Normally when I’m feeling down, I steer clear of multiplayer games. Competition is rad, but it can turn even kindhearted people into massive bags of Flaming Hot Cheetos, only all the Cheetos are dicks. Or at least, that used to be my policy. Then Overwatch happened.
The world has not been a kind place lately. It’s easy to feel like people are determined to hate each other. Like a lot of people, I’ve been alternating between “barely functional” and “maybe if I just never leave bed again, the world won’t erupt into a giant fireball of conflicting interests, racism, and the shit Godzilla VERY CLEARLY AND CONSISTENTLY warned us about.” Usually, that means falling into a hole of moping and reading Facebook and moping some more when I don’t have things to occupy my brain. I’m trying to do more to make a difference, but it’s still tough. I think it’s gonna keep being tough for a while.
In times like these, I typically turn to single-player games when I’m about to reach a breaking point. Sprawling story games like The Witcher 3 or even more focused single-player experiences like Titanfall 2's campaign or Firewatch let me get away from it all while also—maybe, just maybe—Learning Something About Myself. But lately, those kinds of games just haven’t been doing it for me. I haven’t been able to lose myself in them like I used to. My mind starts wandering, and before I know it, it’s stumbled off a cliff.
Then there’s Overwatch. It’s the game I’m always playing, even if that just means a few matches a day. It’s become a routine, at this point. A habit. I play it because it feels good on many different, tangible levels, and also because the world needs more Pharah mains. I don’t expect to come away from it feeling, like, spiritually enriched, however.
The other day, though, I was playing in the game’s new Arcade selection of modes—specifically, “No Limits” mode, where people can pick whatever hero they want, even if somebody else already picked the same hero. I picked Sombra. Since she just came out, so did, I think, three other people. The other team was mostly Genjis, because we truly live in dark times.
The match began like any other. They tried to push the payload. We tried to stop them by shooting at them with guns. But then one guy on our team became almost pathologically fixated on creating a ceasefire. He started running around yelling “NOOOOOOO” and “WHYYYYY” over chat when people engaged in battles. Those poor Genjis. They needed his protection, apparently.
Clearly, the guy was doing it for laughs. Some members of my team got annoyed with him. They just wanted to play a normal match. But then, after getting the payload most of the way to the second point, the Genjis just... stopped. Shooting cybertronic fish in a barrel didn’t feel great, so we stopped too. And then everybody just hung out, emoted, and waved for a couple minutes. Seconds before, we’d been fighting tooth and nail.
Now, sometimes Overwatch players treat pre-match skirmishes (which the game puts you in while it’s setting up a real match) like hang-out lobbies, but there was something special about seeing people say “fuck it” to winning and loot boxes and all of that mid-match. We all worked together to break the rules of the game and... not fight. We took a breather. These days, I think everybody could use more of those.
This kind of thing is not unheard of in Overwatch. I’ve seen plenty of Reddit posts about it, though it’d never happened to me personally. That said, Overwatch’s community is not always a bastion of friendliness and respect. This weekend alone, I received angry screeds from multiple randos, and also a bunch of people in general chat started yelling at each other about Donald Trump. But when you’ve spent all day thinking that people are terrible, awful, and bad, it’s nice to be confronted with evidence to the contrary, even if it’s just one little thing. Single-player games, no matter how well-written, can’t provide that. Not in such an authentic way.
After the ceasefire, I decided to stop playing for the evening. Whatever happened next, it wasn’t gonna be that edifying. The experience wasn’t life-changing or anything, but it gave me a brief boost. I was ready to return to real life a little more hopeful. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask for.