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A gendered analysis of League champions

By Eefje 'sjokz' Depoortere
Apr 6, 2012 18:19

ImageVeteran female gamer Sjokz brings you the female perspective! How does it feel to be a girl in the League, and are the female avatars oversexualized? Read on to find out.

The oversexualization of women in videogames is a hot topic. Some argue that the perfect bodies are demeaning to women playing the game, and there is need for a shift of characters. This article aims to research if this critique is justified, and if something needs to change.

1. Motherly supports and manly junglers

First the numbers: out of a whopping ninety-four released champions, less than one in three (thirty to be exact), is female. Let's take a look at the different positions reserved for male or female champions.

First off, support roles. Summing up the tasks of a support champion, his or her main task is to protect teammates and especially the AD Carry in every possible way: creating visibility and thus protection via wards, shielding teammates when attacked, giving them speed buffs, health, mana... The support thus acts as the “mother” of the team, and that is translated in the number of female support champions in the game: Janna, Sona, Soraka, Karma and recently released support Lulu.

It's a good thing we have Alistar and Taric, giving the support role a manly touch, with especially Alistar bullying around botlane, but Riot seems to think that supporting is a task reserved primarly for women, preferably while wearing skimpy outfits, but more on that later.

On the other hand, the dangerous and dark jungle is a place seemingly best visited by male champions like Warwick, Nocturne, Lee Sin or Skarner. A closer look at the champions list reveals that we only have a few viable female junglers at the moment: Shyvana - and she gets help from her dragon form, Sejuani and Riven.

We spot a couple of powerful females in the toplane: Fiora duels her way to dominance, and Shyvana and Irelia are no ladies to mess with. Finally, we find the bulk of female champions in the AP and AD Carry positions, which is a good place to be seeing how carries have a gigantic influence on the course of the game.

Now that we've established the roles given to male or female champions, let's take a look how they are portrayed in game.

2. Representation: busty babes and muscular men?

Perfect bodies versus diversity

A common critique on champion design is that all women are “perfect” and sexy and that this oversexualization demeans women. As for imagery of female and male champions in League of Legends, there are some points to be made.

The first and most popular opinion being that most Ladies of the League (and I'm talking about ladies; Annie is a child and Anivia a bird!) seem to share a quasi perfect body, as sculpted in a high end Los Angeles plastic surgery clinic. Flawlessly shaped double-D breasts, curvacious behinds and immaculately toned stomachs are standard, barely covered by their warrior-attires. And which gamer doesn't dream of a candlelight dinner with Midnight Ahri, being charmed under a romantic full moon?

This might get feminists heated up, but the same argument goes for a good part of the male champions. I immediately think of Garens manly shoulders and Tryndameres ravishing sixpack. And who could resist the paragon of an alpha male that is JarMan or Mantheon? We can find unrealistic perfect bodies on both sides, but what about the diversity in characters?
In male characters, Gragas is hardly the poster boy for Men's Health with his bare feet, hairy face and humongous beer-belly, burping his way through Summoner's Rift. And what to think of Singed - A bald, mad chemist sporting the skinniest of bodies I've ever seen. Last but not least there's explorer Ezreal, pushing the diversity to a new level. Or do we think his Justin Bieber-haircut and, have to be politically correct here, girlish dancemoves are sexy, ladies?

We find a same level of variation amongst the female champions. Aside from picture-perfect Janna and Caitlyn, we spot quite a variety of types. Riven is a Mulan-type warrior with short hair, defending the toplane in a not revealing, but combat-handy outfit. Duelist Fiora sports a pair of solid thighs, needed to wield her sword. Leona is just a radiant image of strength appearing less scrawny than most of her colleagues with her gigantic sword and shield.

But all and all, there is certainly a need for champions with less than perfect bodies, because they all seem to derive from the same 'base' form with perfect A&T.

Functionality versus Sex

On the topic of oversexualization in comics, David Brothers states in his article “Art & Superheroines: When oversexualization kills the story”:

"Art in a comic is over-sexualized when the women are drawn as sex objects first and heroes (or people) second. Skimpy clothes, large breasts, arched backs, and exploitative camera angles all contribute to heroines being drawn as sex objects."

Let's use this definition to evaluate some of the more foxy championettes of the league.

Though it is true that Riot seems to take one standardized perfect body for it's female champions, one can hardly deny that the character design honors every champions strengths. Sivir may have an impressive rack and dito behind, but her in game picture is nothing short of powerful, surging to victory with her crossblade.
And after all we need to be realistic: a foxy cowgirl Miss Fortune skin will always sell better than a skin that has her covered up from head to toe. Seeing how the key demographic of League of Legends players are males between fifteen and thirty-five years old, Riot can't send a bunch of overweight grandmas to battle. One could even argue that it's empowering in a way: the Ladies of the League blast and slash away at their enemies in sexy outfits, immune to the Demacian testosteron standing in their way.

Videogames portray extremes

Finally, we have to keep in mind that videogames portray a world of extremes. A champion can't be defined by being 5'2'' instead of 5'8''. If he's big, he's going to be huge, and if he's short, he's going to be a munchkin. Extremes are kind of needed in videogames to keep things interesting. It's still a world of fantasy, and “normal” or “mediocre” just won't cut it. Tryndamere isn't just strong, he's beastily muscled. Janna doesn't just aircondition botlane, she unleashes storms to counter the enemy.

Maybe there is room for a female champion that is the picture of diversity, without being uninteresting for players. After all, Gragas needs a wife, too.

3. Conclusion: props to Riot, but room for improvement

All and all, I think Riot is doing a good job at keeping the genders balanced in their champions. Although there are significantly less female champions than male, Riot does their very best to create diversity in both categories through given roles, strengths and design. There is however a need for championettes with less than perfect bodies. Nobody says a tall and/or curvacious woman can't be sexy. She doesn't even need to be.

In any case, Riot succeeds in finding the balance between satisfying their key demographic of males between fifteen and thirty-five and keeping their appeal for female gamers. As a conclusion, videogames aim for the extreme, and it seems that, according to Riot, muscles and bodies just have to pop.

Images by:
Ganassa @ Deviantart
Lord Albrekt, an EUW Summoner



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