League of Legends is a great game, one that I highly recommend. I personally find it more accessible than similar genre games, and you can really drop in and have some fun without having to play every day or anything. That becomes less true the further up you go in the rankings of course, but as a devout casual player (i.e. someone that has a job and can’t play video games as much as s/he used to) it’s really nice to have a MOBA game I can drop in and play for a while here and there.
The thing is, League of Legends has this thing with boobs. I mean, nice looking people are lovely, but there’s something a bit weird about a dynamic spell-casting hero with a slightly odd back story about being a fox wearing a low-cut corset breast-squishing thing.
Or a weird shadow creature assassin that is wearing as little as possible, because, I guess it keeps her stealthy?
I could go on. League of Legends character design can be weird.
Except… it’s not weird. At all. It’s endemic throughout the art created for the game. Now, it must be pointed out that this post has been inspired by a much cooler, more adult decision (as shown above) with a character design informed by the backstory the writers created rather than body parts. League of Legends might be headed in a much better direction.
That’s fantastic. I would love that. In the last few months, I’ve become more self-conscious as a video game player. I was always aware of the issues around how women are portrayed in the medium, but it was something I would gloss over to enjoy the game. Now? Well, not so much. You see, I have a new rule:
Would I be embarrassed if my wife walked in while I was playing a game? Or while I was waiting for League of Legends to load and five of the ten character portraits on the loading screen were women in some kind of elf/demon/druid bikini combo thing? If the answer is yes, I have an issue. I stopped playing Borderlands 2 in large part because the sophomoric humour had become too much, too grating. It wasn’t making fun of overly simplistic humour that goes for cheap laughs regardless of the content. It was overly simplistic humour going for cheap laughs. It bothered me.
What bothers me further is how frequently video game fans refuse to engage with the fact there’s an issue here. Just as frequently, male video game fans take the position that they are under attack or are somehow threatened. It’s the “being a white man is tough” argument, though these guys refuse to acknowledge that. Anita Sarkeesian has used her Feminist Frequency blogs and videos to analyze gender issues in video games and has paid for it. I don’t always agree with her analysis but I have yet to have any serious gripe about her approach or methodology. She approaches the issue intelligently and is not particularly aggressive towards any particular group of video game player, developer or publisher. She’s adding to the conversation. It’s great, and video game fans who honestly do think that the medium is something more than children’s entertainment thriving in a Western society that allows men to infantilize themselves should support her work and be glad that it exists.
Instead, she suffers bullying and then (remarkably) sniping that she isn’t allowing YouTube comments on her videos. Now, apart from the fact that Google should go ahead and dismantle the YouTube commenting system anyway, this particular accusation rather charmingly ignores the fact of her harassment. I quite like the “she is playing the damsel herself” argument, as it conveniently ignores the whole issue.
Even if Anita was some kind of self-serving diva looking for attention or man-hating feminist or whatever term you want to use, does that really negate the points she’s making? Well, not really. Does attacking her on the basis that she’s a woman essentially prove that she’s on to something? Yes, yes it does.
It just stuns me how many male video game players completely miss the point. I have always carried the assumption that the majority of adult video game fans were like me. Mature adults that respected the fact that there are many types of people in this world. This assumption is deeply rooted within me, in no small part due to my eagerness to respect the medium as a genuine contribution to our popular culture rather than a childish hobby to be discarded when life’s responsibilities arrive. This assumption has survived a whole bunch of things: people using words like “nigger”, “kike” and more while playing games on Xbox Live would be a particularly egregious example. These idiots are in the minority, I repeatedly tell myself. I can mute other players. I can ignore them.
But it’s a loud minority and one that is eager for attention. It’s a worrying one too. When Rock Paper Shotgun posted a riposte last week to sections of its community that had become outraged that one of the site’s writers had posted a picture of herself at the end of one of her articles, many of the commenters exhibited a sense of injustice, feeling that they were being unfairly targeted. This despite the fact that Cara Ellison (the writer foolhardy enough to post a picture of herself as part of a joke) was attacked for doing what Rock Paper Shotgun writers do: take the piss while reporting on video game industry news. It’s a great approach that really works, and has made the site very popular. I love it. Rock Paper Shotgun readers love it. Yet when Cara did it she was “making it all about her.”
Similarly, Anita Sarkeesian has been attacked as some kind of prima donna looking for attention and pointing out smoke where there was no fire. Her detractors demand to know what her problem is, willfully ignoring the many problems that she has already adroitly pointed out. There are numerous stupid counter-arguments made against her, such as pointing out that most games are militarily themed (“most” is a subjective term there, really) and men feature prominently in the military, an argument that even if taken at face value quickly falls apart because it’s merely side-stepping the issue at best or supporting the idea that women shouldn’t be in games anyway at worst.
So, my assumption is narrowly fading away, although I regularly have great conversations online about video games that are intelligent and mature. I meet people that can discuss a point and agree to disagree. I encounter all kinds of male video game fans who share my distaste for artwork that belongs on an early 90s trapper keeper or, you know, the side of a van belonging to a troubled soul. Those fans that get insulted at the idea of there being more female protagonists in games, or that get offended that I might prefer female characters to be dressed like real women and not embodiments of a pubescent fantasy? Yeah, they could do the rest of us a favour and just stop talking. They’re embarrassing the rest of us.