Riot has caught a lot of grief over the years for its portrayal of women in its flagship IP, League of Legends. Are community members, feminists, and critics justified in calling the company out and labeling its characters as "sexist?" No, I don't think so.
League of Legends offers a wide variety of character models--men, women, children, and genderless monsters of various ages, races, shapes, and sizes. By taking a close look at some of the game's more iconic female heroes, we see the game for what it truly is: a stylized melting pot of genders, ages, personalities, and cultures.
Annie is one of the game's most iconic and recognizable heroes, a demented little pyromaniac from Noxus that summons her pet Tibbers to fight and kill enemies. She costs only 450 IP, making her one of the cheapest, most accessible champions in the game. And, between her high-damage abilities and her stun passive, she is incredibly powerful when played correctly--a great mid-lane choice for both beginners and intermediates. Most players own her, and many of them use her regularly.
The question remains, is the character design sexist? Being a little girl, she has no bust or feminine curve, and none of her skins reveal anything other than legs, arms, and face. She is cute, an idealized image of a schoolgirl, but she is in no way sexual. Her teddy bear headband, backpack, and uniform are charming, not suggestive. By making her a little older, Riot could have played upon popular schoolgirl fantasies--but they didn't. They left her young and naive. The result: a demented, powerful mage hiding behind a harmless facade.
Cassiopeia, the half-woman, half-snake temptress, is one of the most powerful mid-laners in the game. Many players hate laning against her. She is a poisonous vixen armed with incredible crowd control and stun abilities. She is incredibly useful in lanes, and she is a invaluable asset in team fights.
[caption id="attachment_39744" align="aligncenter" width="657"] The king of Ethiopia Cepheus and the queen Cassiopeia thank Perseus for freeing their daughter Andromeda, La Délivrance d'Andromède.[/caption]
The champion takes her name from Queen Cassiopeia, wife of King Cepheus, ruler of AEthiopia. According to Greek myth, Cassiopeia and her daughter Andromeda claimed to be the two most beautiful women in the world, more beautiful than Nereus' sea-nymph daughters, the Nereids. When Poseidon heard of the queen and the princess' boasts, he became outraged. He flooded AEthiopia and (depending on the version of the story) sent the sea monster Cetus to destroy the capital. As an apology, King Cepheus chained Andromeda to a rock as a sacrifice. Perseus then swooped in, saved Andromeda, and killed the sea monster. Enraged, Poseidon chained Cassiopeia to a chair in the northern stars, a place where no mortal man could ever see her again. To this day, supposedly, she can still be seen in the western hemisphere, near the north star. In most depictions, she is naked or topless, carrying a vanity mirror.
Although her name is royalty, Cassiopeia's character design takes inspiration from another Greek myth. The gorgon Medusa, according to Ovid, was an incredibly beautiful maiden that had been transformed into a monster. According to The Metamorphoses, Poseidon raped Medusa in Athena's temple. As a result, Athena transformed Medusa so no man could ever claim her again. She turned Medusa's hair into snakes and made her face so incredibly terrible that the mere sight of it could turn beholders into stone. She was later beheaded by Perseus, who used the head to stun enemies. He later presented the gorgon's head to Athena, who placed it on her shield as a prize.
Cassiopeia is a sexual character. She wears only a bra, with scales covering her serpentine posterior. She is beautiful and busty. Her face is gaunt and symmetrical; she wears heavy eyeliner--reminiscent of modern runway models. Even her lore hints at her sexual nature:
"Cassiopeia is a terrifying creature--half woman, half snake--whose slightest glance brings death. The youngest daughter of one of Noxus' most influential families, she was once a beautiful and cunning temptress capable of manipulating the hardest heart. Transformed by the venom of an ancient Shuriman tomb guardian, she continues to serve Noxian interests as she always has, just in a more...visceral way."
Her hyper-sexuality is not necessarily sexist. She is a black widow. Her appearance, like her attacks and abilities, are poison. She uses sex to kill; she is a vixen. And all of her source material is much more provocative than her in-game portrayal. The AEtheopian Cassiopeia and the gorgon Medusa are rarely clothed in nearly all their classical depictions. They are busty, curvy, and pale--hyper-sexualized visions of Greek beauty and fertility.
There is a difference between sexuality and sexism. Sexuality is an embracement of one's gender; sexism is discrimination against gender based on gender-specific stereotypes.
All things considered, Riot's character design for Cassiopeia is very conservative, given her sources. She is wearing clothes. And her posture is aggressive and predatory. She embraces her gender and uses sex to her advantage in battle. She is a powerful female figure, not a misogynistic stereotype.
Jinx is a powerful glass cannon. She is the anarchist under lord of Piltover, arch enemy of Sherriff Caitlyn and Enforcer Vi. Armed with a minigun and a rocket launcher, she is one of the fastest and hardest-hitting champions in the game. When used correctly, she can topple towers and dominate team fights in seconds.
Jinx takes inspiration from comics and twentieth century punk rock culture, namely Tank Girl by Jaime Hewlett and Alan Martin, Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. She wears three belts, one around her waist, one as a garter, and one across her bust. She wears cut-off khaki shorts, punk boots, mis-matched knee-high stockings, and a make-shift bra top. Her silhouette is thin and boyish; she has a very small bust, tiny hips, and a long, gawky neckline--reminiscent of heroine-chic fashion in the late 80s and early 90s.
But her style is not so much sexual as much as it is rebellious. Her ripped clothes, blue hair, pale complexion, and love for theatrically large guns is an anarchist statement. Everything about her character design conflicts with contemporary concepts of feminine beauty. Modern social constructs call women to be thin, tanned, and toned with long, natural hair and a curvy silhouette. Jinx is pale, waspish, and untoned. She is covered in tattoos. Her unnatural hair drags the ground in two tight ponytails. She is crude and unrefined. Despite her lack of clothing, she is one of the least-sexual champions in the game.
Like Cassiopeia, Miss Fortune is a hyper-sexual character that uses sex to seduce and destroy enemies. In the past year or so, this particular champion has received a lot of hate from internet feminist groups, namely League of Sexism, for wearing needlessly provocative outfits. However, when one takes a close look at Miss Fortune's lore, they see a vengeful heroine that uses her feminine charm to build a pirate fleet, pursue her mother's murderer, and make her home a better place. Here is an excerpt from her lore page:
"For those who brave the harsh seas of Runeterra, attaining one's own ship and crew is the pinnacle of success. Sarah Fortune, a well-respected (some would say legendary) bounty hunter from Bilgewater, was able to achieve this feat just after her sixteenth birthday, etching out her name as the go-to gal for resolving special troubles. No bounty was too difficult or too dangerous for her feminine charm and her renowned use of her twin pistols, ''Shock and Awe''. Her success gave her the means to legitimately purchase her own ship... with a little flirtatious haggling, of course. Things weren't always so fortunate for Miss Fortune, though. When she was young, trade ships began to dot the horizon of her quiet home in the northern shores of Blue Flame Island's largest chunk. Trade routes brought piracy, and the inhabitants soon found themselves caught in a frenzy of pillage."
She takes inspiration from Anne Bonny, a famous red-headed pirate synonymous with the Gold Age of Piracy. Like Miss Fortune, she lost her mother at a young age and used her feminine charms to build a pirate legacy.She wooed sailor and part-time pirate James Bonny, and used her influence to steal a ship, build a small fleet, and become one of the most infamous criminals in the 18th century. She was later captured, but, due to an alleged pregnancy, she was spared from execution. Instead, she simply disappeared from all record.
Again, there is a difference between sexuality and sexism. Although she portrays themes of contemporary beauty, she does so with purpose. She is a strong figure that uses her sex to get things done. Her arcade skin, the skin that has caused the most controversy, is a mirror of both the character and the golden age of arcade video games.
Is League of Legends sexist? No. Is it sexual? Of course. There are dozens of sexual female characters in the game--but there are also several hyper-sexual male characters. In all, Riot does a good job balancing the idealistic and the fantastic. They fill their game with men, women, teenagers, children, and androgynous monsters. It is a good game with a healthy, diverse champion pool.