11th February 2018
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Regrettably, I seem to fall hard for characters that lack a glut of backstory — really, much information at all. To play Overwatch, you needn't know anything about the character's histories, nor what the game's title is referencing. That's very welcoming, in a sense, but even amongst the characters, Zarya has had little of her personal chronicle revealed. As that information comes to light, I plan on expanding this into a proper shrine.
Overwatch is a team-based FPS released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2016, famous for several releases but most famous for their World of Warcraft. Unlike Warcraft, where the central joy seemed to me to be the creation of a unique character whose exploits reflect your own prowess and preferences, Overwatch features a limited cast of characters that any player can access. Though you can change how these characters look, those changes occur within a limited framework, and the characters are rooted in a specific and tangled history. None of these appearance changes alter statistics pertinent to the characters, unlike the equipment of Warcraft; so the appearance options are exclusively aesthetic preferences. Despite the fact that I feel quite strongly about which of those aesthetic choices should be taken, Zarya can’t be mine in the way that my Tauren Shaman, Obdurana, can be, because my input into what she looks like and how she came to be that way is much more constrained.
Interestingly, that specific character history is completely skippable, as is the whole premise of Overwatch.
The game’s title is a reference to an international organization convened by the United Nations to fight off sentient artificial intelligences, which achieved sentience through programming dedicated to responsive self-improvement that ran manufacturing facilities throughout the globe, called omniums. These omniums produced omnics, robots that had intelligences separate from the artificial intelligences that managed the omniums prior to their uprising. Overwatch is a group of individuals who were to combat this omnic crisis, though this organization is later disbanded after their apparent victory.
The characters’ histories are varied. Not every character in the game is a member of Overwatch, but all of them are deeply affected by that organization and its mission.
The subject of this fanlisting, Zarya, is a young Russian woman from a rural area who dedicated herself to athletic excellence through weight lifting, but the resurgence of omnic attacks in Siberia inspired her to abandon her intended athletic career to fight them. That choice underscores two motivations particular to her character: a proud and protective sense of Russian nationalism; and a deep hatred of omnics. Having ripped it off an armored vehicle in unspecified circumstances, her weapon is a mass and gravity manipulating device capable of emitting protective barriers that absorb damage directed at herself and others, particle cannons, and large gravity traps that can draw in whole teams – and evidently it is far heavier than her usage would suggest. The protective properties complement its offensive properties, as absorbing damage from other players significantly enhances her own capabilities.
How her playstyle emphasizes and suggests her psychology is what I appreciate most about Zarya, beyond recognizing myself in her character design. Though there are characters with far more exposition about their background, the scant details on Zarya nicely combine with how you play her as a supportive tank. Your offensive capabilities as Zarya are at their best when you’ve absorbed damage, and you can do this both for yourself (though the cooldown makes this something to strategize somewhat carefully) and, importantly, for others. And though she’s an accomplished athlete, athleticism is a celebration of the human, and she is simply human -- no enhancements beyond what sets and reps can get her, and so she’s comparably quite squishy compared to the other tanks. You have to guard her health more carefully than you would for other characters that are otherwise similarly designed to attract enemy fire away from their companions. That makes playing Zarya feel protective, yet fragile, and so makes playing her well strategic. It’s a lovely case where a small amount of information can make brilliant design light up.
Ursa Major is a fanlisting, as well as a character shrines. The latter has a great deal of latitude for interpretation and claims about what a character is like. A fanlisting must be more inclusive than that. Please consider the foregoing a taste of why I like the character so much, beyond things that are simply similarities between the character and myself. I’m a Russo-Irish American woman who grew up in a very rural area and has weightlifted in the past, and enjoyed the experience immensely – but I never got to Zarya’s personal best of 512 kilograms. There are as many reasons to love Zarya as there are Zarya fans, so please feel absolutely free to join even if the above doesn’t match your own feelings at all.