Character analysis: Moira

So, Overwatch’s Moira has been out for quite a while now, and I think it’s safe to say she’s a strong addition to the cast of merry misfits. Possessing abilities that make her a great healer and oddly efficient at dealing damage, Moira helps to fill out the ‘support’ class with nice medium difficulty hero (she’s not as technically demanding as Ana, but her complexity allows her to have a more diverse set of options than Mercy). Mastering which of her AOE orbs are the best choice for the situation will be a deciding factor in mastering Moira herself, and proper use of her ultimate can be devastating if you time its use optimally. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why people are glad for her presence in the game, especially since the support category of heroes was in desperate need of a shake up.

Also, you can dress up in David Bowie looking outfits as you run around, throwing healing balls into people’s faces. It’s pretty fantastic.

But, more than just gameplay elements, Moira brings some interesting stuff for the narrative and world building side of Overwatch (the game). Her past connects to Overwatch (the organisation), and even directly ties into several of the principle casts current situations. She’s not exactly an insignificant figure in the grand scheme of things, either, since she’s actually one of the lead figures of the antagonists of the setting, the brutal Talon.

This is the side of things we’ll be looking at today, since I find some of the points Moira is tied to are kind of fascinating within the game’s setting. In particular, the pretty low-key contrast the developers are putting her with against Mercy, a character that acts like an almost perfectly foil for Moira.

So just so we’re on the same page, we’ll be looking more at how Moira fits into the Overwatch world from a narrative/character perspective; while we’ll touch on her place in the game itself, it’s mostly just on how her abilities fit with her character. Also, to make things simple and relatively clear, from here on out if we say ‘Overwatch,’ we’re referring to the in-game organisation, rather than the game (unless it’s directly stated, obviously).

So, without further ado, let’s crack on and see what this Irish, vaguely androgynous, morally black scientist brings to the cluster of madness we affectionately call ‘the story.’

First, let’s talk a little back-story. Moira O’Deorain (literally the most Irish sounding name I’ve ever heard) was a genetic scientist of no small brilliance: years ago, she managed to crack the code of life’s building blocks, and found a way to alter DNA on a freakin’ cellular level. She naturally wrote a paper of on her discoveries, since she thought this was the first step in taking humanity to crazy new heights, free of diseases and aliments.

Two problems quickly made themselves known, however. One, this was looking worryingly close to the same line of thinking that created the Omnics and then the near apocalypse called the Omnic Crisis, and naturally people weren’t looking forward to that disaster again. Two, other geneticists tried to re-create Moira’s methods, only to find the work impossible to replicate, causing suspicion to fall on what exactly she had done behind closed doors. Combine this with the worry that this was sounding an awful lot like trying to play god, and it’s understandable that Moira’s reputation took something of a nose dive.

Rather than being kicked entirely to the curb, however, Moira found that there were some who had found her work…intriguing. Namely, the shadowy sub-section of Overwatch, the group called ‘Blackwatch’ took a keen interest in her. They offered her a position that she had long been searching for, the power to perform whatever scientific work she wanted, free of the constraints of morals and ethics, and even passed her a blank check. Moira naturally didn’t turn them down, and immediately set about performing experiments that would lead to basically the entire upper leadership of Overwatch to deny that she was even employed by them, let alone had their consent.

Interestingly enough, this might have contributed to the fall of Overwatch’s reputation. One of the main things that screwed over Overwatch was when the activities of Blackwatch were leaked to the public, and it’s likely that Moira’s less than ethical research was among the controversial info. Moira doesn’t seem the like the sort to worry about how this reflected on her, though it was likely a kick to the teeth when Overwatch fell apart from in-fighting, leading to both it and Blackwatch to be formally disbanded.

Moira quickly bounced back, though, and followed behind Gabriel Reyes (or as he might be better known, ‘Reaper’) as he defected to the international terror group, Talon. Moira quickly rose up through the ranks alongside Reaper, and both soon found themselves on Talon’s inner council. Moira continued to do some public work so suspicion didn’t fall too hard on her, finding a place on Oasis’ scientific community, though it’s pretty clear that all of her real work goes back into Talon.

In terms of where she stands in the on-going story of the setting, it’s likely that Moira will prove to be a problem when the recalled Overwatch crew inevitably comes to blows with Talon. While her love of science trumps all else, it’s clear that she has a few lingering resentments against Overwatch for screwing her over in the past, and she’s probably not going to want to lose her source of funding for the third time in a row. That being said, the most interesting thing to look out for will be what kind of crazy crap her morally black experiments produce, since a terrorist group gaining access to that kind of stuff can only prove disastrous, I’m sure.

So that’s the core backstory for Moira. I’m sure you’re noticing that something is actually missing from it, though: the reason for her ceaseless pursuit of science at any cost. You see, a minor running theme for a lot of the characters in this cooky world is that even evil gits have a semi-understandable reason for doing what they do. For example, Junkrat and Roadhog were both perfectly reasonable people before the rest of the world more or less shrugged as Australia get screwed over in nuclear hellfire, leading them to resent basically everyone. Another example would be Sombra: she’s cocky little brat that actually believes her own hype, but she not only grew up in an uncaring world as an orphan, but she’s actually trying to fight an organisation that’s so shadowy and evil that Talon looks positively tame in comparison. Good lord, even Reaper has a sympathetic back-story! When he could still be technically considered ‘alive,’ Reaper was actually part of the original Overwatch team, and played a key role in saving the world. However, constantly getting saddled with the gritty work that his best friend wouldn’t touch, even as said friend got all the credit, lead to a spiral of bitterness that eventually resulted in them coming to blows. Though, said blows came with  the base they were standing in getting bombed to hell, a bombing that lead to Reaper’s botched revival, which in turn lead him to the now constant agony he calls ‘life.’ In constant pain, the only thing that can even relieve him slightly is the idea of finally killing his old associates, finally closing out what he considers his old life.  Sooooo, rough stuff all around.

Moira, though? Moira has the most interesting motivation of all: none what so ever.

Moira doesn’t have some sick family member she’s trying to save, nor does she have anyone to fuel any kind of revenge based vendetta. Moira just genuinely believes that the best way forward for humanity is the path of science, even if it means that some of humanity has to suffer horrifying experimentation. Hell, she seems to resent the idea that what she’s doing is wrong, like others are unreasonable for thinking that science isn’t worth throwing a few lives into a metaphorical (and maybe literal) meat grinder. Think of it this way: genetics isn’t a means to an end for Moria, it IS the end.

In one way, this arguably makes Moira one of the most genuinely evil characters in the current cast. Yea, everyone else took a bad situation as an excuse to turn into gits, but at least they have an excuse. Moira just seems to think that ethical limits were put in place just to get in her way. It half feels like the whole ‘advance humanity’ thing is just an excuse she gives herself to justify her obsession with science; how could she be wrong if the ultimate result of her experiments were positive for humanity as whole? Who cares if a few people have to suffer, if it means that she is proven right?

This leads nicely into one of the main points about her character that I find interesting, namely that all of her obsessions put her direct contrast to another of the game’s support heroes, namely Mercy.

Mercy is, to put it simply, a modern day saint. She’s a brilliant scientist who more or less refined nano-technology for the use of healing life threatening wounds and sicknesses, is a staunch advocate for peace, and spends damn near every waking moment trying to help others. She even looks the part: wearing a ‘Valkyrie swift-response suit’ (a device of her own creation), she seems to have literal golden wings and a gleaming halo.

It’s hard to believe such a genuinely good person technically worked for the same organisation as Moira, a woman without a shred of goodness inside her. The developers of the game seem to have agreed with the irony of it all, since the two of them actually get complimentary sprays in the game, depicting them standing back to back (note that Moira is also wearing a Valkyrie suit, just to really rub it in). I agree the sentiment that these two should be compared and contrasted, however, since they work as excellent contrasts to each other.

Both are brilliant in their relevant areas of scientific research, and are clearly very capable of applying their work to practical situations. However, Mercy only wants to advance in a way that will ultimately help others, and is clearly careful that she doesn’t step in the wrong direction, since it seems to be implied that the nano tech she invented can only really be used for healing. Moira meanwhile doesn’t really care about the consequence of her creations, as long as they help her to take another step towards helping humanity reach its full potential. Both worked for Overwatch, and both managed to survive its collapse. Mercy only joined reluctantly, seeing that Overwatch’s militaristic ‘police the world’ style would lead to disaster, but also saw the good she could do from within the organisation. Moira couldn’t have cared what Overwatch’s or Blackwatch’s objective was, as long as it gave her access to a full lab and no questions on why bodies kept piling up, and indeed she jumped ship to Talon as soon as it was convenient. Both have tech that works on a extremely specific scale, one that affects it’s target on a cellular level. Mercy’s nano-tech is built from the ground up to preserve life, and to help others without touching anything it doesn’t absolutely need to. Moira’s research, meanwhile, could change a person however the hell she damn well pleased.

From an analysis point of view, this contrasts likely exists for the same reason you’d ever put two such contrasting characters right next to each other, namely so their differences can help each to make them stand out. Moira’s cruelty seems much more sharp when we have Mercy’s kindness to compare it to, especially since their similar backgrounds make it clear that the only difference between the two is their attitudes. Hell, this might be why Moira is called Moira: since both their name’s start with an M, they two characters are always going to be placed next to each other on the character selection screen, making the comparison much more vivid.

In short, Moira and Mercy are two sides of the same coin; on the same wavelength but heading in direction. The really worrying part however comes down to one question: is Mercy Moira if she had morals? Or is Moira Mercy without them?

As one last ‘fun’ fact that points to these two being connected, Moira has a unique voice line if she kills Mercy, a sarcastic callout for “our guardian angel.” Even if they didn’t work in the same areas of the organisation, it seems that Moira and Mercy didn’t exactly get along.

Of course, Mercy isn’t the only character Moira has some connections to. One of the more prominent examples is actually Reaper himself: it’s implied in Moira’s origin trailer that she was the one that gave Reaper his curse, since we see a shot of her experimenting on the guy when he was still Reyes. I don’t think that’s the whole story, since there’s a line in the game itself that Mercy might have been involved (she asks what happened to him, and he rather furiously replies “you tell me”). If I had to throw out a totally made up, bull-crap theory, I wonder if maybe Mercy’s healing tech caused something to go horrendously wrong with whatever ‘upgrades’ Moira had given Reaper, thus causing him to be stuck in with never ceasing pain in addition to his weird mist powers. It would at least explain why Reaper doesn’t seem too resentful of Moira, despite her being arguably the most to blame for his condition.

Another member of Talon that Moira has some interaction with is everyone’s favourite Blue-Man Group extra, Widowmaker. There less ambiguity here, and it’s clear that Moira was most likely involved with the brainwashing process that Widowmaker had to go through, since her question of how Widow is feeling gets a snippy “I don’t feel. That’s the point, isn’t it?” The second part of that reply makes it sound like Moira should know more than anyone else what Widow means, so I’d fully buy that Moira was involved in the ‘creation’ of Widow. The fact that Moira knows how to rewrite a person’s DNA adds to this theory, since that would probably make it a ton easier to slow Widowmaker’s heart rate.

Outside of specific characters, there are some interesting ways that Moira is connected to the overall themes of the game’s setting. For one, she’s part of the idea that science is a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, probably more than most of the cast put together. We’ve seen repeatedly that scientific pursuits without caution can lead to disaster, with the Omnic Crisis being the biggest and most devastating example of this. The Omnic Crisis came about because no one stopped to think that creating self-improving robot factories might lead to said robots resenting their place in the world. Moira, much like whoever designed that disaster of an idea, doesn’t seem to be capable of stopping for a second and thinking about the long-term consequences of her pursuits. I mean, look at Reaper! The poor git is indeed alive thanks to her tech, sure, but it sounds like he really wishes he wasn’t. Moira’s complete lack of limitations and ethics could cause another Omnic situation down the lane, but it’s clear that she couldn’t care less. This contrasts nicely with the other scientist of the cast, Mercy and Winston, who are both clearly doing their best to ensure something like that doesn’t come to pass again. Basically, Moira’s place in the theme is to personify the unregulated pursuit of dangerous knowledge, hence why she is firmly on the antagonist’s side.

Another point that’s worth considering is how Moira connects to the overall theme of the game. While there are a lot of different messages coming from a lot of different angles, the main one that seems to permeate throughout the game and its characters is the idea to “never accept the world as it appears to be. Dare to see it for what it could be.” While every character shows some elements of this (for better or for ill), Moira has kind of an interesting relationship with it. Her research and her goals seem to be directly aiming for changing the world as a whole, to unleash humanity’s potential and to completely alter the course the world is on. This is definitely a more grandiose interpretation of that message than most characters: heroic characters like Tracer and Winston simply want to restore peace and order, and even villainous characters like Reaper simply ‘dare to see’ the world being slightly less occupied by his old teammates. It’s interesting that one of the game’s most villainous characters also takes the game’s message so much to heart, though maybe that’s why Moira is such a compelling character. While there’s no room to doubt that Moira is ultimately an evil person, it’s kind of hard to not admire how relentless her drive is. While a world that’s built off the backs of needlessly cruel experimentation is probably not a good world to live in, it’s easy to see how such a world would be attainable to the one willing to go so far.

Just a fun thing to close out on, you ever notice that there’s a crap ton of anime references assigned to Moira? Like how she runs seems to be oddly reminiscent to that odd running style that seems to be used in Naruto? Or the fact that her ultimate attack is kind of similar to a Dragon Ball  kamehameha? It starts getting to a point where one has to wonder if Moira isn’t just super into anime, and let her move set be influenced by it. There’s obviously no way to know for sure if they were 100% intentional, but there’s such a high number of them that I am willing to buy that at least one guy at Blizzard knew what he was doing. In any case, let’s take a gander and see we what we can drag up.

The main ones I want to focus on is a set of sprays that Moira can use, found here (with an extra meme reference). While there’s always a chance that they’re unintentional, the sprays seem to reference Gendo’s iconic and sinister hands-folded pose from Evangelion, and the beginning of Tetsuo’s horrific transformation from AKIRA. The reason I want to focus on these two is because those two anime are actually kind of perfect for Moira: both are heavily steeped in crazy sci-fi madness that has a strong focus on cruel experimentation, and both have at least some themes of ‘going beyond human limits.’ Not to mention, both are reeeeeaaallllly grim, something that a person without too many moral limits can probably get behind. While the idea that Moira is some kind of anime fan is obviously made mostly as a joke, I can sort of believe that these two would be the anime that Moira would genuinely like. Though, it would raise the question of how the hell she can do her experiments when both of them show that doing crap like that ends in tragedy…

In terms of what we can take away from all this, it’s either one of two things. That the world that Moira is so desperately trying to create is one that’s closer to her favourite anime, hence why she’s subconsciously acting out stuff from them. Or, the more likely reason, that someone at Blizzard had just finished some kind of highly aggressive anime binge, and needed to vent all that stuff somewhere. Either way, it’s pretty hilarious.

And I think we’ll leave it there for now. Overall, Moira is a great addition to the world of Overwatch, if only because she connects a few more dots between the other characters (such as Reaper and his ‘condition’). She also makes a pretty good antagonist, since her presence can be used to explain how Talon keeps getting their hands on crazy good tech in addition to her acting as a direct foil for the game’s resident saint-like healer. Here’s to hoping that Blizzard will make the most out of her character in the future.

Thanks as always for stopping by! Apologises for missing a few updates; the lead up to the holidays have been kind of a nightmare. Hopefully things have stabilised themselves for the time being. See you soon!

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