Gender in League of Legends, Pt. I:
I’ve been getting back into League of Legends for my Game Cultures research project and the paper submission I’m working on for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. We’ve been discussing the sexualization of the female body in the videogames in class, and I thought it’d be worth looking into for my current project.
League of Legends is filled with female champions who are scantily clad and well-endowed with the ubiquitous eroticism of high fantasy. Quickly introduced: Ashe is a very popular champion (player-controlled avatar) who fits this mold fairly well. She was one of the champions available at launch, and she’s one of the cheapest to purchase. As a ranged carry (i.e. a ranged champion with a skill-set suitable to “carry” the rest of her team to victory at top level), she’s also useful in most games.
She’s illustrated like this on the official League of Legends site:
The Frost Archer’s attire seems a little more suited to the beach than snow-capped mountaintops. The clothing/climate mismatch is as de rigeur as busty babes in the high fantasy milieu— Brendan Keogh has discussed this weird trope’s appearance in Skyrim, for example. It’s more than just the visual illustrations that emphasize Ashe’s role as a sexy mascot for League of Legends, however. Here’s the first sentence in Ashe’s Chamipion profile page on Riot’s site, followed by the last segment:
One of the perennial favorites of summoners in the League of Legends is the Freljordian beauty known as Ashe. [...]
Rumors abound that Ashe has begun to associate herself with fellow champion Tryndamere outside of the Fields of Justice. While she denies such talk as frivolous, all eyes will remain on Ashe now that her success in the League may finally allow her to restore lasting peace to her people.
The first noun used to describe Ashe is “beauty”– we also get to hear some gossip about her attachment to a male champion in the diegetic League, and to bring it home we’re assured that “all eyes will remain” on Ashe’s physical assets.
Meanwhile, I also stumbled across some official League of Legends gear on J!NX:
For those of you not previously exposed to the meme this references, “DAT ASS” has become an image response-meme to “rump threads” on image boards like 4chan, according to KnowYourMeme. From a 2007 image of rapper Rich Boy, the “DAT ASS” caption (in meme-standard Impact Bold) has mutated into a rich diversity of men’s faces biting their lower lip. 1 “DAT [noun]” has also branched into a phylum of internet-speak. It makes sense that the game with the largest online population would have a good deal of overlap with internet meme culture, and Ashe’s name is just a little frictation away from “ASS”. The t-shirt conveys Ashe’s visual sexualization and her desirable position in the game as a powerful carry. Notably, the comment thread for the item demonstrates a display of restraint from crude or sexually demeaning language. Nonetheless, it’s still an invocation of image-threads which at best objectify the female body and at worst dip into the far slummier domain of “creepshots“.
Going a little further, there are also two user-submitted photos; both of them are of white girls in DAT ASHE shirts. One‘s a pretty straightforward mirror-shot selfie displaying the product, the other is this:
This user-submitted shot definitely puts the user at the forefront; most of the shirt’s image is out of frame. I haven’t created a J!NX account, nor am I familiar with the community, but this gendered choice of wording suggests that the demographic using J!NX is largely male 2:
So what do we make of this MySpace-esque (close crop, direct look into camera) user-submitted photo? Is this vanity? An invitation to flirting? A ploy to motivate male users to vote for the image for some kind of marketing-based reward? If anyone reading this has experience with J!NX, don’t be shy about weighing in.
Gender and sexuality in League of Legends are complex subjects with a wide variety of connotations and contradicting meanings. I don’t have any neat conclusions; it seems obvious that any activity with millions of participants is going to be infused with sex, especially if someone’s trying to make money off of it. (Marketing is an exercise in the transitive property of desire.) Where’s the line between opposing the objectification of women and embracing a neo-Victorian sexual repression in popular culture? Beats me.
Stay tuned for the second part of this inquiry, where I reflect on playing League of Legends as a dude who has a high-pitched voice, loves crystals, and goes into battle with bright pink armor and furry boots.