The rarity of a game that allows much expression of femslash

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Overwatch fans and femslash

Slash, as this is known in fandom circles, has a long history of sparking the imagination, stretching as far back as Star Trek. Historically, a lot of slash has focused on men’s relationships with each other (M/M), while fan-created material about women’s relationships (also known as femslash, or F/F) feels an underappreciated but no less ferocious wing of shipping. An informal 2013 count of the tags in on Archive of Our Own, a popular fanfiction library, shows that slash featuring men comprised a whopping 42.6% of the fanfiction tagged on site, while femslash slid in at just over 3%.

One of the reasons male slash is so popular is that media franchises are often composed of largely male casts (think Supernatural, BBC’s Sherlock). In turn, fandoms are largely (but not entirely) comprised of women who enjoy the cute men involved, or they like the psychological distance from the romance. The fun is in the idea of two handsome men doing stuff together (versus the fan seeing themselves as being a “part of the action.”) However, what seems to be the primary reason for the popularity of M/M slash is that male characters in media tend to be more defined and fleshed out as human beings, making it easier for a fandom to blossom around it.

As far as fandom is concerned, it can sometimes be hard to spin tales around women who are no more than props for male heroes and their emotions. As such, femslash fandoms often struggle with pairings, given that quite a few media properties do not have an abundance of women characters, especially those that are written as believable or empathetic. The few women characters that do exist never interact with each other outside of talking about a male character in a romantic context. The Bechdel-Wallace test, which is considered a very basic litmus test for women’s interactions in films, often still fails to happen in many popular movies and TV shows. The irony is often that it isn’t just purposeful as a rudimentary feminist analysis, but underscores how little women’s relationships with each other (especially in a romantic sense, given that creator Alison Bechdel inserted the it as a joke in her comic, Dykes to Watch Out For) are given space within popular narratives.

Overwatch’s status as the new femslash zeitgeist may be explained with the fact it has 9 women characters in a cast of 22 playable heroes, all with distinct identities and roles. The game’s roster is a far cry from the typical grizzled white soldiers with stubble that we’ve come to expect from shooters. These women are front and center, too: Tracer, the quirky time-bender character, is displayed prominently on the box art and promotional material for a game.

I wrote once before about femslash, as it expressed itself regarding “Clexa”.

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