League of Legends Gender Disparity Analysis
I deeply, deeply resent being able to make this post.
It’s the sort of thing that I always thought would be interesting to do, but never had free time for. Gathering images for the blog is already irritatingly time consuming, and I have better things to do than sit around making charts. However, I’ve been very ill the past few days, so, with healthier options removed, why not devote several hours to collating… STATISTICS?
Anyway, please enjoy the fruits of my unfortunate labors.
League of Legends is a very popular game. It’s not surprising that it gets a lot of attention. It’s also received a lot of negative attention recently for some of its female character designs, which has been met with a lot of defensiveness. So is that negative attention deserved?
Before we get into the meat of this, I want to say that in general I don’t support statements like “Riot is so sexist.” I prefer statements like “Riot’s designers have made sexist decisions.” League of Legends has an evolving cast, so they have a unique opportunity to start throwing dirt into the pit they’ve dug and balance out the disparity they’ve created.
So, lets look at the cast! To start out, I’ve divided the cast up into three categories: monstrous, cute, and humanoid. The first thing you’ll notice is : this chart is fucking huge.
In the interest of extreme fairness, I categorized anyone that was completely machine or had marked animal characteristics as being monstrous. This means sorting Cassiopeia and Soraka as monsters even if I personally feel like they’re basically just sexy women with a snake butt and goat legs.
The breakdown held a few surprises for me. Before starting the research, I had mentally estimated that nearly 50% of the cast was female. In actuality, there are as many female characters period as there are monstrous male characters. The percentage of humanoid females to total females compared to the percentage of humanoid males to total males is fairly staggering. If I had sorted Cassiopeia and Soraka into humanoid, the humanoid characters would have balanced, but it would have been even more stark of a contrast.
However, what I really want to talk about here is costuming, and I didn’t want to get into a pointless debate over whether or not a furry thinks a shirtless minotaur counts as sexy. So, let’s slice all the monsters and cuties out and focus on the humanoid breakdown. I’m using the words ‘revealing’ and ‘nonrevealing’ to judge the clothing coverage.
Here we go:
I didn’t want to split hairs about how nudity is considered differently across the genders, so I tried to be very reasonable and keep the judgement calls to specific and equal areas of the skin. I am ignoring any subjective judgements of sexiness, and it ends up being irrelevant. I don’t have to nitpick to show that the representation is split in nearly opposite directions. This is one of the reasons I’m perfectly content, for the purpose of this exercise, to factor out Soraka and Cassiopeia. They have very revealing costumes, but they aren’t needed to tip the balance. The balance is already tipped.
League of Legends has various skins you can purchase for the characters. I was curious then, which characters the player has the option of clothing in a way which changes whether they are wearing revealing clothing or not. I counted all skins that have been available at any point in time, whether or not they were limited edition or are still available for purchase. I used a model viewer to assess skin exposure.
Here are the characters wearing non-revealing clothing, and whether or not they have a revealing option:
I was both startled and amused that the first male character I hit on the list who had a revealing alternate costume was Singed. I doubt he had any fangirls clamoring to get a glimpse of his abs, but there you go. He and Xin Zhao are the only characters with nonrevealing base costumes who have revealing alternatives. As another interesting observation, you virtually cannot tell from their splash screens for those costumes that they are as revealing as they are. Singed is showing his abs in a Bane-like costume, and Xin Zhao is wearing very little. Both of their bodies are posed so their torsos are largely obstructed by what armor they do have. The only equivalent female character who is posed to conceal her skin exposure is Leona.
So, the contrast here is stark. Kayle is the ONLY female character who doesn’t have the option of stripping down to show any T or A. The male characters they’ve selected hardly seem to me to be the ones that a heterosexual woman would want to take off their shirts. (Xin Zhao’s one revealing costume does have a certain Tom of Finland by way of Romance of the 3 Kingdoms vibe.)
So, now let’s look at the characters who already had revealing costumes:
So, here we really can see the problem. People defended Zyra‘s addition to the cast as being okay because Varus exists, but look at the burden he’s shouldering as Riot’s token sexy man. He has to balance out 8 female characters with his washboard abs, and that’s if we pretend we’re delusional and think Udyr is supposed to be sexy. And Kayle? She has to balance the scales against a whopping 15 male characters.
And all that imbalance is before we get into the general uniformity of the women’s similarly beautiful, youthful faces contrasted against a mix of men that run a gamut of age and coarseness. This might also be a good time to notice that League of Legends has zero black characters.
Although it does have several purple ones.
As an additional problem, the skins that are intended to be comedic have a stark gender divide where only the women’s costumes have to be sexy as well as being funny. The following images are not intended to be exhaustive, but from what I could tell, Uncle Sam Ryze is the only ‘funny’ male costume to show skin. Whether or not that skin exposure is sexy is up for debate.
As you can see, there’s several direct equivalents in the mix that clearly indicate that skin exposure is a priority for the women and not for the men.
So what does that tell us? Is it an accident, an oversight? Or are Riot’s designers falling victim to the idea that exposed skin on men is ridiculous looking? That it makes them no longer intimidating, or is somehow demeaning?
I’m not a proponent of covering up all characters in a videogame. There’s certain things you take for granted in a fantasy game, and if you’re telling me a wizard can cast a fireball at a dragon, I’m okay with pretending that exposed abs are an effective defense against swords. For that matter, there are plenty of real world cultures whose warriors went into battle without considering armor a priority. So, I think it’s perfectly okay to design characters with non-protective outfits and expecting the audience to suspend their disbelief. But, what I don’t think is okay is to expect the audience to suspend their disbelief disproportionately for one gender. If a cleavage window is good for the gander, it’s good for the goose.
The real issue here is that male objectification makes people nervous. It makes them feel funny. We’ve been seeing female objectification all our lives, to the point where we’ve become numb to it. We don’t consider it an issue, even though it is. Having female characters exist disproportionately as eye candy sends a subconscious message about what is valuable or desirable about women.
I used to play a bit of League of Legends. Several months elapsed between that time and the time I made this chart. I was excited to see Diana‘s base design. She’s hot, but she’s armored, and she looks MEAN. But I immediately correctly guessed that she’d have an alternate skin that stripped her down to lingerie coverage. Nevertheless, she and Varus are steps in the right direction. But don’t pretend that Varus makes for a clean slate. He’s far from the equivalent of Evelynn or even Miss Fortune because he still gets pants and his dialogue isn’t a soundboard of sensual double entendre.
This is the status quo. We should probably fix it.
P.S. This shit took way too long to put together. If you’d like me to send you the .PSD of collected portraits to do any further analysis, just ask and I’ll hook you up.