‘Overwatch’ = Revolution

Overwatch‘–a popular game released in 2016–grew to become one of the largest and most recognizable online multiplayer games in history. It is largely known for its colorful and vibrant characters, appeal to new and casual players, and high skill ceiling that makes the game enjoyable for competitive players. What’s not as well known, however, is the complicated lore of Overwatch – a story about revolution, power, control, and oppression. Through the revolutionary organization “Null Sector”, the developers of Overwatch illustrate the message that pushing a group of people past their breaking point will lead to a desire for revolution and retribution against their oppressors. When considering the morally ambiguous actions of Null Sector and other real-world revolutionary groups, the audience is presented with a question: To what extent are the actions done in the name of resistance justified? 

One of the most important components of the Overwatch story is the existence of omnics, a race of highly advanced AI machines who were initially created for the purpose of menial labor. Through the Omnics, Overwatch explores themes of discrimination, resistance, and oppression in the real world. Omnics faced widespread discrimination and lacked basic rights in human society, due to widespread distrust and their robotic appearance. This injustice sparked the need for a revolution and a war to finally bring justice to all Omnics around the world; Ramattra, a former Omnic monk who initially sought peaceful solutions, became the leader of the revolutionary group called Null Sector, which serves as the main antagonist group of the story of Overwatch. 

Null Sector’s struggle in fighting for a better world for Omnics involves the extermination of the human race, reflecting the decolonial and desegregation movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Those who had been oppressed and discriminated against finally took up arms in rebellion against their oppressors, sometimes committing heinous acts in the process, such as Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, where he and his fellow slaves took up arms and killed between 55 and 65 white people. 

When considering the justifications of revolutionary actions, we can take a look at certain instances in which an oppressed group became the dominant power, such as in the case of the USSR or Maoist China where the peasants and proletarians took control in a revolution and exerted power over the former bourgeoisie. One may view these countries as being overly oppressive towards their population, yet there is an argument to be made about the justification of the revolution in bringing about greater equality for the former lower classes. 

Much of Null Sector’s goals and ideals are reflected in the October Revolution in 20th-century Russia, which was meant to subvert the oppressive upper class in order to liberate the underclass and give millions of struggling people a better future. 

Before the revolution, Tsarist Russia was a poor, agrarian society, where only the wealthy had a decent lifestyle, and the vast majority of the people were left to fend for themselves on whatever meager substance they could forage. As Trotsky wrote, “The fundamental and most stable feature of Russian history is the slow tempo of her development, with the economic backwardness, primitiveness of social forms and low level of culture resulting from it.” 

The peasants suffered in despondent conditions; serfs surrendered their freedom in exchange for meager sustenance from their landlords. There was no hope for change because the Tsars ruled over Russia with an iron fist. This continued for some time until the First World War brought Russia to a breaking point. With a collapsing economy, enormous casualties, and consistent food shortages–the Russian peasants took to rebellion and forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate in what is now known as the February Revolution. A bit later, Vladimir Lenin took control of the government and created the Soviet Union. Like Lenin, Ramattra wanted a better future for his people, and through Lenin–we can see how revolution can lead to some of the most impressive feats of growth and development, as well as some of the most horrendous abuses of human rights. 

Throughout the history of the USSR, many millions have died, through famine, war, and numerous executions. Many people, especially those whose countries were occupied by Lenin’s Soviet Union, viewed him as a monster and a dictator. He claimed to have created a country for the proletariat, yet the difference between the oppression in the former Tsarist and Leninist regimes was marginal. On the other hand, Lenin’s revolutionary actions and policies were the stepping stone for the Soviet Union to become the world superpower after WW2. Additionally, under Lenin, great strides were made in terms of equality, particularly gender and economic equality – immediately after the revolution, the Soviet Union provided political and civil rights to women that made them legally equal to men, decades ahead of the US. As for the economy, Russia went from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest and fastest growing ones from 1928-1970, as researched by Oxford professor Robert Allen

A few decades later, the Soviet Union had been transformed from a destitute, backward, agrarian society to becoming one of the most feared and developed superpowers in history, and its citizens greatly enjoyed the benefits that came with such status. As Churchill said, “Stalin inherited Russia with a wooden plough and left it in possession of the atomic bomb.”

As a race of sentient, immortal machines with boundless growth, who knows what kinds of developments and inventions the Omnic race will create if given the opportunity? If Soviet history has anything to show us, it’s that radical advancements in technology can lead to extraordinarily beneficial outcomes for the wider population. 

As a result of the revolutionary actions done by Lenin, the previous bourgeois and oppressors suffered, but millions more were given a country that stood at the forefront of equality and technological advancement. Millions of people who were never given a decent chance at life suddenly had opportunities and access to education, housing, and guaranteed employment. Regarding the question of justification, many Soviets may argue that it was justified because it lifted millions out of poverty; others may argue the opposite–that the oppression and totalitarian nature of the Soviet Union made it no better than the previous Tsarist regime.

Returning to Overwatch and the Omnic rebellion, it is unknown what the post-revolutionary society will look like, or if it even succeeds. Regardless, the developers of the game pose an interesting question of whether or not Ramattra and Null Sector will bring liberation to the persecuted Omnics, and improve the lives of millions alive and yet to come, or if they will simply turn oppression in a different direction, and in a more brutal manner.

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