The most disturbing parts of Overwatch

Overwatch isn't exactly a scary game. The closest to a jump scare that the game supplies is when Roadhog suddenly hooks an unsuspecting player. Competitive play can be intense, but with fun characters and flashy attacks, even the youngest players can join in.

Everything is all summer games skins and rainbows until you dive into the lore. The problem with Overwatch is that these interesting, fleshed-out characters have little, if any, story to play out in the game. Only in characters' backstories can players experience the game's narrative. Outside of Blizzard's beautiful cinematics and the extensive research of players, there is no real continuing story.

So fans dig into the meager bites of lore scattered across the game universe, and have unearthed some concerning content. There's a dark side to Overwatch, and it goes beyond the horror of the Omnic Crisis. Even the smiliest of characters have disturbing skeletons hidden away in their pasts.

Reaper is half-dead

Reaper is often poked fun at for being so unironically edgy. Let's face it: he's a grown man in a skull mask yelling, "Die, die, die!" His goth grumpiness is even riffed on in official content. It's kind of difficult to take him seriously, but actually, it makes perfect sense as to why he's so moody.

Reaper wasn't always so grim. At one point he was Gabriel Reyes, an augmented US soldier just like Jack Morrison (later Soldier: 76). He fought in the Omnic Crisis and went on to command Overwatch's covert ops division, Blackwatch. This is where his tragedy begins. The growing rift between Reyes and Morrison culminated in a literal explosion that supposedly claimed both their lives. Morrison escaped scarred, but alive. Whether the same can be said for Reyes is … murky at best.

Before his death and rebirth as Reaper, Reyes had unscrupulous geneticist Moira O'Deorain experiment on his cells, allowing them to regenerate and decay at an accelerated rate. This gave Reyes his ability to melt into black mist. It's either this power or the explosion that also stole his good looks. He wears the mask for a horrifying reason: the "thing" Reyes became is enough to terrify Ana in the Old Soldiers comic. He said he was left to suffer, suggesting that he is perhaps trapped between life and death, his injuries healing and decaying. Think Deadpool, but taken much, much more personally.

Tracer was a ghost

Reaper might have a wraith form, but Tracer may have done some actual haunting in her time. Because Tracer at one point was a ghost: not quite corporeal, not really real. Tracer leapt through time and fell face first: she was the first to pilot an experimental teleporting fighter jet called the Slipstream. When the craft disappeared, the experiment was presumed to be a failure, and Lena "Tracer" Oxton was thought to be dead.

As it turned out, she was only missing in action. And from existence. She reappeared, but no one could touch her. She'd blink away again for minutes, hours, days. She was on an entirely different timeline, suffering from the world's first case of "chronal disassociation." Eventually, Winston's genius was able to create the chronal accelerator, which stabilized her.  

But Tracer never forgot her time — or lack thereof — living disassociated. All those lost hours and days came back to her as odd dreams of elsewhere. Including one where she was a kitchen maid in a "grand house in the country." What this suggests is Tracer was living in an alternate timeline, perhaps there too phasing in and out of reality. It's easy to imagine that she could have become something of a ghost story: the cheerful maid that had no past. She was there and gone some days, and one day she just disappeared. She blinked away, leaving a sink full of dishes and an urban legend.

Genji is totally mangled

Hanzo sliced up his younger brother enough to assume that he had killed him. Genji paid the price for being a young, carefree playboy uninterested in his family's crime syndicate.

While Genji didn't actually die, he certainly lost the life he had before. Whatever Hanzo had done left him on death's doorstep, and only the miraculous work of Dr. Angela "Mercy" Ziegler saved him. Mercy must have the ability to literally resurrect the dead, because judging by Genji's reconstruction, it doesn't appear as if there was much of the man left.

The human parts of Genji are limited. The sliver of his face and his left arm are scarred, but remain flesh and blood. The rest of his body is omnic, rebuilt and cyberized to lend to his considerable ninja skills. Was it being half dead that made it impossible to save more of his humanity? Or was it Hanzo's rage that hacked away his younger brother's right arm, legs, and face?

And there's something … wrong with Genji's eyes. In some skins, this is shown by their glowing a bright red, and in the Dragons cinematic, the white of his eyes appears black. This could possibly be an additional upgrade or perhaps a necessary augmentation after the rest of him was unsalvageable. Genji appears to have been overkilled, now less man and more machine thanks to his brother.

Widowmaker made herself a widow

Most of the people in Overwatch — and in its enemy Talon for that matter — joined willingly. They were soldiers, scientists, and innovators pushing the limits of technology and battle. They knew that the line of work they had committed themselves to was demanding, sometimes deadly, but nevertheless accepted the risk.

Amelie Guillard was never a soldier or a scientist. She was a ballet dancer and a wife. She married Overwatch agent Gerard Lacroix and lead a normal life until Talon decided that the best way to kill her husband was through unconventional means. Unable to assassinate him directly, they kidnapped his wife, only to later release her without a scratch. Physically, she was fine. Mentally, she was twisted, warped: an entirely new person.

In the short time Talon agents had ahold of her, they broke her. Neurally reconditioning her into a venomous sleeper agent, they killed Gerard Lacroix through her hands. She murdered him in his sleep two weeks after they were reunited. Amelie Guillard was brainwashed into becoming the merciless assassin Widowmaker. All traces of her former life, gone.

But that might not be true. Deep down, Widowmaker may regret what she has done. In the Overwatch comic Reflections, she visits her husband's grave at Christmas, leaving roses. It's ambiguous as to whether she, her heart slowed to a near standstill, feels regret or loss. Is Amelie Guillard trapped inside Widowmaker, fighting to get out?

Mei's friends are dead (and she killed them)

Mei is optimistic to a fault. She's bubbly and positive, even when things seem at their worst. She manages to stay sunshine-y and well-adjusted even when all her friends lie frozen and lifeless around her.

Mei's backstory was given life in the Blizzard cinematic called Rise and Shine. This is a kind of macabre title considering that of the six scientists at Ecopoint: Antartica, Dr. Mei-Ling Zhou was the only one to wake from cryostasis. Appointed by Overwatch, they were there to monitor fluctuations in the climate. One such side effect of the drastic shift in weather was a brutal winter storm that dwindled their supplies. The researchers made the decision to wait out the storm in cryopods.

Rather than having a quick nap, the pods didn't open for another nine years. When Mei awoke, it felt as if no time at all had passed and she went about her usual business. She quickly discovered, however, that all the other pods had malfunctioned, and her friends had died in their icy sleep.

This tragedy has another layer of misfortune, too. The obsessive Overwatch community have taken notice of adorable doodles left by Mei around the abandoned Ecopoint: Antarctica multiplayer map. One of these suggests that she was the one to pitch the idea of using the cryopods. She may have unintentionally had a hand in killing her colleagues.

Moira messed with eugenics

Finally, Mercy's innocence is proven. She's not some kind of necromancer/mad scientist … because Moira O'Deorain is. Last year, fans found out that Reaper's signature black tendrils were a experiment gone awry by the Irish geneticist.

Moira is essentially the devil to Mercy's angel. One of her designs even suggest horns in contrast to Mercy's angelic halo. While Mercy heals, Moira twists. In the good name of science of course. But Overwatch is placed in a universe wherein the unfettered progress of science lead to dire consequences: the Omnic Crisis, young pilots lost in time, Australia becoming an irradiated wasteland. Moira in her time as a brilliant scientist was undeterred by unforeseen side effects of research. She seemed to embrace them, to the detriment of others, and the ruination of her career.

Moira turned opinion against her when it became clear that ethics weren't something she gave much thought. She published a paper on genetic manipulation, suggestion that with DNA editing and customization, diseases and other undesirables could be eradicated. While on its surface this seems like an altruistic pursuit, it's practically eugenics. A real touchy, slippery slope that no one in the scientific community wanted to touch with a ten-foot pole.

It piqued the interest of Blackwatch, however, who were apparently totally fine with the Nazi-esque language of breeding out bad traits from the human race.

The moon is the planet of the apes

Keeping in mind that gene therapy is questionable, and generally never makes for a happy backstory, Winston's childhood is painted in a new light. Winston is the result of interest in the effects of prolonged habitation in space. On the Horizon Lunar Colony, scientists studied what space travel might do to a body. While Winston is now a scientist, he wasn't the one conducting research on the moon. He and many other gorillas were the test subjects.

Place Rise of the Planet of the Apes on the moon, minus James Franco, and that was precisely what was happening. Winston, then known as Specimen 28, was one of the most promising results of the study. He was highly intelligent and considered the human scientists his family. But the colony was still conducting animal testing: injections, genetic experimentation, and other things that ultra-smart apes are typically adverse to.

Eventually, the inevitable happened: an uprising by the test subjects claimed the lives of the human scientists. Whether or not this was revenge or justice is debatable, but this left Specimen 28 without his father figure Dr. Harold Winston and at odds with his fellow gorillas. He managed to make it to earth in a gerry-rigged escape pod, the others left behind, but not left for dead.

The Horizon Lunar Colony was built to be sustainable, and it has sustained under these genetically advanced apes. The moon is well and truly the planet of the apes.

Australia is destroyed

From Junkrat and Roadhog's character designs, players get a good idea as to what kind of world they inhabit. Australia's Outback is all Mad Max: punks in clad in leather and brandishing homemade weapons in the barren wastelands. Junkrat and Roadhog more than fit in. But Australia was just plain, old Australia at one point too. The most dangerous things were the wildlife, not the locals. All that changed after the Omnic Crisis.

In an attempt at diplomacy following the war, the government granted the lands surrounding the omnium factory in the Outback to the omnics. Australia had very nearly been destroyed in the war, so it was important to settle the matter peaceably. However, this displaced the people who lived there. In retaliation, the anti-omnic Australian Liberation Front was formed, Mako "Roadhog" Rutledge one of its members. Their rebellion against the omnics came to an explosive conclusion when they tampered with the omnium's fusion core and blew the whole thing sky high, leaving scrap metal scattered throughout the irradiated land.

Maybe it's 'Straya being 'Straya as to why the inhabitants of the radioactive wasteland have gone full Mad Max, or it's the prolonged exposure to the sun and radioactive substances that has made the locals into caricatures of crazy. Roadhog's mask supplies him with aptly named "hogdrogen" that counteracts his breathing in all the irradiated dusk the continent has to offer.

Racism against omnics

Omnics are self-aware, artificially intelligent, and in many ways indistinguishable from human beings. Other than all the metal, of course. They even have their own religion, sages, and spiritual beliefs as to the concepts of free will and souls. Their existence raises some serious questions as to the nature of humanity: Is it flesh and blood that defines it? Can circuitry and metal be human too?

This line of thought can make people uncomfortable, especially in the shadow of the war the omnium centers waged against humanity. While the omnics are now being integrated into society, there are still people who can't forget what happened, and refuse to forgive it.

Characters like Torbjorn remember the war well, and still see the omnics as enemies. Zarya, who is from a country once again at war with them, thinks people that trust omnics are foolish. Junkrat is disgusted with Numbani, where omnics and people live as equals.

Elsewhere in the world, omnics are oppressed. It's the lives lost on both sides of conflicts that inspires Winston to reinstate Overwatch. Human rights have become omnic rights.

So it could be construed as racist when Reaper calls omnics "tin cans" and when the people of Junkertown rip omnics apart for scrap metal. Overwatch is a fantastical, but not entirely impossible future. The way omnics are treated and the answers to the ethical dilemmas surrounding them are perhaps problems humanity will face IRL one day when it comes to artificial intelligence.