It was revealed today by Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan in his response in a fan’s letter on Tumblr, which you can read here, that Symmetra is on the autism spectrum.The comic that prompted this initial fan letter can be found in its entirety here.
In a direct quote from the letter, Kaplan responds:
It was very astute of you to notice that she mentioned the spectrum in our comic. Symmetra is autistic. She is one of our most beloved heroes and we think she does a great job of representing just how awesome someone with autism can be.
I’m going to get this out of the way now before I continue speaking somewhat intelligently. Holy shit! And FINALLY! This is unbelievable and awesome and, just, so many things that my brain is shutting down while trying to process all of the emotions that are currently hitting me right at this moment.
Growing up with an early autism diagnosis, there was no one with an autism diagnosis to look up to in pop culture media. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I really could only relate to Spock growing up and he wasn’t even autistic. If there were representations of people with autism, they were usually portrayed as a white male with unfortunately awkward behavioral patterns and oftentimes are utilized as comedic relief. I point to the Forrest Gump movie as an example. I don’t recall any female autistic characters in media growing up. It wasn’t until the Temple Grandin movie was released a few years ago that I could really see someone like me onscreen.
Kaplan’s focus on diversity in Overwatch has been one of the most exciting things to watch unfold before our eyes. He had announced at the 2017 Gamer’s Conference the purpose behind the development team’s focus on open mindedness and diversity:
“We wanted there to be heroes that felt approachable to each person,” Kaplan said at the conference. “We all like different things, we’re all attracted to different things — that’s one of the beautiful things about humanity and making a game on planet Earth: how awesome the differences are.”
For a girl who was always made to feel different because of society’s distaste and fear towards Autism, hearing and seeing a female character on the spectrum in one of the most arguably popular games out there makes my heart soar. I think the part that really gets me is that this character represents two minorities within the spectrum – a woman of color. Women are frequently underdiagnosed with Autism and, as a result, don’t get the proper help that they’d need. Another thing is both women and people of color on the spectrum are underrepresented in research studies and, as a result, in our mainstream society.
Before I allow myself to get overly emotional, which I’m completely failing at right now, by announcing that this character is on the Autism Spectrum, Jeff Kaplan and the development team of Overwatch have provided the current and next generation of autistic individuals with role models that they can look up to.
In seeing ourselves in Symmetra, we are able to see ourselves represented in a way that doesn’t make us out to be fools or monsters. We finally can see ourselves in a positive role model, in a character that is incredibly badass and amazing. And thus, I shall conclude with this obvious statement.