I was holding off the enemy team and healing allies as the character Mercy when a bullet from the Widowmaker’s sniper rifle flew past me. My blood ran cold. I was a fly caught in Widowmaker’s web of death. Quickly checking the game roster, I realized the Widowmaker player had switched from another character with a singular purpose: to annihilate me.
That’s how I met my future boyfriend, with a rifle pointed at my face.
I didn’t expect to make a friend when I logged onto multiplayer online game Overwatch on Oct. 1, 2016, much less find a romantic partner. I bought the game a month earlier as a birthday gift to myself — another way to blow off steam. On that fateful day, I felt absolutely dreadful due to an ongoing cold and poor academic choices. All I wanted to do was to shoot my way through my Saturday morning.
As I ducked the Widowmaker’s shots, I struggled to keep my teammates alive, but the game ended in my victory. The girl who had played Mercy on the opposing team added me to her group because she wanted some game tips. The boy who played the Widowmaker, on the other hand, barely acknowledged me. I sent the girl a friend request and logged off without sending him one. Yeah, I wrote my future boyfriend off as a dickhead.
But, like leveling up in a video game, a romantic relationship is a journey.
Before I began playing Overwatch, my roommate had convinced me, a strapping young lass, to try out Tinder. I was single and ready to mingle. What resulted was what every millennial relationship thinkpiece spews about the death of good old-fashioned romance. I never met any of my matches in person and deleted the app after two months.
My Tinder love life died before it even began, but my friendships and eventual romantic relationship blossomed on Overwatch. Overwatch is, after all, a cooperative game. Our small gaming group grew over the months as we included other friends, either from online or real life.
Despite the virtual manner by which I interacted with these people, Overwatch became just another extension of real life to me. We played other games together, added each other on social media, argued about Netflix shows and talked about our different lives, from crazy high school quizzes to problems at work. In those moments, online and offline, I got to know these faceless strangers a little better, including the one who’d become my boyfriend.
Even before losing our anonymity and adding each other on Snapchat, Joseph and I found out that we had much in common, including a love of Star Wars and theatre. I’d cheer when he got kills and I’d heal him from the brink of death. He’d save my life from enemy players. We began playing together without the rest of the group or privately messaging.
Basically, it was the online gaming equivalent of two sweethearts sneaking away from a large group of friends to flirt and hold hands.
Of course, unlike real life, we couldn’t give each other flirtatious looks. The only ways we could show and receive affection were through messaging, emoticons, and in-game actions. My heart would go aflutter whenever he and I would go aside in the middle of a game, temporarily neglecting our friends, and make our characters sit on the in-game furniture as if we were having brunch in a retro roadside café.
I know, it’s sickening.
In order to lengthen the time we spent with each other, we’d play late into the night without noticing. We sang duets from the “Hamilton” musical, despite the fact that the voice chat had a lag which wouldn’t let us sing in sync.
Despite the limits of the online spaces we shared, we still had moments of connection that wouldn’t have existed in a simple chat. We could make our online characters walk around each other, look at each other, bump into each other and emote at each other. Using the game as another way for two humans who were romantically interested in each other to connect, we fell in love.
It’s been a whole year since I met my boyfriend in a game when he tried to kill me. It’s funny how seemingly innocuous encounters can completely change your life. Many people bemoan the pitfalls of long-distance relationships, but in Overwatch, it is like we are together, vicariously living through the characters we played.