian, and I would be confronted for having the wrong skin tone. And two, that there weren’t nearly enough characters of African or even African-American descent that I could cosplay.
It doesn’t help that many people don’t understand what “black woman” means. Race is not the same as nationality and black is not the same as brown-skinned. Symmetra is of Indian (Hindi) descent. Pharah is of First Nations and Egyptian Arab descent. Ana is of Egyptian Arab descent. Sombra is of Mexican Spanish descent.
Efi Oladele is often brought up as a black woman in Overwatch. However, she is 11 years old, far too young to be a woman, and is not likely to be a playable character in this game. She cannot count as a playable hero. Efi is still important as a role model for black girls interested in STEM, and we need role models like her in games, but she can both be valuable and not serve as the black woman hero that I’ve wanted since the game’s announcement.
It can also be argued that Efi’s creation Orisa, an Omnic construct, is coded as a black woman, but consider this. Imagine that for your whole life, you have been surrounded by characters in books, games, and other forms of media who look and act nothing like you. Then all of a sudden, you see a character who for all intents and purposes, is a robot centaur. Someone who is new to this world. Who makes mistakes. A neophyte; someone who doesn’t know any better and needs to be told what to do. To be lead to the right path.
There’s nothing wrong with that character archetype, but then you are told that this is what represents black women; a representative of what Malcolm X once said is “the most disrespected person in America.” This is who you are. She was built in Africa, therefore she is a proper representation of an African woman. But I can only hear one thing: That’s what I should be happy with, no need to keep asking for the representation of me.
Then I hear, “Sit down and shut up.” And I was never really good at either of those. Because that inspires complacency. It amplifies stagnancy. You don’t make waves by listing helplessly in the sea. I still play this game and I still attend Overwatch League games despite the struggle because representation matters. If my brown face, my long braids, my loud voice, my animated body — hell, my whole presence — is what is needed to make sure that black and brown women to feel included and wanted, then my job is clear.
This is also why Captain Sojourn is so important. Presumably named after the legendary abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, not much is known about her as of this article, but it’s more than enough for me to finally gain some hope. Sojourn has appeared in the cinematic Recall and the animated Ana origins short, but she got her first in-game appearance through voice and art during the Storm Rising event. By this time, she had risen to the rank of Captain and guided the strike team who would ultimately apprehend Maximillien, which would eventually end with the capture of Doomfist.
The excitement and importance of her latest reveal cannot be understated. Here is a character that my sisters and I have longed for in one of the most popular games in recent memory. We have spoken at great lengths, debated in long threads on Twitter about how important she is to us. She is a strong, exceptionally capable fighter and leader whose admittedly small presence in the latest Archives event has made us wanting more. And while we don’t know who’s joining the roster next, I feel like Sojourn is on the way, and I can’t wait. Can you even imagine her kit? Would she be a DPS hero (most likely) or a brawling tank (I wish)? What backstory does she have? Where is she from? How big of an impact does she have on the lore?
There is always happiness — no, an outright glee — when a new character from the game we love shows up and leaves us wondering what their place will be. How their history could potentially match ours and give us something to be inspired by. For women of color, the storm has died down, but the next hero is coming.
This time, the sky’s the limit.