Have you ever been sure that something was a fact? Perhaps something you 'know' to be an unequivocal truth, so you stroll to Wikipedia to look into it and upon getting there realise you were wrong. Perhaps you've even had a group of friends agree upon the validity of a statement, only to find you're all wrong. Now, imagine a huge cluster of seemingly unconnected people claiming something existed in exact terms, only to not be able to find concrete evidence of it. That's close to what a portion of Overwatch players are experiencing at the moment.
The Mandela Effect is a fascinating concept. It essentially posits the idea of mass groups of people remembering something about reality that is false. It received its namesake from troops of people claiming, assuredly, that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. Of course, Mandela didn't die until 2013. It's far from the only cited example. Hannibal Lecter never says 'Hello Clarice' in Silence of the Lambs, the Berenstain Bears was never spelt with an 'e' instead of an 'a', and Sinbad never made a genie movie. Many claim the veridical nature of these things, but while they're close to the truth, none are exact. There's a lot of speculation as to how this happens. The more out there suggest this is an instance of parallel universes getting a little muddled with our own. Even further out there, it's time-travellers going back and affecting our past. There is, of course, a more mundane explanation: our minds are quite bad at recollection - with a scoop of memory conformity on top.
The effect has reared its head in a new, rather unexpected place: the colourful battlegrounds of Overwatch. It comes in the form of a Reaper and Mercy interaction you can hear in the waiting area before a game starts. The line supposedly goes:
Mercy: This isn't what I intended for you, Reyes.
Reaper: You knew exactly what you were doing.
It's a significant line for the lore of Overwatch. It suggests Mercy had a hand in transforming Gabriel Reyes into Reaper, and thus she is not the angelic saint she's portrayed as.
However, there is no solid evidence of the line ever existing. Yet if you search forums, Reddit threads, social media and blog posts, you will see reams of discussions online asking where the interaction has gone. In a twist, when I first dug into this, I also was certain I'd heard the line, distinctly remembering Mercy's light delivery and Reaper's reverberating retort.
With a lack of definitive evidence, the discussion only got hotter. The topic of this line got brought up so often the lead writer of Overwatch, Michael Chu, stepped in. Taking to the Blizzard forums, he said:
"I'm not sure where it came from (maybe there is another line that sounds similar to it), but the "this is not what I intended for you, Reyes" line/exchange does not actually exist in the game."
Illustrating just how incessant the question was, he continued on Twitter:
"Honestly at this point it would probably be a relief to my sanity if someone found a recording of those voice lines."
"I swear this line has haunted me since day one," says Reddit user RadioactiveJellyfsh, talking to Eurogamer. RadioactiveJellyfsh is one of earliest posters of the line on Reddit, going as far back as February 2016, before the game's launch.
"I was in the beta with four of my friends, and it was the day they had just put the new interactions into the game. We all went to play and see what everyone was saying to each other. After a while we started playing games as normal instead of trying to force the interaction in a custom match and we were in the starting area. We weren't paying attention, then all of a sudden I hear that line.
"For the rest of this game I have been listening for this line. I never heard it again after that first day."
Another early poster of the line on Reddit, Extramechanica, echoed the circumstances of the line.
"This line was triggered in Overwatch Beta in the spawning room (I'm not sure if it still was there after the release)," he says. "Reaper and Mercy got tons of interactions, according to which players assumed that she is the one who responsible for his condition."
There are those who even claim the line hit release. In a popular thread on the Overwatch forums, user NotHolly asks where the line has gone, but adds they didn't start playing until after release. That initial post has 100 upvotes and has hit 12 pages of fierce debate about whether the dialogue exists or not. That's a lot for those forums.
There are theories as to why this line might have been removed. The prevailing is either it was a lore change or a roll back on information. Specifically, Mercy having anything to do with Reaper's creation. Did the plan change? Did Blizzard re-conceal? The answer you get depends on who you ask. If you go looking, it won't take long to find posts claiming this is an internet wide cover-up by Blizzard. Considering Blizzard has been pretty open with fans about changes it makes to the game, including when it comes to clearing up lore, this seems a tad far-fetched. The other prevailing theory is it was a simple mistake. It got taken out the game very quickly, and Michael Chu either prefers it to not be remembered, or just hasn't found the right document with it written down. An easier pill to swallow, perhaps.
Again though, thus far, no concrete evidence has emerged to prove the line exists or has ever existed. In a game with 30 million players, thousands of streams at any one time, a thriving YouTube community as well as instant replay and share buttons on our consoles and PCs, it's hard to see how there isn't a good example of the lines being recited - if they existed.
That doesn't mean there isn't anything between the two characters. Consider the fairly common line:
Mercy: What happened to you?
Reaper: You tell me, doc!
This is the only definite interaction between the two characters in Overwatch. Perhaps the debate is over this line being misheard. It's so different though, that seems unlikely. There is a Reaper line that bears a strong resemblance, however. This one most certainly exists, too. It goes a little something like this:
Reaper: Don't forget, you are responsible for this.
That's in the same ballpark, right? It's said to play when Reaper kills a Mercy in-game. This, at the very least, would confirm Mercy's involvement in Reaper's current state. Well, to frustrate you further, in an uroboros of perpetual muddy water, it's not clear if that was ever the case. The line seemingly isn't in the game any more, and is only listed on wikis like Gamepedia as 'datamined'. That means its nature, and who it was aimed at, isn't clear. It could be about anyone or anything.
Sadly, some investigations don't have definitive conclusions. This is especially true of those where the most dominant theory is 'it never existed'. In this case, evidence most certainly points that way. There are denials from people in the know, no video evidence... this should be case closed. And yet, there is still doubt.
Seemingly unconnected players, in their droves, swear they've heard the line. Even I, despite looking into this for hours and coming up with a blank, can still hear Reaper and Mercy reciting these lines, clear as day - even though it's almost certain they don't exist. That 'almost' is an important space though. It's the place where doubt, hope and wonder blend to makes for the best urban legends. Perhaps because we can only be 'almost certain' instead of 'absolutely certain', this mystery is so alluring. There's something poetic about an invisible line that exists in the collective consciousness of unconnected people. To be grandiose, the experience of not being certain of our reality makes us human. Maybe this Overwatch interaction is out there, in the vast unknowable abyss of the internet, just waiting for the right person to come along and uncover it. But maybe its absence is even more attractive.