Overwatch is a weirdly historic game for me. It’s the first time I’ve actually been able to get into a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) or, really, a multiplayer game of any kind. And it’s also the first time that I’ve spent so much time arguing about a game. It’s ironic that a game so focused on the idea of team building seems to cause more heads to butt than anything else.

I often say that Overwatch is the game of social anxiety. More specifically, confronting it and finding a way to work with others anyway. Freed from the requirement of looking like a human being and being in the same room with others, represented by an avatar, it’s a lot less scary to join up with a bunch of strangers (or even friends) and attempt to complete a 10-30 minute goal. But once you’re playing, it’s actually a lot more intense of a social situation. There are so many decisions that involve and impact all of those other people: choosing between playing as the character you love versus the character the team needs. Choosing to drop down and engage with players you don’t know, or hang in your own solitude. Even the internal feelings of dealing with loss, wondering if your own poor choices were what lead to the team’s downfall. Although on that last one, I have noticed that if you think it’s your fault, it probably wasn’t. It’s the one who’s blaming everyone else for the lack of victory.

I would say the number one sign a fight is about to break out is when one player tells another how to play. Who to pick, how they should be focusing their efforts, encouraging them to stop fucking dying you fucking newb. And it’s not suggestion or conversation. It’s orders. It’s assuming a command where you should be an equal part of the unit, and I swear, I have never seen it work. A player trying to exert control dooms the group, rocking its foundation of camaraderie and unity and pushing it onto the shoulders of the one person who definitely isn’t up to the task. It’s usually a good reason to start looking for another group to join. There are always more players, more people wanting to participate. You just have to know where to look. Because for every good “rando” that knows how to help their team, there’s a kid who left his mic on while his little sister practices saxophone (a real thing that happened to me in a competitive game).

I’ll admit, my reactions have become passive aggressive now. If I’m playing as Mercy, “Need Healing” abusers are usually just left to die. Even my personal team has seen one or two grumps at a time, egos needing to be checked, a request that we all “put them away, since measuring them isn’t getting us anywhere”. And it’s all so weird because, here I sit, my headphones on, interacting with my group of friends, like we’re spending an evening playing poker or out bowling. I never had something like that before. Even sports, as a kid, felt more like homework my parents forced me to do. My preferred activities were always single-player experiences. I was rarely attracted by multiplayer activities, and the ones that managed to catch my attention never kept it… except sex, I suppose. So having a collective that engages in such a way is new for me. And I like it. It gives me… zen.

And yet, sometimes the conflict comes from outside the arena. When there are other people in your life, you know, actual people in the room, like a wife, not unplugging for hours can be a problem. It’s hard to admit, but I have grown almost too accustomed to the ease of slipping into the rush that is an Overwatch fix.

And for all its social intensity, it’s still much less scary, much simpler, than facing real people in real life. Not the avatar with pros and cons and moves that I’ve memorized, but a flesh and blood human with an unending amount of attributes and opinions that I need to react to and respect. It’s not enough to just heal them or be their shield in battle. I need to keep them well with my presence and protect them where it counts. We all do, really.

But I’d be foolish to think there aren’t overlaps. Just like in Overwatch, you shouldn’t leave your teammate hanging in the real world. And just like in the real world, issuing commands and judgements doesn’t make you a great leader. It makes you a loud asshole. Both the inside and outside world exist beyond you. And when you fail to see your team as equals or judge them as unworthy, all you’re really doing is railing at your own insecurities.

And that’s no way to create a powerful team capable of accomplishing any goal. It’s a way to create loss.