TikTok is a lip-synching app that’s popular among teenagers. If you’re not a teenager, you might be more familiar with this app through “cringe” compilations, which are videos that string together several TIkTok videos, often for the purposes of mockery. Every single “cringe” compilation that I’ve watched contains at least one instance of the Overwatch-themed song “No Mercy” by nerdy pop-rock band The Living Tombstone.
It’s easier to explain the song “No Mercy” than it is to explain than the phenomenon surrounding it, so let’s start there. The lyrics describe a problem familiar to people who play competitive games: the team is losing, and the song’s narrator is a player lashing out and criticising his teammates’ choices, especially the fact that no one chose to play as a support character. In response, a secondary female vocalist pipes up to address this player’s ire, saying they refuse to play as a support character and, also, that the first player is just as much to blame for the team’s failure. Intentionally or not, the song also lampshades a common trend in gaming where women players are usually expected to play as support roles.
There’s no way to be nice about this—I think this song blows. I’ve long outgrown my music snob phase and listen to Ariana Grande and Britney Spears alongside Mitski and Vince Staples, and have even admitted to myself that I like a musical or two. I just think this song is corny as hell, and that the production, while polished, is a huge misstep. The way the voices are produced makes them sound artificial, and whatever synth tone the band is using sounds like the song was composed on a keyboard shaped like a cat. In particular, the way the female singer sings, “Nerf Bastion,” sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me.
Yet I understand why people, especially young women, like it so much. The melody is a total earworm, and every time I hear it, I find myself singing, “Maybe I’ll be Tracer,” against my will. And besides, the lyrics do speak to a common problem. Sometimes you just want to play a game you like without someone telling you to play a character you don’t want to play or aren’t good at. Sometimes, you really just don’t want to be Mercy, or any kind of support.
The portion of the song that has ended up on TikTok over and over is the bridge, during which the female singer keeps already having selected the character that the male singer was considering picking. This part of the song is a call and response between two people, and that’s how the TikTok recreations tend to go. A woman lip-syncs one portion of the song, creating an opportunity for someone else to record the other half and reupload the video. These are the types of clips that end up on those cringe compilations.
At first, these did seem kind of funny to me. They’re also giving me a glimpse at the teen trends of 2018. I did not know teenagers still had the emo side-swept fringe and snakebite lip piercings that I so coveted when I was a teen myself. But, after perusing more and more of these videos, it became clear to me that these cringe compilations weren’t lightheartedly making fun of teenagers. These users seem to just hate that women play video games, and that they’re expressing enthusiasm over the games they like.
This video, entitled “Overwatch FAKE Gamer Girls Tik Tok,” gets more to the point. It’s a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme: girls couldn’t possibly like video games and they are only doing this for attention.
Some of these videos do feature men singing the male portion of the song, or they present pairs of young, overstyled teens together, each performing one half of the duet. More often than not, though, these compilations are just a showcase of young women participating in a hobby they enjoy. Sometimes, the other half of the video has a response from someone just outright making fun of the woman. In one response, another woman holds up a note saying “turn your controller on bitch.” Why would someone turn on a controller they are using as a prop for a video? Do you expect them to actually be playing a game of Overwatch while recording?
The point of posting things online is to get attention. If you didn’t want that attention, you would be doing literally anything else. You want people to look at the salad you had for lunch, to click the heart next to your funny tweet, or yes, to record the other half of “No Mercy.” The people uploading these cringe compilations are looking for the same dopamine squirt as the women uploading videos on TikTok. It’s the women that get criticised, though, and not the people making fun of them.
I know that teenagers love pushing boundaries, and sometimes part of that is trying on controversial worldviews. I just think it’s kind of sad to see young men and women replicating an idea I’d hoped we’d grown out of by this point, and that “No Mercy” was designed to combat: that women should be unseen and unheard.