Search This Blog

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Overwatch, Symmetra, and Autism

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss depictions of ASD in popular culture.  

Yesterday, I was not able to attend the Autism Law Summit because of a longstanding promise to take my son to Stan Lee's L.A. Comic Con.  We attended a panel on Overwatch, and one of the voice performers mentioned that her character is autistic.   Earlier this year, an autistic fan wrote to director Jeff Kaplan. Andrew McMillen writes at Wired:
Dear Mr. Kaplan,” Samuel began, “My main question is about Symmetra. She’s my favorite character, hands down. I just wanted to clarify: Is Symmetra autistic? As an autistic person myself, I’d love to know.”
He addressed the letter to Blizzard Entertainment’s offices in Irvine, California, expecting not to hear back. A month later, a letter arrived.
“Dear Samuel,” wrote Kaplan, “I’m glad you asked about Symmetra. Symmetra is autistic. She is one of our most beloved heroes and we think she does a great job of representing just how awesome someone with autism can be.”
Word quickly spread on the Internet, but hints were already around.
In May 2016, just before the game’s release, Blizzard hinted at Symmetra’s autism when it published an online comic named A Better World. In the 10-page strip, Symmetra was shown to be uncomfortable in crowds, and went out of her way to adjust a crooked picture frame during an important business meeting. Symmetra’s inner monologue referenced her being “different,” and hinted that others had asked her “where [she] fit on the spectrum.”
Symmetra‘s voice actor learned about this element of her character at the same time as those who read the comic. “I loved that it was so lightly touched-on,” says Anjali Bhimani, an Indian-American actor who is best known for on-screen roles in Modern Family, Silicon Valley, and Criminal Minds. “It is not the defining characteristic, or even a defining characteristic of the many that she has...Had they told me that earlier on, I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I would have given that more weight than necessarily would have been appropriate.” By taking such a subtle approach to the character’s autism, Blizzard gracefully avoided Symmetra becoming yet another TV special-style example of spectrum disorder. Similarly, the list of autistic characters that have appeared in video games is short—just 10 characters since 2001, including Symmetra.