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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

[LoL & SMITE] A tale of two characters, or, "Who the Hel is that?"

So in the past few weeks two of the bigger MOBAs have each introduced a new female character...well in one case it's a rework of an old one, but given that the character got a complete revamp, I think it counts for the purpose of this post. The characters are Jinx from League of Legends, and Hel from Smite respectively. You see the two show fundamentally different design philosophies; one takes a step forward, the other a step back. Yar, there be satire ahead; and remember, we can be critical of media while still enjoying it. Also, the horse isn't dead yet!

We got Jinx'ed

So lets start with the good, though let me forewarn that while Jinx takes a step forward, the other foot is firmly planted in the past. Jinx is rumored to be Vi's younger sister whose life took the exact opposite direction as her law-abiding elder. So lets take a look at the splash art...
I wonder how long it takes to do those braids.
What certainly jumped out at me first was her outfit (or lack thereof), but second was the fact that, given that I knew the source was League of Legends, the small chest. At first I wondered if Riot had just introduced a gender-queer or trans-woman character* (but this is a triple-A developer, so fat chance of that because apparently to them 'GSM don't real') in part because no cis-female character hits the League roster without a solid C cup or better. Eventually I realized that indeed, this was League's attempt at a female character with small breasts. I think Nerfnow sums it up pretty well...
Not sure why Jo is green here...

Jinx took a bold stride for LoL; a female character whose breasts were not the same size as her head or so voluminous that her armor requires specific niches curved out for them. Certainly that's a step, but lets be's not that big of one. Women with breasts the same size as Jinx's exist, so it's less about LoL going above and beyond, and more about them recognizing that body types besides Janna's exist. While it's commendable, she is also half-naked, and as Nerfnow poked, it's kind of like we got a backhanded-compliment from League "We'll put other women's bodies in, but they'll still be super skinny (cause larger people don't real) and we're going to keep them basically naked." Which is sad given that the last few female champions have started adopting more sensible wardrobes for fighting such as Sejuani's redesign, Quinn, Lissandra (Bloodstone skin not withstanding), even Vi (though her's is basically a skintight body suit). Still, LoL had been going forward; but Jinx feels too "planned" to buck that trend while keeping one foot firmly in their "safe" territory.

What the Hel...

And here we see an example of a humongous leap backwards, albeit, and I won't make any friends at Hi-Rez here (but I did love Global Agenda!), which is saying a great deal for a game that is equal parts sexism and cultural appropriation. So Hel is the goddess of the underworld in Norse mythology and is likely where the Christian "Hell" gets its name. Previously her model involved a character that was divided literally down the middle between a fairer skinned form and ebon black skin, see below.

Original splash art
The new version is a bit different; now I can understand them wanting to have her go through actual model changes to help her team and enemies know which "mode" she is in, given that the character can switch between two and tactical decisions might require awareness of which she is in. Alas, below is the art displayed of the two.

The daughter of White Queen and Elvira
See the difference? Breast size increase, clothing increased but only in a more sexualizing way. Oh and she's wearing heels. I suppose it proves the old mantra (that was originally a joke..) that "One does not simply get reworked with the same breast size." In this case, it's almost blatant. The previous Hel did not necessarily fit modern views of attractiveness, but the actual version didn't necessarily either, so it's clear that Hi-Rez made the choice that making her sexy was more important than sticking to source material. It's a bit sad given that with their previous new female character, Chang'e, they managed to not go overboard with the sexualization. In the case of Hel's outfit, it went from something that was certainly revealing but seemed almost "practical" for a goddess that doesn't typically wear much, to clothes intentionally designed for their sexual appeal.

But you know, at least she isn't wearing heels...

But sex SELLS!

I'm going to digress here briefly because this argument comes up whenever sexualization of a female character comes up. Lots of morally questionable things still work; genocide is a fantastic way to silence dissenting views but I am pretty sure most reasonable people would call it as reprehensible, dumping toxic waste into the nearest sewer sounds great but most consider it harmful. Just because something makes you a dollar does not mean it is ethical; in fact it's often the opposite.

Sex may sell to some, but do you really like the idea of being manipulated that way? I personally dislike the idea that developers or advertisers are trying to get to my wallet via my genitalia. Many other bloggers and writers have also commented on the message it sends to have exclusively sexualized female characters.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having sexy characters of both genders; but for female characters is it most often the rule, not the exception, and their attire, physical form, and presentation tend to undermine their credibility and legitimacy as "powerful" characters as opposed to objects presented for sexual enticement.

In conclusion...

This case shows the dichotomous difference between the two company's philosophies in designing characters. League of Legends is making progress in expanding it's roster's diversity (with such additions as Lucian and the reworked Karma, now Jinx) albeit slowly and...reluctantly. While SMITE remains firmly in the early 2000's "Gamers are all teenage boys" camp. I fully understand the appeal of having sexualized female characters; I find them attractive too, but I am not the only demographic in gaming, and I think the negative effects on others far outweigh my own gratification.

* - Possibility of other GSM also occurred to me.

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