Evolution Made Me Do It: Art and Gender in League of Legends

Sejauni, a woman rockin' some serious boar and flail action, likely about to bring about some serious death. Unless someone were to stab her, oh, anywhere on her body, of course. On balance it's not as terrible as it could be, at least she's doing something rather than merely preening. But again we find breasts pointlessly emphasised and a chainmail bikini for no specific reason.


There are times when League of Legends really lives up to its acronym, I’m afraid. A close friend of mine who plays the game drew my attention to a forum thread where a male gamer complained about the oversexualised image of a new character being added to the game, Sejuani.

“She must be a strong lady to lift her flail and shield, or even ride her mount. But she doesn’t look it. None of the female champs look particularly strong. But the male champs are not only more varied, but their body types support their character. Strong warrior champs are big. Makes sense, right? Casters tend to be thinner. There’s a lot of variety among the male champs in terms of body type. But all the female champs are just lingerie models, regardless of the size of their weapon or the weight of their armor (I’m looking at you and your plate mail heels, Leona).

This is a problem with most games, and while I love League of Legends, they’re very guilty of falling into this trend. Men are varied and appropriately proportioned, women are thin and busting out of their tops regardless of who they are or what they do. I really wish Riot would change this.”

Reasonable enough.

What makes this thread unique is that one of the senior concept artists- who goes by Iron Stylus on the forums- favoured it with a lengthy, revealing response. Before I go into it I should write the usual disclaimers about such criticism: I appreciate that he responded at all, that he seemed to put some thought into his answer, and that he did not dismiss the matter out of hand. But as per usual with comments like these, good intentions are all that can be praised.

“That being said, yes, often in the video game industry, and the entertainment industry, there is a “standardization” of female form. I’m as guilty of it as any other artist when designing. Leona is a tall curvy lady which in my mind is “idealized”. We’re artists, we like “ideal” and sometimes default to it. (REMEMBER! I’m keeping “Ideal” in QUOTES! “Ideal” is not an “Ideal” term for what I’m “Ideally” trying to explain)”

Often as not in arguments like this I will see defenders of the status quo move heaven and earth to prove their generalisations are not, in fact, generalisations. But there is a truth about fiction writing that applies just as well to non-fiction writing: show, don’t tell. Putting “ideal” in quotes doesn’t change the fact that by entirely de-gendering the issue he’s obscuring what the complaint actually is. Why is this character an ideal- excuse me, “ideal”? To whom is it an ideal?

“but let’s be honest, a lot of natural human tendency which is often hardwired into us makes us gravitate towards particular biological attributes. I’m not trying to defend that gravitation, but I am saying that we are many times inexorably drawn to it… no art pun intended.”

This is the point at which I’m checking off my Bingo sheet hoping this week’s prize is a pair of mittens (it’s cold up here!) I remember when I watched the British version of the Office and Brent was on a date with a woman he’d met online, making a fool of himself as he tried to argue that men were attracted to cleavage because cavemen often did it with cavewomen from behind and developed a hardwired association between cleavage and one’s butt crack. My first thought was “Wow, that is a hilarious satire of evolutionary psychology, well done, Gervais and Merchant!”

Then I found out it wasn’t satire, just ripped from the headlines.

The gleeful ignorance of how standards of pulchritude have evolved down the centuries and cross-culturally has fuelled countless justifications for sexism and objectification. As a woman who is attracted to other women, I will come right out and say that yes- I can find even objectifying portrayals of women to be “sexy.” The difference between myself and a lot of hetero men is that I don’t lie to myself about why that is, nor wrap myself in layers of pseudoscience to justify it.

If you find something attractive, just say so. Saying that you can’t help it clouds the issue and is actually very self-degrading.

This returns to the main issue: why is it that “sexy” is a prime characteristic for women characters? For whom is this an ideal and why? Why must women be limited to this?

Well, at least as LoL goes, Iron Stylus has an answer for us:

“Let’s also consider something. Readability. In the game, the characters are fairly small, nyez? So, we do often I believe have to make sure we’re making sure to make sure that the figure is readable as a girl or guy. How do we do this? Well, proportion, accentuation, exaggeration, etc. Want the feminine form to read in a game? Welp, guess what, it might have to be a bit more famine and/or stylized than usual to read at the proper distance and keep readable when moving. That’s just making sure we cover the basics of simple silhouette recognition. If we make her too broad, you might mistake Sejuani for a male, that’d be, ya know, not what we want.”

I have to say this is a first. “My game is special because the characters are really really small.” Never mind that it follows exactly the same trends as games where your character occupies a whole screen. And as to that last line, yes, gender ambiguity is not what “we” want. Can’t have that at all. Men and women are completely and utterly different and readily distinguishable from one another, always and forever no matter what. Indeed, “we” cannot bear otherwise.

Is it really that threatening for a man to have feminine characteristics or a woman to have masculine ones, even to the point of ambiguity? Irrespective of the size of the character on screen, why is that such a pressing concern? I appreciate the fact that at least Iron Stylus has dredged so many of these often subjugated lines of reasoning into the light. More than once I’ve looked at concept art and fan art of women warriors who wore full armour and saw people- almost always men- in the comments complain “she looks like a man!” Because if your tits aren’t hanging out and your hips don’t shatter doorframes, you’re clearly a dude, yes.

I’ll let Iron Stylus explain further:

“Particularly though, at least speaking for myself, I also want to know how that armor or lack thereof functions! But, what is the trade off? Do I think Sejuani might need to make a trip to Sports Chalet and get some heavy winter gear? Possibly.. BUT! I also want her to be wearing something more interesting than a Columbia snowboarding jacket and I also want her to read clearly when I play her. That’s a whole lot in the equation.

“There’s trade-offs to everything, and sometimes we don’t even know those trade-offs on a conscious level. If you saw Sejuani in a head to toe outfit, or heavily armor-clad, or maybe beefier, well, that actually presents a slew of other visual problems to work out. We then have problems with whether we could tell her gender or not. The boar (Let’s take get a betting game going to see if you can guess the boar’s name) might indicate, given another armor or outfit situation, that she’s a guy. Thickening her up, while addressing how a chick could wield such a weapon comes at a risk of her looking like a male also. We wanted her to be fit and vicious. Adding particular types of clothing, mass, armor, etc might detract from that…”

This is why I tend to roll my eyes whenever people say that folks like myself are imposing politics on gaming. Paragraphs like this prove that these games are already expressing a political point of view, just one that has the privilege of being considered apolitical. We’re down to even her mount, a boar, somehow suggesting masculinity. At this point I’m grateful Sejauni wasn’t assigned a feline mount with a furry bosom and painstakingly drawn cleavage. You know, in case you might mistake her for a male.

But this is expressing a clear series of points of view about gender: what makes a woman? What makes masculinity and femininity? What is a desirable or worthwhile woman character like and how does she change with the signifiers that surround her? Stylus has answered many of these questions, and they are fundamentally political answers about what women ought to be and for what purpose.

My job has never been to insert politics where it didn’t exist before, but to add a badly needed countervailing point of view to an ongoing discussion.

“Now, that said, and I may be at bit too full of microwave mashed potatoes at this point, but I do have certain issues with certain champs and their body types. I do flinch here and there when I consider the logistics that certain clothing might entail. However, as an artist, as a gamer, I’m looking for something that’s rewarding to my eye. Sometimes that might be a dynamic silhouette, sometimes maybe the nuanced movement of a character, possibly the hardwired biological aspect, or any other pleasing imagery. As a gamer and as an artist, I want a visual reward. That’s a lot of what gaming is and art for that matter. Engagement -> Reward.”

Pictured: Someone unfit for portrayal in a video game, according to IronStylus.. - (Light skinned woman with a very visibly muscular back and arms doing chin ups while wearing a wedding dress)

Once again we have to be specific here. Why is this highly specific kind of sexiness “a visual reward”? For whom is it a visual reward? Who does this exclude and at whose expense does this come?

The friend who showed me this thread works out on a regular basis, boxes, and with statuesque proportions often describes herself as “built like an Amazon.” She’s hardly alone in this, and took exception to the strong suggestion that muscularity is a male signifier. There are plenty of ways, as an artist, to make a woman or feminine person “pleasing” without emphasising a particular kind of sexuality.

Note also that I’ve been at pains to say “a particular kind of sexuality” rather than just “sexuality.” One of the most pernicious myths to emerge from these debates about portrayal is that the choice is between sexual liberation and Puritanism, that there is only one way to be sexy and it is the way that that a certain clique of heterosexual cis men want you to be sexy. What is attractive to people varies widely, regardless of their gender or sexuality. What constitutes “sexy” is not only culturally and temporally contingent, but personally so as well. The media-driven mythology of unitary, male-gaze-pleasing sexuality, cannot be allowed to set the terms of discussions like this.

I and many other gamers “engage” for an altogether different kind of reward.

“Regardless, I’m not sure if this is all making any sense. I’m pretty tired. Also, ya know. Mashed potatoes. Either way, I enjoy these discussions and I’d like to keep having them. There’s a lot we go through over here when we design champs artistically and believe me, nothing you’re saying hasn’t been discussed or not thought over. In the end, we’re having fun, and we hope you are too!”

Well then, here’s to an ongoing debate, hm? I just hope that we can keep it honest, instead of wandering through the hall of mirrors where white cis men tell us what they know about what they know about what they know. Let’s talk about why portrayals like this are desirable, why they are “rewards” for engagement, and for whom without redounding to the lazy excuse of DNA or neurology—the latter day equivalent of “the Devil made me do it.” It is a poor substitute for intellectual discussion and always has been.

One professor of mine once said that you should “occupy your sexuality.” He was right about that, and although he said it to encourage people who were not represented by the mainstream discourse on sex, I think it applies to Iron Stylus as well whose sexuality is rather well represented. Why not admit to and own your preferences instead of leaning just on biology?

Our appetite for food and thirst for water is biological, yes. A culture where one eats with forks or chopsticks, eats with their elbows off the table, and out of a bowl or plate, ending the whole process at a porcelain throne is not, however. Sex, like hunger, involves biology. But it is profoundly mediated by culture. How we direct, channel, and manage our various urges is a significant part of what comprises this thing called “society.” If we’re going to have useful discussions about objectification, what is sexy, and why certain images predominate, we should start there.

About Quinnae

Quinnae Moongazer, (or Katherine Cross, as she is known in Muggle-speak) is a pizza loving feminist sociologist, trans Latina, and amateur slug herder, working on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Centre. When she's not studying or gaming she can be found at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Her blog can be found at quinnae.com and her writing has also appeared in Women's Studies Quarterly, Bitch Magazine, Questioning Transphobia, and Kotaku. She is a co-editor of the Border House.
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63 Responses to Evolution Made Me Do It: Art and Gender in League of Legends

  1. It also doesn’t say much about yourself as a designer if you can’t think of a way to codify a character as female/feminine without obvious boobs.

    • Exactly my first thought. “Gee, I have to go with the old, tired-out trope, because coming up with something new and interesting is HARRRRRDDDDD!”

      • Kannon says:

        It was also solved, and well, about 10 years ago. Old-school shooter called Tribes has badass male and female models that, well, look like the power-armor wearing hardcases they are. With like, 12 polys for the whole model. If you can’t solve it now, you’re a terrible artist. He’s not, so he has no excuse.

  2. Henry says:

    He talked over and over about the need for a character to be distinguishable from other, that the players need to be able to tell that she’s a woman. I’ve seen discussions about readability from other game developers before, WoW developers have used it as a defense for the size of shoulder armor, but it’s always been about knowing WHO you are fighting so that you know their abilities, power level, etc.

    I don’t see why it would be important for me, in the middle of a League of Legends match, to know that the character is female. Shouldn’t it be enough for me to know who the character is? It would be bad if I mistook one champion for another, but I would not suffer if I mistook a champion for a male when that champion is in fact female.

    Yes, the champions are small in the field of play, and that could make the distinguishing of gender difficult, but it other areas of the game, such as character selection, they aren’t so small and such thing could be easily determined without such a depiction.

    He’s correct that a character needs to be readable in the middle of play, but he’s very wrong about WHAT needs to be readable in the middle of play.

    • Henry says:

      Go go typos. Gotta proofread.

    • Anon says:

      Agreed. It’s very “male default” thinking, where male characters are defined by their unique qualities, but female characters are defined by being female.
      I’m glad you bring up WoW because it’s a great example of how it’s perfectly possible to have instantly identifiable sexes without overemphasizing female sexual organs. No one could argue that you can’t tell a female from a male dwarf, but even the more “idealized”, to quote the LoL designer, females have healthy proportions. The stick thin blood elves have modest breasts, night elves have curves but not to a ridiculous degree… Several races, orcs, taurens, goblins, etc, have very toned females with appropriately sized bosoms for a human of that build. Now, not the same thing can be said of males, who are almost all that “idealized” male fantasy of buffness, with maybe the exception of trolls and goblins. I’ve heard way more complaints about how male blood elves were beefed up to “conform to what men should look like” than how any female race is sexualized.

    • feministgamer says:

      Exactly, there’s really no reason to absolutely 100% know at all times if an avatar is male or female … Except for those who absolutely never want to be related to anything female because ewwwwww girrrrrrls.

  3. Sunflower says:

    Thank you for this. All too often something is explained and that “explanation” is a dead end, not to be questioned further. What you say about who is doing and thinking something and why is dead on. My husband often says the whole passive voice thing is like an unspoken invitation to accept that everyone thinks that way and to stop questioning and seeing who are the people behind the opinions/actions. I agree with that and find it useful to do as you do and put a name to who agrees, who wants the status quo kept that way, and who exactly is being referred to by terms like “everyone”, “society”,”we”, and often “science”.

    • Matt says:

      Not passive voice.

      (Of all the things that would actually make me click on the link to that article being quoted, it’s to count passives to make sure I’m not talking out of my ass…)

      Having now read that whole post though, it strikes me less blame-shifting and more “I don’t suffer from a fetid moral blindness and generally neckbeardishly bad taste, I enjoy every moment of it”…

      • Sunflower says:

        I don’t know if passive voice is the correct term or not. My point was not to criticize grammar but to point out that implied and assumed status quo-type things need questioning.

        As to whether he enjoys his perspective or not: to me it sounds like he knows he’s taking part in something cowardly (refusing to question his approach) and trying to justify it.

  4. The point where this moved from being another stupid defense of sexist art to hilarity was the point where he tried to claim “readability” as a rationale.

    What’s the point of readability in a game? To convey mechanical information at a glance. For example, the silhouettes of each class in TF2 are famously distinct and designed to convey each class’s strengths and weaknesses.

    As far as I know, gender has no mechanical relevance in LoL. Why exactly would gender need to be readable at a glance? Are they afraid hetero guys might glance at a character and momentarily be attracted before realizing it’s male? Or what?

    But the best part is: mechanical readability is EXACTLY WHAT THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT WAS ABOUT. The guy’s essentially saying: all the female characters look the same, so it takes more time to tell whether they’re a tank or a caster or whatever.

    The fact that the artist’s response seems completely oblivious to that is just hilarious to me. Missing the point, indeed.

    • Doone says:

      You said it sarcastically, but that is precisely the reason. Males don’t want to “mistakenly” find another male attractive or enjoyable to stare at. I’m not defending at all, merely stating that this is the absolute truth.

      We can take from him that the avatars are designed for a cismale audience. And for that audience it is incredibly important that they know who is male and who is female at a glance. There’s no other reason, especially in LoL.

      • sonic says:

        “Males don’t want to “mistakenly” find another male attractive or enjoyable to stare at.”

        But- but- if they can’t tell who are the laydeez and who are the menfolk…then they might catch teh gayz!!!


      • Jenesis says:

        Which is a bit ridiculous, considering that:

        1) Male players have had the longstanding common complaint that MASCULINE avatars aren’t “attractive or enjoyable to stare at” – so what the hell do they want?

        2) Het female players are expected to find the female avatars “attractive or enjoyable to stare at,” because eew, we can’t have a female character be FAT or UGLY.

        3) No one is arguing that the male avatars should look more feminine, simply that the female avatars should have a greater diversity of body shapes and costumes, some of which -might- make them appear more androgynous/masculine. If anything, that would make it more likely that a woman would mistake a very handsome female champ as a man than the reverse! (Kayle and her big-ass sword between her legs, anyone?)

  5. Lezlor says:

    I’m so tired of women characters primary design point being sexy. It just reinforces the idea that men characters are there to be bad ass and the women are there to be pretty. There’s so much more I could complain about, but I would just be ranting to the choir. Instead I will just sigh and hope for more progress on this stuff soon.

    • Austin says:

      I want to disagree with some the specifics of what you are saying just a bit, but to be clear I consider myself in the choir and I might be arguing subtleties of easy to misunderstand internet writings.

      But arguably this character which was designed for LoL IS a bad ass. She is wielding a big shield, giant mace-like weapon, donning some armor, and riding a big ol’ boar through an icy landscape hell bent on killing something. Put a male character in her position and he would be equal levels of bad ass in my opinion. Of course this strength is not coming from her physical appearance like it would for a male character, and I’m not saying she wasn’t designed to be eye-candy for certain males, I guess I wanted to just dissect further what I felt was a bit of a blanket statement.

      • Doone says:

        Blanket or not, your comment doesn’t contradict/disagree with Lezlor. If, as you say, she’s badass because of her armor, this makes the question of why she has to look “sexy” even more important. If she has value all her own because of her gear, where does the need to bring in “sexy stereotype” arise?

        That she was given the stereotype sends a message to the player: she’s NOT badass enough. The message is “she’s pretty badass …for a girl”.

      • feministgamer says:

        Ever have that dream where you’re naked? But if you had clothes, it would’ve been totally fine? That’s this. You’re neglecting to consider her representation and her clothes, and focusing only on her props. I can pretty much guarantee you if a male character replaced her as a TRUE equivalent, most men would never stand for it.

        • Austin says:

          I am neglecting the clothes, but I am focusing on more than her props. She isn’t sitting on the back of a resting boar holding her mans weapons (like posing on a lowrider magazine), she is wielding things like she knows how and I feel her actions as a representation put her into a fantasy world as some kind of warrior.

          I am genuinely curious what you think the TRUE equivalent is. From my perspective, speaking from visual design and male privelage, I envision an equivalent would be a He-Man like level of male nudity and rippling muscles in the same pose wielding the same weapons, and I would be ok with that design. The semi-naked people of the great North snowscape who feel no cold!

          I know I’m probably doing a whole devil’s advocate thing here, and I apologize for that. I hope you check out my response to Lezlor below because I still feel this character would be no-less of a badass if she was less sexualized.

          • From yonder land says:

            I think the problem is mostly that there is a kind of gap between the props Sejuani carries and the strength her body appears to convey. I don’t think He-Man would be the true equivalent, the real equivalent should probably have been Tryndamere: http://media.giantbomb.com/uploads/9/97398/1829336-tryndamere_new.jpg who indeed also neglects to wear something more protective then his own muscles but here’s the thing: Tryndamere needs those muscles, he carries around a sword almost twice his size, it would normally still be impossible to carry for him but at least his figure makes it seem more believable. Sejuani on the other hand looks in no way stronger then the avarage woman while she must carry a huge flail and shield? I mean I understand that Lux or Ahri don’t sport some ripped abs since they don’t need to carry around anything as heavy as two huge masses of Steel on top of some steel armor. But for Sejuani this just creates a confusing image. The designer might have given her a bit more muscles to make the image seem a bit coherent at least but instead he opted for the old “slender and curvy” routine they reserved for Ahri, Morgana, etc.

          • sonic says:

            1. “I am neglecting the clothes, but I am focusing on more than her props” – uhh yes, we get that. I think the problem lies with her “armor/clothes” not her props so quit focusing on that b/c that’s NOT where the problem lies. Her weapons, head gear, etc. NOT the problem. Her itty-bitty “armor” and the emphasis on her cleavage? Problem.

            2. “He-Man like level of male nudity and rippling muscles in the same pose wielding the same weapons, and I would be ok with that design.”
            That’s because your He-Man would have rippling muscles and not a gigantic penis thrusting out from underneath his loin cloth. Also, men who are half unclothed are not considered sexualized – that’s why dudes can go shirtless and not be arrested or raise too many eyebrows but if a woman bares her chest, it’s been ingrained in us a sexual thing. So, really, NOT comparable.

            3. “I hope you check out my response to Lezlor below because I still feel this character would be no-less of a badass if she was less sexualized.”
            Do you mean no MORE of a badass if she was LESS sexualized? Because otherwise that sentence is confusing to me. In any case, WHY does she have to be sexualized at all? Badassery aside what is the point of sexualizing her except to take the focus away from how powerful she is and direct it towards how she is still a fuckable object?

            • Austin says:

              1. Makes perfect sense.

              2. I think you hit the nail on the head for where most men like myself have the biggest problem wrapping our heads around this issue. I don’t want to get into a huge back and forth on this one message thread, or come across as hostile and argumentative, but genuinely I think this is where a lot of the confusion comes together and maybe getting to the heart of it might help narrow down a quicker resolve for a good amount of men (or maybe not, I could be in a minority of people still having issues but not wanting to be insensitive.) I feel like I’m taking a risk being this up front about my ignorance on it but I want to make a difference and bring some balance to the industry. The struggle comes from creating a visual design for this creature which is a representation of the very thing which attracts men to women; a female body.

              Like I’ve said before, on the privilege and ignorance camp, as a male when you design a half naked male warrior, you don’t consider him sexualized, and you try to create what you as a male see as an appropriate visual equivalent and you may not consider her sexualized either, even when giving her breasts and including cleavage. In terms of anatomy drawing butts are easy because they are muscle and say a lot about the shape a person is in. Penises and vaginas are simple (ish) because you often just deal with cloth and creases, almost covering up the existence in a “Barbie/Ken” kind of way. But breasts are these things which can be various sizes on all kinds of women where lifestyle has no bearing on their shape. Then again maybe it’s my own problem because I don’t see the existence of breasts as sexualization, so maybe it will always be lost on me because I don’t fawn over them like a sex crazed 13 year old.

              Sorry for the train of thought honest and lack of brevity. I can’t tell you enough how the views of the commenters here have already shaped some of my views for the better.

              3. I think I meant your wording, but on second thought if I saw her wearing more clothes and with a smaller rack I would most likely think she is a bigger badass.

      • Lezlor says:

        Hi Austin, since you disagree with me, I’ll try to flesh out my beliefs a little more. I’m not going to reiterate exactly what Doone and Feministgamer have said because I think they’re spot on, I’m going to expand my concerns in other dimensions. I’m not the most articulate writer, so please try to bear with me.

        The first point I want to make is that a woman’s authenticity as a woman is dependent on her appearance. As a trans woman, I’m all to aware that trans women are degendered and misgendered entirely based on our physical appearance. This is certainly true for cis women as well. This is a result of a society that treats women as objects with their value being how sexually attractive they are to men. My point being that woman = sexy. If you’re not sexy enough, you’re not a woman.

        Now, I want to extend this belief to character design in LoL. Iron Stylus goes on in great detail about the importance of readability. How do you make a character readable as a woman? Make her as sexualized as possible, that’s how!

        I want to bring up Sejuani’s in particular now. She’s a character designed by a man, for men. LoL’s primary demographic is men, and that certainly shows. Her lack of armor is not a Conan-esque strength. Conan is a male power fantasy. He’s so bad ass that he doesn’t need armor. Sejuani is not. Sejuani is lightly armored to attract straight men. How can I tell that? Iron Stylus says that he designed her based on what he himself finds attractive. He doesn’t want her in full armor. He says “I also want her to be wearing something more interesting than a Columbia snowboarding jacket and I also want her to read clearly when I play her”. I’m not going to shove words in his mouth here, but to me that reads as “I can’t think of a good design where she’s well armored and still sexy”.

        My biggest point is that the women of LoL are not designed for women. They’re objects. They’re not there to be well-rounded diverse characters. They’re all there to be sexy. Let’s look at Kayle. Kayle, according to my knowledge, is a completely armored female warrior. This is great. I love it. Let me just show an excerpt from her lore:

        “She shielded her delicate features beneath her enchanted armor, the sole remaining masterpiece of an extinct race of craftsmen. Though a beautiful, striking creature, Kayle, now as then, avoids showing her face…”.

        Oh good, I thought I might be playing an uggo. Thanks fluff for explaining that the creature behind the suit is a beautiful lady warrior. Women characters aren’t designed to be badass, they’re designed to be sexy, even when that might be counterintuitive or irrelevant to their fluff. Men characters are not held back by the same restraints. Just as Doone said “she’s pretty badass…for a girl”.

        These characters are horrible. They look like women, but they certainly aren’t women. This character design is toxic to the market. It treats men like apes and women like idiots.

        • Austin says:

          Thanks for the detailed response Lezlor. That explanation of Kayle is pretty ridiculous. I’m not the most articulate writer at times (call me Mr. Ramble) but hopefully I can keep my response clear.

          To be perfectly honest I know I suffer from a bit of privelage and the only way I can really try to relate is by coming up with analogies or comparisons with my own sex and personal identity. I had always considered myself fat and ugly, and had felt that “normal” male characters are always thin, in shape, and handsome. And the guys who I always relate to visually are bumbling idiots, slobs, creeps, or psychopaths. This is a problem in the root of character design and archetypes, that to make an INTERESTING character you go to features which fit into a stereotype pulled from an assumed populous opinion. It sucks really that in these designs a female character can’t be interesting unless you can absolutely tell that it is a female.

          I suppose from my privileged perspective I can look at this character and see by the actions she is partaking in she is a bad ass and look past the clothes, but that she isn’t necessarily a sex object first. I think sometimes the thought process is “oh yeah, it’s a female character so make her look interesting.” and then her female bits get accentuated, or else “WHAT’S THE POINT?” which is SUCH a horrible thing to think but as a man it’s the first thing that crosses your mind! And I realize it is horrible because why are men the de-facto? The notion that if she doesn’t look like a woman, she might as well be a man. But really why is it ODD to just have her in armor and tell people it’s a woman and be ok with it? (like samus in the early 90’s and earlier, when she was just an armored character badass.)

          I do wonder though if you want to create a character who is a woman, and you want her to read as a woman, how do you not sexualize her? And I am totally not being rhetorical at all, because when I have created characters in the past I generally stray away from cleavage, and more often than not give her pants. But if I still give her a body that is truly physically possible and put her into an interesting pose (something supermodel-ish, weight shifted to one leg), am I sexualizing her? (I kind of regret bringing up such a hypothetical, but it is something that is on my mind and I genuinely am curious because I am sure to design more characters in the future which will end up in the public space.)

          I’m glad you responded because It’s opened my eyes a little more and I thought they were pretty wide open already.

          • sonic says:

            “I do wonder though if you want to create a character who is a woman, and you want her to read as a woman, how do you not sexualize her?”
            Let me answer this by providing some examples:

            1. Beyond Good and Evil – Jade
            2. Mirror’s Edge – Faith
            3. The Legend of Korra – Korra herself (she’s actually an amazing example – muscular, big, powerful, funny, hot-headed, and beautiful and clearly a woman)

            So, it CAN be done, obviously, people just choose not to portray women as competent, tough, beautiful fighters.

            “But if I still give her a body that is truly physically possible and put her into an interesting pose (something supermodel-ish, weight shifted to one leg), am I sexualizing her?”
            There’s no neat set of criteria for this. If the focus is on how much her ass and boobs are sticking out, if the focus is on how little clothes she has and ohmy, how much her cleavage shows, if she is in a position which very easily and immediately brings up sexual positions, then most likely that’s sexualization. There’s no list you can check off. You just have to use your brain.

            Also what the hell does “truly physically possible” even mean? There are women out there who, steroids or not, have very muscular physiques. Every male body type Ive seen, I’ve also seen in women.

            There are no limitations on how a woman can be portrayed as powerful and also be identified as a woman. I think people have just been taught by society to only view certain things as pertaining to women’s physique and thus limit themselves.

            Women CAN have big asses and breasts, especially if the woman herself is fat or big-boned. But if the whole focus of her character is on her ass and breasts, that’s sexualization. You’re being forced to pay attention to how she looks, attraction-wise, rather than who she is and how she looks, character-trait-wise.

            • Austin says:

              Hey Sonic, those are some great examples. I really think you and I are on the same page on this one because those are character designs I really all like. I didn’t actually know about Korra before and I like her design a lot. I think it’s a great example of how there are a lot of great designs for female characters out there and it can be easy to let one bad apple like this LoL design ruin the efforts of so many people.

              BTW I think Trischka from Bulletstorm was a pretty cool character whom my wife and I both liked.

              I want to clarify that in my question about what is sexualized, I do understand that there is not a checklist, and a strong female character which you want people to actually relate to and believe in should be dressed accordingly. My “truly physically possible” question had less to do with musculature and more to do with curvature. Take Christina Hendricks for example. I am afraid to take a woman with her body type and put it into an outfit like Korra’s and have her be a lead character for fear of backlash, even if I am not putting the focus of her character into those attributes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though.

              And I hope that designers can come up with some good designs without relying on this one body type to represent all female heroes.

  6. Pai says:

    “More than once I’ve looked at concept art and fan art of women warriors who wore full armour and saw people- almost always men- in the comments complain ‘she looks like a man!”

    I’m sure part of that is because ‘female = crazily-exaggerated sexual characteristics’ has a desensitizing affect on some guys to where they really lose the ability to recognize any design with less than a wasp waist and DD boobs as being female.

    • Zaewen says:

      I saw that happening a LOT on the Rift forums in regards to the female busts. All of the female body types had more average sized busts (relative to their frames) than is typical for games. And somehow, this meant all but the Dwarves and Bahmi were completely flat-chested and ‘looked like men’, and even then the Dwarves and Bahmi were just this side of acceptable and could do with some enhancements to be more acceptably feminine.

      Reading those forums made me weep for humanity on more than one occasion.

    • Austin says:

      It does have real life consequences. I was at lunch with a group of guys from work and there was a cute waitress serving us who seemed to be flirting with our single friend. When she left I said “You should ask her out.” and he replied “Nah, she’s got too much of a pooch belly. I like a girl who takes care of herself.” I was pretty blown away because this is a guy who was huskier than the rest of us and she looked quite normal in my book. Not surprisingly a few weeks later I found out he is a super big fan of hyper-sexualized video game characters, so, good times.

  7. Maverynthia says:

    Of course women can’t be read as men, then they might get equal rights or people might take what they say to heart.. CAN’T HAVE THAT!

    http://step.polymtl.ca/~coyote/picturesd/dragnlnc/lance05.jpg (middle)
    MUST be man! All her bits are covered!
    Yup..still a man! Wait..
    (Goldmoon from Dragonlance. She’s a healer if you couldn’t tell. But I think those pictures are well readable.)

    • Of course, when Caldwell painted Goldmoon he removed her trousers so it would be ‘sexier’. In paintings of her fighting a dragon who spits _acid._

      (owned enough dragonlance art books to have read the artist comments on things like that and to have seen the sketches before the pants came off)

  8. Nathan of Perth says:

    That was a very frustrating thing to read. His attitude is so relentlessly wrong-headed. The “ideal to whom” comment seems very appropriate!

  9. brianpsi says:

    This post enumerated so many confused and uneasy feelings and half thoughts that I’ve not been able to clearly articulate, especially to some of my gaming friends and peers. Thank you.

  10. Dave Fried says:

    The thing that bothers me most about the artist’s argument is that they already have a really diverse palette of body types – for men. So what he’s actually saying is “We need to have the ability to tell the various archetypes apart: brute, hero, sneak, wizard, and chick.”

    In other words, in his estimation, “man” is the default, and “woman” is just something you throw in to give another variation. It’s the Smurfette Principle.

    Maybe someday we’ll move beyond the idea of women as just another token minority, seeing as they’re, like, half the population.

  11. A League Player says:

    The above complaints about gender readability being irrelevant are spot-on: at-a-glance ‘readability’ as a concept is only relevant when it’s mechanical information that’s at issue.

    I’m not sure if you have a policy against this sort of thing, but I’d highly encourage posting this article on the game’s forums, the developers make a point of being extremely accessible to the players and would probably at least attempt to engage in conversation.

    • Sif says:

      I concur about posting this there. At the best it could get him to engage with people here, at the worst it’ll be ignored. It can’t hurt.

  12. Clementine says:

    It bothers me because I have the same argument quite often with a devoted LoL player who is avid about both champion design and defending Riot’s champion design in particular. He likes to argue that the choice of a female character being sexy and curvaceous or whatever is so that you can have “small” champions that are easily readable for diversity in body/model types so you can recognize them. I fail to understand how having the same body type for ALL female champions (with a few exceptions) can somehow INCREASE body type diversity. Especially when usually in LoL and other games (like DotA, which is my pet MOBA) the main way that model type diversity is expressed is through clothing. Why not just have female characters that have different kinds of clothes? And even if, for the sake of argument, you absolutely insist on having stereotypical sexy female models. That still doesn’t justify chainmail bikinis. As far as I can tell, whether or not a champion’s midriff is exposed or they prefer thigh-highs over proper pants is irrelevant to being able to glance at a champion in passing and tell what hero they are. That could just as easily be accomplished by, say, form-fitting spandex.

  13. Korva says:

    What a load of BS. He should have saved himself the effort of writing all that and just summed it up in one simple but far more honest sentence: “Men are characters, women are wankfodder, and there must never ever be the most miniscule chance of one being mistaken for the other even for a nanosecond.”

    I honestly don’t know what else could be at the bottom of such “must be clear that it’s a girl” and “not look like a man” or even “but it’s art! art idealizes!” babble if not the complete unwillingness to really see women as people instead of objects.

    • He should have saved himself the effort of writing all that and just summed it up in one simple but far more honest sentence: “Men are characters, women are wankfodder, and there must never ever be the most miniscule chance of one being mistaken for the other even for a nanosecond.”

      And I think that’s exactly the attitude behind it—behind the thematically weird character designs themselves, and behind defenses of such. 

      I’ll give ‘em this much: maybe it’s not always entirely conscious.  I’m sure there are people who’d be genuinely horrified at being called out for such a mindset.  But I find it genuinely difficult to believe that anyone could argue in favor of said character designs without holding such attitudes to at least some degree.

  14. Deviija says:

    Oh dear. Everyone that posted above that is disgusted and disappointed and turned off by this shared what words I can think to say on the matter. I’m just… sigh. An illustration of what is often wrong with art design (and art design departments) in the industry. Hiring people that think and believe this way of conceptualizing character design… ugh.

    I’ve never liked LoL. Never will. I also have never *tried* LoL either. And that is primarily because of its depiction of women — and obviously bs like this.

  15. From yonder land says:

    I do think the guy is basically trying to say two things:
    -It’s not my fault entirely, biology made me do it.(BS)
    -We just want to have sexy female characters so people will realise we have ‘em and will come to play our game.
    I honestly think the hetereosexual male LoL community is extremely satisfied with Sejuani, Ahri, Sona, Ashe, Evelynn, Caitlyn and all the other women of Valoran, where lower then a C-cup means you’re underage (Annie).

  16. Kaonashi says:

    Readability isn’t just about distinguishing a man from a woman, but a character from another character. So in a way the guy has a good point. In a quick game with small characters on screen, I need to be able to pick out my character, and preferably get a sense of uniqueness and identity from it. If a character’s sex is part of the identity, it should be noticable. I do think however that there could easily be more characters with ambigious, neutral or otherwise different visual sex identities.

    I have to ask how readability works when a bunch of these similar-looking ladies clash. It’ll be a big mess of cleavages and model bodies. Also, gender is just one of several primary characteristics characters have, but sometimes it seems to be the only primary one and all others are secondary. I think that suggests lazy design. Signalling “female” can be done with more than cleavage.

    • Doone says:

      He doesn’t have a point and you’re only looking from one perspective (evidently his, cismale).

      If what he says is true, and what you propose in turn is true, then as there are several different body types for men in the game, there should be several different body types for women. If it’s so critical to know characters at a glance by their silhouette, then each unique character needs a unique silhouette (as someone pointed out with the TF2 example).

      But I do agree with your last sentence: females are not defined by their cleavage.

  17. Kimiko says:

    But, muscular women are sexy! :)

  18. From yonder land says:

    I think we should read between the lines here. Perhaps Iron Stylus is well aware that the readability of the gender has no practical purpose and stopping to distinguish a man from a woman in LoL is just a waste of precious seconds.
    I think the depiction of females is simply done to bait players in, I don’t think the vast majority of hetereosexual males have many complaints about the design and others might even be lured in by it.
    I personally don’t give a damn about the genders of the champions I play, I happen to like Lux because she deals tons of damage and has a FREAKING RAINBOW LASER! I also like Leona’s abilities and crowd control but she had been Leon the male solar knight it wouldn’t have made a single difference.
    Admittedly though Ahri first piqued my interest mainly because of her artwork, which led to me trying out and liking her skillset. But yeah…I was baited by the chest basically.
    And I don’t want to offend anyone but I probably will anyway: the LoL community is hardly any better in terms of inclusiveness and respect then many other communities. When I play at a Cyber cafe, the other male players are usually quite pleased by the art direction.

    • sonic says:

      ohhh so i I get it, he’s trying to bait in players by:

      1. assuming most (if not all) players are men
      2. assuming that men are dumbasses who need to be baited, rather than interested in good gameplay and design (blah, blah, humans are very visual, etc., etc.)

      please. when this ass says he wants a reward when he plays games, he means a reward (i.e. the sexualized depiction of woman as a THING so he can get his rocks off) for the heterosexual male gaze.

      • From yonder land says:

        Let’s not generalize, admittedly my post is a bit guilty of that, I don’t think he draws in every single teenage boy with his art direction. I was lured in on the promise of solid gameplay only before even seeing any champion beyond Ashe, Garen, and Veigar. But I think they know very well that these females and their design work mostly in their favor because, it is highly likely that the majority of League of Legends players are male, and that their is a smaller faction of females.
        Capitalist economy always caters to the majority. Iron Stylus probably just wants to get and keep some guys interested beyond the people they already draw in.
        So I don’t think he automatically assumes the breasts draw are THE way to get more people to play nor do I suppose he lives under the assumption that all males are dumbasses who need to be baited but he understands the same thing E3 booths understood before:
        “Sex sells”

        • circadianwolf says:

          “Capitalist economy always caters to the majority.”

          Bullshit. Women are a majority (seriously, like 51%). Sexism has nothing to do with “sex sells”. It has to do with catering to a privileged elite and not rocking the boat.

          • From yonder land says:

            Majority world wide or in League of Legends. If the latter is true I stand corrected.

            • sonic says:

              no – i agree – let’s defend his actions with economic reasons. /sarcasm

              let’s assume there ARE indeed more men than women who are LoL players.

              so by your logic, might is right? as long as there’s more dudes, they win? we just have to shut up and take it? what’s good for the economy makes sense? excuses sexism and racism?

              I don’t buy that (pun not intended). It’s sexism, but he’s being supported, held up, reinforced, by privilege and economy.

              sex will always sell as long as guys like that and people like you excuse it as an acceptable reason for drawing exaggerated, caricature women.

              by excusing people’s actions, instead of holding them accountable and creating change, women will always be reduced to being objectified by the artist, and people like the artist.

            • sonic says:

              wanted to also add:

              you assume more male players + nekkid chicks = sex sells (because ALL dudes are into banging chicks and not other dudes!)

              what about gay men who play LoL? what if a shitload of guys who play LoL are also gay and turned off by the fact that there are so many nekkid chicks running around? in that case, sex (as you and the artist identify it) wouldn’t sell. but of course, that would mean believing there are a vast array of players out there.

              and that kinda shit is “unpossible”!

            • Anon says:

              This adds basically nothing, but I know a gay man who plays LoL and used to main Nidalee who day 1 purchased her french maid outfit. /shrug

            • From yonder land says:

              Yes I generalize too much, I’m pretty new to whole commenting thing I used to just shut up and let others talk.
              My points aren’t:
              -He does it for economic reasons so it’s okay
              -Heterosexual men are the only viable market.

              My point is:
              -He might not be entirely honest, I thought we should perhaps consider there are other factors that come into this.
              -Riot might perceive their community as being dominated by heterosexual males (this is a supposition aimed at giving the start of my reasoning) and therefore try to esthetically cater to those people. I never said that was okay. I didn’t really make a judgement on that.

              But indeed after some research I too came to the conclusion that the “sex sells” idea doesn’t always work as intended, since it just captures attention but does not promote your product.

              Consider this: The creators of street fighter agreed that they designed female characters based primarily on attractiveness with playability coming afterwards. This is an erroneous reasoning, I agree. But perhaps Riot goes the same way, that was the hypothesis I wanted to put forward.

              Whether catering to one particular group is justified by that group being perceived as a majority. I know that’s not okay, but there’s a difference between what people should do and what they actually do.

              To sum it up: I suppose, but do not defend, that Iron Stylus considers that his art style is pleasing to the masses and therefore contributes to the game. I can be wrong, I can be very wrong, I don’t know. But it’s just an idea. Because saying “I’m biologically rigged to draw them like this” sounds too evasive.
              It’s a hypothesis, not an explanation or justification.

  19. Jenesis says:

    The readability argument is especially funny when you consider that Sejuani already has a huge distinguishing characteristic – none of the other LOL characters (as far as I know) rides on a giant boar. In an actual LOL game, her mount and her flail weapon’s range should be the things you are paying attention to, not what her gender is, how big her boobs are, or whether her clothing covering up her chest would make her look “like a man.”

    I guess the real question is why are male tanks, casters, sneaks, etc. allowed to have a variety of (sexy and non-sexy) visual appearances that actually help distinguish their role, while female tanks, casters, sneaks, etc. all conform to the same stupid Barbie model? Do the artists really have some subconscious block against drawing characters of their preferred sex that they aren’t sexually attracted to? (Is the solution to get more women and gay guys drawing characters?)

  20. idvo says:

    “Paragraphs like this prove that these games are already expressing a political point of view, just one that has the privilege of being considered apolitical.”

    This is spot-on. To some people, “political” means “anything that doesn’t agree with my worldview.”

    As for what the designer said, ugh. If he’d just been honest and said, “I design them like that because I think it’s sexy,” I’d respect his honesty, and I’d respect his choice to design them how he wanted (I might not agree with those choices, but I digress). But here he’s just ignoring the issue and trying to prove how Not Sexist he is because BIOLOGY!

    He was “inexorably drawn” to drawing those outfits and body proportions, just like salmon to spawn, I’m sure. Not once could he have tried to draw a proper chestplate or a different female body type. Must be tough, being biology’s thrall and all that.

  21. Rakaziel says:

    To add something new to the discussion (agree on the old), quick readability and gender display could both easily be archieved with exaggerated hairstyles sure, it still uses stereotypes but it a) does not advertise the caracters as sex objects to that degree, b) allows more variation in armor design and body type and c) allows more variation in the gender display itself – different hairstyles, different colors etc.

    Also, there has been a study that came to the conclusion that sex not even sells (because it distracts from the product) http://www.cracked.com/article_19373_5-ridiculous-sex-myths-everyone-believes.html (link to cracked because the whole article is somewhat amusing)

    • From yonder land says:

      Just read that article, It indeed sheds a bit of new light on my idea. Besides Cracked.com is fun. Though I don’t know if everyone’s is aware of the false myth of “sex sells”. Cracked points it out but the layman may not know.

  22. Austin says:

    One of the reasons I loved the character creators for both Soul Calibur IV and Saints Row the Third was that I could create a female character who had defined musculature. They can look physically tough, and surprise surprise, still wear the same clothes and look and sound like women.

  23. lala says:

    Oh god league of legends, thanks to them if I say I’m brazlian in any game I get spammed with HUEHUEHUEHUEHUE GIBE MONI PLOS REPORT U MORDE ES #1.


  24. Kellen says:

    League of Legends bugs the hell out of me. Some of the female characters are better designed than the others, but overall unless they’re yordles they’re entirely fanservice. I feel dirty when I sign into that game because of Katarina’s pose on that screen. She cannot fight in that stance, she can barely stand. She’s crossing her arms uselessly in order to present her breasts. UGH.
    Things like this make me ashamed to be a straight male sometimes.

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