In starting my series of sexuality and video games I’ve picked League of Legends, a rather successful (putting it lightly) MOBA game that is free to play. Let me get out of the way to start that this is not a critique of the gameplay; it is an extremely fun game. The issue I am addressing is how the genders are depicted. For all it does right, LoL is anything but progressive with its depiction of female characters. I’ve compiled a list of all the female characters below, organized into three categories: sexualized, arguable, and not-sexualized.
Sexualized – I find it hard to argue that any of these characters are completely non-sexualized. While some a surely more than others (hi Janna and Miss Fortune) they all are wearing boob-plate, posing in some suggestive way (that accentuates secondary sexual characteristics) or are in revealing clothing despite their role in the game.
Ahri – Default costume is off the shoulder, pose accentuates curves
Akali – Costume is skin-tight
Ashe – Costume again
Caitlyn – Exposed shoulders, short skirt
Cassiopeia – Bikini, curves
Evelyn – Do I need to explain it?
Irelia – No armor on the shoulders, though Irelia is among the least
Janna – Bikini, presenting herself with pose
Karma – Tight clothing, pose accentuates hips
Katarina – Midriff, curves, pose accentuates breasts
LeBlanc – Skin tight costume, post accentuates hips
MissFortune – Exposed shoulder and cleavage, inviting expression
Morgana – Bikini, pose accentuates breasts
Nidalee – Among the least, still costume is skimpy
Riven – Among the least, but skirt is very short
Sejuani – Chainmail bikini
Shyvana – Midriff
Sivir – Exposed hips, cleavage and midriff
Sona – Huge breasts/cleavage
Vayne – Skintight costume and pose that highlights thighs.
Arguable – These characters are debatable; their clothing is more conservative and their poses more fitting but at the same time each has “some” elements.
Leona – Despite being armored she is wearing a leotard and bikini-plate. However she is not looking directly at the camera, this is a plus!
Lux – Curvy form, boob-plate, but at least she is not posing to accentuate it.
Soraka – Her form is very unique, but her costume is just a tabard held on by straps and leaves her open to excesses of side-boob as it were.
Non-Sexualized – This part is actually the most revealing to me; I’ll address it after the list but notice that with only one exception all of these characters are non-human or children.
Anivia – “Female” according to the voice and lore.
Annie – A child, thus not at all sexualized
Kayle – See below
Orianna – A machine, though a well-endowed one
Poppy – Non-human though unlike most Yordles has been made more “human”.
Tristana – Same as Poppy.
The third list is the most interesting to me. I am of the school of thought that to some degree having sexualized characters is alright…though I would MUCH prefer to see it be consistent (as in do it to male characters as well). What the “Non-sexualized” list reveals to me is the deeper, more insidious issue that pervades gender in gaming; the idea of “be pretty or be asexual”. Note how few games allow for females that are not somewhat physically attractive. Take SWTOR which has a “Fat” slider for your characters…this is good but taking a look at what it allows and you see it’s not exactly equal opportunity. Males can be virtually spherical while female characters barely make it past a size 8. The message it sends is that women are only allowed to fit within a certain set of parameters and if not, they do not belong in our game.
Getting back to LoL we see that one exception; Kayle. A female certainly, and given the slim waist we can safely assume that without her armor she could easily share clothing with most of the other female characters in the game. So if we accept Kayle anyways, we have one single character among 28.
The right to be different
I wanted to use the word “ugly” but that would making judgments based on my cultural assumptions of beauty, and yet Riot’s female characters with not a single exception are all attractive or cute (or non-human). You have no female equivalent of Yorick or Tryndamere…no scarred up, undead or otherwise “different” female characters. They all are attractive or cute without question. Even the “Yordles” Tristana and Poppy have been made to appear more human (in stark contrast to the male Yordles: Kennen, Teemo, Rumble and Heimerdinger, which all appear more animal-like).
What Riot and other companies need to learn is that there are many body types; that there are women out there that are beautiful despite not being 36-24-36 and that their audiences won’t collapse if they included female characters that were different. With the majority of gamers now being female, I would confidently bet money that they might like to see characters that look more like they do; characters that are role models that aren’t necessarily Victoria Secret models in their spare time.
In truth this issue is not confined to women throughout gaming, but in LoL at least the male characters represent a variety of body types; even if some of them are being intentionally satirical.
Is it really that difficult to have female characters that are not secretly models that can be created and handled in a respectful and straight-faced manner?
To be fair…
Many of the female characters have skins that might be dressed more conservatively or more practically depending on your perspective. However for every one of those there are two “Kitty Kat Katarina” skins. There is not a single male character I can find that is depicted in a way meant to sexually appeal to women. Ezreal, Twisted Fate and Garen might be attractive to women, or so my female friend claims but they are fully clothed and practically dressed; their clothing is not attempting to accentuate their secondary sexual characteristics. The closest there is would be Pantheon; who might be heavily muscled but his appearance is clearly trying to make him look “powerful” and his helmeted head is making him look more like a force than a person.