When Blizzard’s multiplayer online first-person shooter Overwatch was released in the summer of 2016, one of the most immediately popular and powerful combinations was that of rocket launching soldier Pharah and angelic healer Mercy. Almost immediately following the game’s release, the pair accrued a large fan following that shipped them as a romantic couple. This fan following seems to suggest that in-game synergy translates to romantic chemistry in players’ minds. Indeed, playing the game with this pairing in mind, strategic actions like healing or protecting the other character have the potential to take on affective weight; competitive synergy in practice, I argue, conveys a sense of romantic chemistry between the characters depicted.
In this essay, I use the Pharmercy ship as a starting point to consider the potential of game mechanics to convey romantic chemistry or intimacy. Using Deleuze’s distinction between the logics of representation and sensation as a conceptual framework, I examine in detail the ways that strategic actions in Pharah/Mercy combinations can take on affective weight and produce sensations of emotional intimacy. I consider this ludic logic of sensation, in which game mechanics engender affects, in contrast to the logic of representation so often centered in video games and games studies scholarship – that is, the focus on narrative and dialogue. I argue ultimately for the liberatory power of the ludic logic of sensation in the context of romance in video games: thinking romance through sensation instead of narrative enables emergent forms of romantic interaction and decouples intimate affects from established canons and potentially problematic modes of representation. I end by considering the queer potentialities of this conclusion, calling on fandoms to expand notions of canon to include mechanics and affective labour not as subtext but as text; in this reading, Pharmercy and other queer pairings can be considered canonical through the affects and modes of labour they engender.
Kaelan Doyle Myerscough is a graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a research assistant in the Game Lab under T.L. Taylor and Mikael Jakobsson. Born and raised in Toronto, she completed her undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and wrote her thesis on competitive online communities of the popular franchise Pokémon. Her research interests include affect theory and video games, transnational media production and consumption, and emergent forms of research-creation.