Today, we’re going back to Overwatch for another look at the two most aggressive, murderous, and evil characters in the game: Widowmaker, and Reaper. These two are the closest things we have to recurring antagonists, and it’s clear that their desire for violence and bloodshed is extraordinary. Widowmaker’s profession as an assassin, and Reaper’s willingness to kill people simply because he can, speak to this fact, and lead many to label them as bloodthirsty psychopaths. That being said, however, I’ve gotta ask, what really makes them “psychopathic,” what’s going on inside their heads?
I’ll just give you guys a quick look at how these two characters might be diagnosed in real life, and why they would be diagnosed so. We’ll analyze their backstory, their character interactions, and even their voice lines to arrive at a conclusion that, although it might not be surprising, is certainly rather interesting.
Jealousy and Torture
The origins behind our two subjects contribute a whole lot to where they’re at now, and who they’ve become. In order to properly diagnose Widowmaker and Reaper, we’ve got to to take a good, close look at their respective backstories, and what made them into the killing machines they’ve become at the time of the game.
Reaper, formerly known as Gabriel Reyes, was originally a senior officer of the US Military, who, alongside good friend Jack Morrison, was enlisted into the Soldier Enhancement Program. They received an offer during the Omnic Crisis to join Overwatch, which they both accepted; Reyes in particular was chosen to lead the team during the Crisis. After it was over, Morrison was ultimately chosen to become the public face of Overwatch, its moral fabric, while Reyes became the head of Blackwatch, responsible for more covert, controversial operations. Growing bitter, Reyes organized a rebellion against Overwatch from the inside, culminating in a conflict that supposedly left him and Morrison dead, as well as contribute to the ultimate dissolution of Overwatch and its agents.
Despite the dissolution of Overwatch and the outlawing of all future Overwatch activity, Reyes remained vengeful. Through genetic enhancement, his cells were altered to decay and rebuild at an advanced rate, and he became the Reaper: a terrorist that seemed to hunt down Overwatch agents. Although his motivations are unknown, he has built a reputation as a ruthless, volatile killer, showing allegiance to no single organization, fighting in multiple conflicts in the years following Overwatch’s downfall. His immoral nature shows in his voice lines and cinematics, where he shows huge disdain for Overwatch and its agents, tosses his guns away when he runs out of ammo, antagonizes characters such as Winston, McCree, Soldier 76 and more for no reason, and keeps a stoic, angry demeanor at all times. He’s bitter, remorseless, and blood-thirsty; in his words, he’s a “high-functioning psychopath”, and he certainly has the reputation and attitude to prove it.
We can contrast this long, dramatic backstory with that of the Widowmaker, which is, relatively simple, but certainly far more tragic. Originally Amélie Lacroix, she had a husband, Gerard, who was a member of Overwatch that actively worked against terrorist organization, Talon. To eliminate him, Talon kidnapped Amélie, tortured her, and brainwashed her, making her a sleeper agent. Found again after having “escaped,” two weeks passed, and Amélie was easily able to kill her husband, fooling Overwatch, and returning to Talon. Her neural reconditioning was completed, ridding her of her emotionality, and her heart rate was lowered to give her steadier aim, giving Amélie light blue skin. With that, Amélie was dead, and Widowmaker was born.
Continuing to work with Talon, Widowmaker participated in operations across the world, as Talon’s best assassin. Sometimes working solo, as in the “Alive” animated short, or with others like Reaper and Sombra, she remains distant and cold, surrounded by an air of professionalism. She continues to feel nothing, only stimulated, only made to feel alive, by the act of killing. Working with her colleagues simply for business concerns, Widowmaker does not, perhaps cannot, feel remorse, is efficient and calculating, and emotionless, helping her to be debatably the best assassin in the universe of Overwatch.
Psychopathy and Sociopathy
Now that we know the backstories and behaviors of our two bad-guy subjects, we can get into the two terms that would make the most sense to use for people of such violent natures: Psychopathy and Sociopathy. The two terms are often used synonymously, and to be fair, there is only one official blanket term for them: Psychopathic Personality Disorders. They both derive from Anti Social Personality Disorder, which require individuals to have several personality traits out of seven, including a lack of guilt/remorse, general aggressiveness, and a lack of empathy. However, from here, several key differences can be noted.
Psychopaths are born, and Sociopaths are made. Generally speaking, researchers tend to distinguish the two terms in this way, although more specific differences exist. Psychopaths tend to have far less genuine emotion than sociopaths, due to general genetic flaws that result in underdeveloped parts of the brain, parts that are responsible for emotion regulation and impulse control. They can have shallow relationships, but are almost always for their personal gain and manipulation, using people as pawns for personal goals. Because of this simple lack of emotion, they are far more careful and calculating than sociopaths, able to potentially live successful lives in real life, because their willingness to cut corners and break rules; it’s just that they’re a bit discreet about it.
On the other hand, we have Sociopaths, who psychologists generally agree, result far more from environmental factors and personal tragedy. As a result of these more consistently caustic upbringings, sociopaths have a trend of being much more erratic and impulsive, resulting it crimes that, according to Psychology Today, “tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned.” Sociopaths in real life don’t tend to have jobs, are rather unstable, blame other people for their problems, and, unlike psychopaths, have a limited ability to feel empathy and create emotional connections.
With all this in mind, I’d like to make the case that Reaper, despite his proclamation that he is a “high-functioning psychopath,” is a sociopath, while Widowmaker, after her kidnapping and subsequent brainwashing, is the actual psychopath.
If you line up and compare the histories of the characters, to the definitions of sociopathy and psychopathy, I personally think this conclusion is quite clear. Let’s talk about Reaper for a second, and I’ll show you what I mean.Referring to his murderous, remorseless nature, Reaper claims he’s a psychopath, but considering his behaviors and history, I feel that’s rather unlikely. Remember, Reaper has a certain reputation: he’s enigmatic, blood-thirsty, and according to his wiki page, he is “an extremely volatile mercenary, a ruthless and remorseless killer responsible for terrorist attacks across the world.” Similarly to a real-life sociopath, Reaper does not show any immediately discernible patterns, and what’s more, the pattern that is eventually revealed – his hatred towards Overwatch and bitterness towards Morrison – betrays some sort of emotional connection that would be unlikely if he were truly a psychopath.
We must also remember that Reaper was once a good friend of Morrison, and his bitterness grew over time. This shows that genetically, Reaper probably was not pre-inclined to psychopathic tendencies, but rather, the stress of bitterness, resulting conflicts, and his near-death, pushed him to the point where he could be considered a sociopath. His regenerating cells play very well into the idea that Reaper could afford to be a lot more spontaneous and aggressive than a true psychopath, who, when commiting crimes, tend to “carefully plan out every detail in advance, and often have contingency plans in place.” Overall, Reaper may be remorseless and self-absorbed, but he has a bitter core, and plausible environmental factors, that would certainly be reason enough to be pushed to the point of sociopathy.
Widowmaker actually threw me off originally. I was going to consider her a sociopath in the same vein of Reaper, due to her cold, seemingly condescending nature, her infamous wish to feel alive through murder, and, most importantly, the fact that Amélie was actually thought to be a sweet woman, outruling the possibility of genetic predisposition. However, looking at the biological components behind psychopathy, it makes sense why she’d be incapable of emotion in the same vein as a true psychopath. Her neural reconditioning – essentially, rewiring the brain – could almost certainly have eliminated Amélie’s emotional connections. Real-life accidents and the side effects of brain surgeries or lobotomies can impair emotions greatly, so taking it one step further in the world of Overwatch, and cutting off any neural connections to the the parts of the brain responsible for emotion, or even removing said parts, could theoretically result in a similar state to an actual psychopath.
Beyond this, Widowmaker’s cold, calculating nature fits the behavior of a psychopath. From her shorts, to the voice lines in-game, we don’t hear Widowmaker say much, and she certainly doesn’t emote much at all during the few things she does say. We must also consider Widowmaker’s career, as a professional assassin for Talon. Such a job must require absurd amounts of planning and deliberation, which a standard sociopath certainly wouldn’t be capable of doing. Her venom mine traps, her cables, and her assassination tactics all point to a far more calculating style of murder, reminiscent of actual psychopaths. Finally, Widowmaker’s inability to feel emotion can be reflected through her thought that killing can make her feel alive. Such a stimulation, a desire to feel emotion, is a question that surrounds psychopaths, and although those I’ve known don’t really worry about emotions in that explicit of a manner, it makes sense, in the stereotypical depiction of an extreme psychopath, to create a character that does feel curious about such feelings, as Widowmaker does.
All that out of the way, I think I can personally say that I would consider Widowmaker a psychopath, and Reaper a sociopath. I am not an expert on the subject, so I might be a bit inaccurate at points, but I believe that the general decision is correct. If you’ve stuck around for the entirety of the post, thanks! This was surprisingly tough to write, but it was also pretty fun. Hope you enjoyed- and hope you learned a little something!