The Pro Strats of Healsluts: Overwatch, Sexuality, and Perverting the Mechanics of Play (2019) by Kyle Bohunicky & Jordan Youngblood discusses the phenomenon of “healslutting,” a form of roleplay where the act of healing other players is sexualized through gameplay mechanics and interactions with other players. The article focuses on the ways that Overwatches gameplay works and the community that has formed around this type of play.
The article first establishes that Overwatch has sexual themes in it, and that Activision Blizzard does not want to censor people completely in relation to the subject. However, more overt practices of sexualising the game’s characters have been taken down by the company, like the online magazine Playwatch, which was an openly sexual form of fan content, showing that the company wants to maintain a certain distance between the game and its sexualization. The healslut community is then proposed as a possible counter-cultural push against this.
The article then goes into Overwatch in detail as a game, explaining its different game modes, competitive elements, and playable characters. The Overwatch community has personalized many characters in their own ways ever since the game’s launch in 2016 and has generated new personas for heroes such as Soldier 76 and D.va, with names like Daddy 76 and Gremlin D.va respectively. These new personifications are related to both the characters gameplay styles as well as their canon personalities and roles in the game’s overarching story. Mercy, originally even designed to resemble an angel both aesthetically and mechanically, has been dubbed as the “mother” of the character cast, at least in the more innocent parts of the community, but in the healslut community, Mercy has become a sort of figurehead for the entire subculture.
Healslutting is not unique to Overwatch, and exists in other games as well, with the Reddit user u/ToasterTroll (2018) listing games such as Fallout, Fire Emblem, and the Payday series having potential for similar behaviour. A Kotaku article from 2016 similarly reinforces this idea: “the beauty of healsluts is you can make anything—literally anything—part of the kink.” The community’s own wiki states that sexualizing gameplay is similar to the modding of games in an effort to breath new excitement into playing them. Sexualizing gameplay is not exclusive to just healing either. There are other similar subcultures in the gaming sphere, like the TankSlut and the DPSDom, that make use of their distinct gameplay roles in different ways.
The healslut community has its own subreddit on the website Reddit, which sees active use like discussions, people looking for other players to roleplay with, and straight up pornographic content. The community has even created its own system of recognizing other users in-game, with the use of specific sprays and emotes. With the assistance of these tools, people can find others to engage with, and move on to personal messaging in order to roleplay without disturbing other players, which is strictly against Overwatch’s community rules. People have even created “games within games” for healslutting, that give the player extra rules outside of the game itself.
These systems are an active way of sexualising otherwise non-sexual gameplay elements. The game starts to blend in with the out-of-game experience in new ways, in a way making the elements of the game sexual in themselves. As stated earlier, Activision Blizzard has attempted to root out sexuality that is too overt from their game, but this kind of metagaming makes it impossible to entirely get rid of the sexual aspects without fundamentally changing the core gameplay. Healslutting, in a sense, is about revealing the sexual aspects of videogame mechanics that are already there.
The article concludes by compressing all the information above and adding that the authors are not implying that these sorts of sexualized experiences should actively be added by the developers or monetized for profit. There is a middle-ground between the niche community and the developers, and that the modern iterations of sexuality that the developers imply exist in the game are not as diverse and inclusive as the developers say that they are.
Picture from: https://www.mobygames.com/game/overwatch-origins-edition/promo/promoImageId,146972/
Bohucinky, Kyle & Youngblood, Jordan. The Pro Strats of Healsluts: Overwatch, Sexuality, and Perverting the Mechanics of Play, http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2019-1-2/the-pro-strats-of-healsluts-overwatch-sexuality-and-perverting-the-mechanics-of-play/, 7th November 2019,
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