Arcane Understands That League Of Legends Needs To Move Beyond The Male Gaze
Arcane is doing it for the gays. I’ve written about that already, but it bears repeating that this is a show that takes a refreshing approach to its depiction of female characters. League of Legends as a series has long been obsessed with women boasting slender waistlines, generous breasts, and unrealistic figures that are designed to titillate an audience of straight male players. It’s all a bit much.
I’m a gay disaster and thus you’d think I’d have no immediate issue with this, but it reinforces a tiresome trope that games are yet to fully outgrow: women needing to be sexy, obedient, and conventionally attractive. The Netflix show superseded that, even if the very same characters in other parts of the wider universe still fall victim to the same vices. I was smitten by Arcane, so much so that I was tempted to install Legends of Runeterra to see more of these characters and the world they inhabit.
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Unfortunately for me, Vi and Jinx are depicted in a way where their bodies are modelled with the generic attributes I mentioned earlier, curved and womanly as they face the camera in a way that will draw in straight male players because these characters have been designed with them in mind. Riot Games is keenly aware that sex sells and they’ll be able to fork out cosmetics that showcase these heroes in a specific way. Cute girls equals profit, plain and simple.
Other games like Genshin Impact trade on the same principles, with adorable and youthful heroines being placed on a gacha pedestal as players spend hundreds to even have a chance of possessing them. Chests bounce as you walk, while the camera can be peered under the skirts of women in a way that emphasizes the worst parts of otaku culture. You only need to Google certain characters from Genshin (or League for that matter) to see how fans have taken to them, from both wholesome and debachorous perspectives.
Arcane’s female characters are different. They’re attractive, but they own this attraction with a sense of agency that the games aren’t afforded. Vi, Caitlyn, Mel, and others aren’t objects to be stared at, they are all powerful individuals who carry themselves with a profound level of confidence. Mel is a straight woman and we see her do the nasty with Jayce, but her body isn’t framed in a way that feels gratuitous. If anything she’s given the same exposure as her male counterpart, putting the lovers on equal ground that for this medium feels oddly mature. The scene itself also works in reinforcing the narrative, forging an intimate bond that will change Piltover’s council forever. Such actions have consequences, and Arcane shows that.
The same can be said for Vi. From the opening episode she is a butch woman who isn’t concered with how she looks – which is smoking hot, just to be clear – and is willing to get down and dirty with men, women, and whoever else dares face her in a fight. You could argue this appearance and personality is a product of her upbringing, and it is, but Vi’s identity as a queer person isn’t just told through a vocal confession in the final episode, it shines throughout her entire being. She carries herself with an almost masculine swagger, facial expressions and small nuggets of dialogue making her attraction to Caitlyn clear as the two grow ever closer. Vi doesn’t have perfect hips and an irresistible chest, but she does have an obscenely toned body that she isn’t afraid to use in ways that emphasize who she is, and that’s someone who will kick your ass time and time again if the situation calls for it.
Someone looked at her original design and decided it needed a distinct makeover, tearing away the male gaze and creating something that queer people in reality can see themselves in. Even though Arcane takes place in a fantastical world, there’s a facet of realism to how Vi carries herself that I’ve seen butch women express in real life, and we so rarely see that in media, especially something of such blockbuster status.
Despite her aggressive exterior, there’s a caring centre to Vi’s character that slowly but surely unravels throughout her journey, yet it isn’t used to feminise her or have them crammed into a conventional role of female vulnerability. It only makes her stronger, her intimacy evolving into courage as she forms a bond with Caitlyn that will no doubt be a hallmark of seasons to come. Vi isn’t a girl who will pose for the camera in all of the right ways, she’s a girl who will spit blood onto the dusty alleyways of Zaun before raising her fists for another round.
Caitlyn is the same. She’s a prim and proper lady who grew up in an affluent household, but this privilege is never used to demean her. Much like Vi, her attraction is a part of her character that is used to help enhance her unfolding character arc. After their emotional breakup in the rain, Caitlyn is seen moping in the shower as water rains down upon her, the camera leering over her body in a way that could have so easily become juvenile, but it doesn’t – and that’s a rare achievement for League of Legends that I never expected to see.
We don’t even see them smooch, because the dialogue and animation does a stellar job of igniting a spark of chemistry between them that conventional means can be thrown aside. That’s a sign of good writing, strong character design, and the bravery to analyse the past and understand that some things need to change. Female characters deserve better, and Arcane is an example of the steps that can be taken to make that respect possible.
Media has trained us to hate our own bodies. Women are depicted as impossibly attractive figures and failing to live up to those standards ourselves makes us doubt who we are while stifling any hope of being who we want to be. As a trans woman going through the process of a changing body, a show like Arcane depicting female characters with varied body types and a level of poignant honesty gives me hope for the future, and that League of Legends will grow more inclusive as it abandons the outdated tropes as it has long relied upon.
I’m not saying that what we have in Runeterra, the base game, and other pieces of media needs to be changed or removed, but we need to take into account these missteps as we move forward. Sexual attraction isn’t something media should strip away, in fact I welcome this and how it can make some characters even stronger, but its execution needs to be nuanced, and it can’t be done in a way where straight white men always sit at the top of the mountain.
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