First person shooters have always made me uncomfortable because, let’s be honest, they were never designed with me—a disabled woman– in mind to start with. I lasted maybe thirty seconds in a Halo multiplayer match and shrugged the genre off for years as something that wasn’t designed for me. I was never going to be let in.
Until Blizzard’s Overwatch was released, and took the gaming world by storm. It got extremely high ratings in Game Informer, and my female friends were talking about it enough that I figured I would give it a shot. One weekend on the PlayStation Store, it was made free to play. Mercy caught my eye from the get-go; her design was striking, she was a woman and I didn’t have to worry about rapidly firing in every match like I’d seen in Halo and Call of Duty. I was there to heal and support my teammates, which in-game and in reality, people need from time to time.
Without video games I wouldn’t know how to heal myself. Our first family console, the Nintendo 64, was earned by picking up trash around my dad’s workplace. It was second-hand , but it meant the world to my family, and most of all to me. I started middle school soon after and due to my disability the school considered me a huge problem; I was the only physically disabled student in standard classes at the time. The bullying came not just from the students, but the faculty as well. “Sasha won’t sit in your seat because she thinks you’re contagious,” a teacher’s aid bluntly whispered to me in math class one day. How is a twelve-year-old supposed to respond to that? How do you respond when it’s eight hours of treatment like this, day after day after day?
My grades slipped. I was desperately unhappy but didn’t know how to voice it. The only thing that kept me afloat—especially in those terrifying days after 9/11—was Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. As Link, I felt like I was worth something, that I mattered in Hyrule even if it wasn’t real. It’s probably what makes gamers gamers even now, that need for control in a life that is otherwise chaos. So I took control the only way I knew how at the time: I made a very real, very solid plan to kill myself. Once I took those pills and fell asleep, it would all be over. Game over, and God, at the time I really, really wanted the game to be over. Trying to blend in didn’t work, begging my parents to keep me home from school wasn’t going to help, so why not just get rid of the problem for them?
Somehow I told someone, at some point, what my plan was. My aunt gently talked me out of it and it wasn’t my last brush with suicidal thoughts. You go to professionals, you get medication, you get support and you carry on. Video games were my support, and to be honest they still are, or I wouldn’t be writing about them for a living. There’s none of the awkward baggage—the stares, the questions—that come with being disabled on the playing field. If someone needs assistance, you get in there, you heal them, you do what is asked of you and nothing else. You matter crucially to the team as a whole, toxicity be damned, and I think that’s the idea Blizzard was trying to push through Overwatch.
Heroics can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime. A rough-and-tumble cowboy. A guardian angel. Even you, the player controlling them. We can band together as a team or let relatively small things—our gender, our location, our beliefs, our language—divide and conquer us.
Or we could do something radical and win together and I think, at the end of the day, that’s what esports—and gaming as a whole—is all about.