Gender in League of Legends, Pt. II

by tommy.rousse

"Morgana, the Fallen... Baker?" From Riot's Journal of Justice. Click for source.

My last post provoked some interesting discussions.  The next lengthy post will focus on Taric and sexuality in League of Legends.  In order to deliver on the promise I got myself into by labeling the last post Pt.1, I wanted to get into the responses and some of the things I learned as a result.

First up, my discussion of the two user-submitted photos on the “DAT ASHE” shirt product page. One of my friends from high school, Liz, has much better personal perspective on participating in game culture as a woman than I do.  Notably, she is a woman, and also has the highest Xbox Live gamerscore out of any of my friends.  She responded with some excellent insight on Facebook.

I don’t see the same dichotomy or meaning behind the two photos. I mean the second photo is probably cropped so weird, because it was instagrammed and thus had to be square. So her options were either cut off her face or cut off her shirt. Which, yeah, most women would have a problem posting a picture of their boobs without their head in the frame, and we all now instagram is ~so~ hip. Also, I feel like you might have overlooked the idea that the girl could be a lesbian, which isn’t a big deal, but she could be flirting in a different manner by wearing that shirt. And I feel like dick doesn’t have to be a gendered term. If you’re playing a game online as a girl, and keep a gender neutral username (which many women do), than you’re used to be calling a dick, it’s not that big of a stretch. Would you expect them to say (but don’t be a dick or a bitch)? Would you expect the internet to be able to exist without penis references?

—Liz Dunn, personal communication

Like Nathan Jurgenson, I love talking about Instagram, so this was a pretty exciting idea for me.  Plus it’s got some juicy political implications from material frameworks stuff going on. Unfortunately I popped open the image properties and figured out that the image as posted didn’t have the 1×1 ratio that Instagram requires.  Liz clarified that it was about more than the specificity of Instagram:

even if it’s not exactly 1×1 or made with instagram, it could still be reflecting photo trends? it’s weird the way square dimension photos are in fashion these days.

i also tend to assume women crop photos out of self-consciousness, (since I do that a lot), so only showing your breasts and not your stomach makes sense, too. i get what you’re getting at in your post, i just don’t have the same initial reaction is all. i don’t even see it as a particularly important question. like, a woman is wearing a shirt with sexual connotations. Why is this exciting, and why does it matter if she does it to make herself feel better, or attract the attention of men or women? Why do we over-analyze her photos in particular? In a sense you’re analyzing a woman expressing her sexuality, which is a bit of a slippery slope. I like the part about you analyzing how LoL expresses their character’s sexuality, though, because that’s the game creators, making some obvious, bold choices about their female character’s sexuality.


I’m admittedly moving from an extremely anecdotal basis in my previous analysis, but Liz’s comment made me realize I hadn’t elaborated much on what I found peculiar about it.  Hell, after thinking about it, I guess it isn’t that peculiar.

My uncritical analysis went something along the lines of: “J!nx exists to sell products, here’s a picture of the product, here’s a picture of a user that obscures the product.” has a fairly hegemonic grip on my conception of online retail, and the few user-submitted pictures featured on that site are usually pretty boring and useless photos of books on people’s floors, so it seemed different and somewhat remarkable to me, regardless of the subject of the t-shirt. As far as I can tell, J!nx doesn’t feature any kind of vote-based reward scheme, so the only gamified incentive provided by the platform is for posting pictures of “XP” and “gold.” The problem is that I don’t really know anything about these sort of retailer-focused online communities, and I drew on my own insufficient personal experience.

I ended up creating an account so I could look around on J!nx, and I noticed two things 1.) this photo is almost identical to the other dozen or so photos this user has posted and 2.) lots of photos feature the user more heavily than the product.  This makes a fair bit of sense.  Plenty of fashion shoots and advertising campaigns don’t feature the product they’re nominally about. It also speaks to why Amazon user-submitted photos are so few and so boring— one picture of a book on somebody’s table is just as good as the next, and multiple copies don’t particular increase the genre’s charm.

Over at the ludology subreddit, I bummed out vdanmal by not discussing Riot’s response to the sexualization of female characters and Ashe’s lore development in the Journal of Justice. (The kitchenified Morgana above is from the Journal of Justice.) Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

So as the game has progressed, Ashe has married the champion Tryndamere— not for romantic reasons, but as a realpolitik move to cement an alliance between her people and Tryndamere’s barbarians. A fascinating move on Riot’s part, and a nice counter to my points about speculating on Ashe’s romantic life.

Turns out Riot also has a lot to say about the sexual representation of their characters.  You can check out an excerpted version of a lengthy discussion with IronStylus here, and an excellent detailed critique of that response here.