Erica Wright is an undergraduate student at the University of Newcastle, Australia, majoring in Ancient History and English. She is passionate about studying myth and fairytale, classical reception, and ancient magic. Here, we’re thrilled to share a classical discovery she has made in the Overwatch videogame. A shorter version of this essay recently appeared in the Our Mythical Childhood blog — Elizabeth Hale
Overwatch is a young adult science fiction multiplayer first person shooter (FPS) videogame developed by the American game developing company Blizzard Entertainment.
Set in a futuristic post-war post-crisis era, on maps based on many global locations such as Australia, China and England, players of Overwatch are formed into two teams of six. Players compete to control an objective, which could mean controlling an area, or escorting a “payload” to the other end of the map. There are currently 25 playable characters, or “heroes”, for players to choose, some of which have basis in myth where others are purely science-fiction based. There are four categories of heroes: offence, defence, tank and support.
Since its release in 2016, Overwatch has grown in popularity all over the world, including Australia. In addition to casual players, there are also competitive players in videogame tournaments (Esports) with professional and sponsored teams.
In 2017 Overwatch embarks on an Antipodean Odyssey with the Overwatch World Cup in Sydney. It’s timely, therefore, to consider the impact of the Classical and mythical references embedded in one of Overwatch’s most popular heroes: Mercy.
Mercy — Winged Healer
Mercy is a hero in the “support” (or “healer”) category. According to her background story, her “real name” is Angela Ziegler, a Swiss field medic/first responder. Her role is to support other players/heroes on her team by healing them after they have taken damage from the enemy team, or by giving them a damage boost while they fight.
Mercy wears a “Valkyrie suit” that allows her to fly to teammates in her line of sight and heal them with her Caduceus Staff. She can also “Resurrect” her teammates every thirty seconds if they die. Her “Ultimate” ability is called “Valkyrie”, which enhances her abilities for a short period of time.
In her physical and characterological elements, Mercy references the angel from the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Valkyrie from Norse mythology. But she also embodies aspects of the Greek god Hermes through her playstyle, “skins” (visual appearances) and “sprays” (small icons players can spray on surfaces).
Mercy’s “Winged Victory” “skin” has been added as part of the “Summer Games” event (the Overwatch version of the Olympic Games). This “skin” shows Mercy wearing ancient Greek garb, a laurel wreath, and a pair of winged sandals. It seems appropriate that Mercy is shown with Hermes’ sandals, considering she is the most mobile hero in the support “class”, and arguably one of the most mobile heroes in the game.
Mercy’s “real name”, ‘Angela’ derives from the Greek word ‘aggelos’ (ἅγγελος), meaning ‘messenger of the gods’, which further connects her to Hermes. She also holds the “Caduceus staff”, which is a direct reference to Hermes’ staff. Outside of Overwatch, the symbol of the Caduceus staff is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius, although the latter is also appropriate here in view of Mercy’s role as medic and healer. These connections to Hermes are fitting considering Hermes’ association with healing in the ancient Greek world.
Classical Reception in Post-Apocalyptic Gaming
Classical Reception in post-apocalyptic gaming contexts demonstrates the longevity of archetypal mythology via the significance of mythological themes in youth culture.
This raises some interesting questions:
- Do the presence and popularity of such themes provide mythical hope in unstable economic and political environments?
- Are video games such as Overwatch, which connects youth from different parts of the world, and allows players immersion in myth-infused fantasies, a cultural response to current regional and global challenges?
Perhaps these classical and mythical elements, which are universal, can set a foundation for young people to come together to solve problems, both in game and then into wider society.
— Erica Wright