By Sylvia Artiga:

Someone in the world is Roadhog, a jolly monster with a deep growling voice, and I am D.Va, a teenager driving a giant war machine, and we are making small talk. In Overwatch, before each match you’re dropped into a team and given a few moments to prep for the upcoming battle. After you’ve decided on a character to play, you can use this time to test out the feel of the character’s body and how they move through the world. You can bring up the communication wheel, which has a few options to interact with your teammates. It’s just enough to pass the time, maybe coordinate an attack or two. If you’re used to cobbling together a relationship over cultures, languages, and generations, however, it’s enough to build a friendship.

My grandmother is from El Salvador, growing up in poverty and war. She speaks Spanish and the English that she’s picked up from numerous marathons of Walker, Texas Ranger. I grew up a world away, in more ways than one, and can only speak English and the Spanish that I needed to fulfill graduation requirements. I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and had what other people might call a real conversation, but I can feel her love in my bones.

We talk in Spanglish, but more than that, we emote, like characters in a MMO game. We gesture. We move in ways that show what we mean and what we’re feeling. It’s not just the way our hands point or our eyebrows raise. It’s how she always brings the snacks that I liked to eat as a kid (“I’m happy to see you again”) or how I send her pictures of the places I visit (“Thank you for working so hard to give me this life”).

Even if I could speak the same language as my grandmother, not just learn Spanish but learn her Spanish, we might still be divided by the huge gulf that exists between the first-generation immigrants and their children. But these gestures, emoting our feelings and thoughts to each other, have built an unbreakable bridge.

Overwatch provides some standard emotes but the players can build a language on top of it. A player might bounce up and down in front of another character until they get a reaction or use the wave emote after tossing their Ultimate at their enemies at just the right time. In that moment I enjoyed with Roadhog, they pushed their belly against my mech to nudge me towards the window of our spawn point, then shot at a spot on the glass. I moved D.Va to stand there and spotted an enemy trying to hide, so I had D.Va draw a heart in the air to show Roadhog that I figured it out. When it was time to begin, we rushed the enemy together and made quick work of them. Roadhog turned to me and laughed a hearty laugh. Team work. Friendship. Working together, even over an impossible distance.

Sylvia is on twitter @thepipsqueaks