I had the pleasure of supervising Peter‘s bachelor’s thesis —
Design of a female character that actively opposes the sexist stereotypes in League of Legends
— and I am unbelievably proud of his written and practical work, which reflects the unfaltering dedication for justice in design that has shaped his path as a fledgling game designer. The analysis of sexist stereotypes and the careful consideration in designing contradiction has led to Hio, a human-bat chimera (Vastaya): grandmother, environment protection activist, and badass tattooed battle mage.
Her design is based on the knowledge gained in analysing the toxic context of player base and industry, and dissecting the stereotypes of female character in the game League of Legends. Thus, to oppose the almost identical faces of other female characters, Hio’s face is visibly wrinkled and doesn’t have childlike traits. Her hairline has receded. Her gaunt arms are long and spindly and her legs are short, unlike the disproportionately long legs of her female co-champions. The bat traits aren’t cute wings, but rather an overall batlikeness of her entire visual language — wild mane, claws and tattered clothes, which are comfortable, protective and not gendered.
This was my first thesis supervision, and quite a ride — Peter and I are both new to schools of thought like feminist theory or game culture studies. Knowing that sexualisation of female characters is often harmful, and knowing when we perceive it as misogynistic or oppressive, or having a vague feeling about the effects it might have, is one thing, but putting our finger on why and how exactly it’s harmful and then putting that into words is a different battle entirely. Further, in order to develop his characters based on analysis rather than intuition, he had to find concepts with which to dissect the character design, such as cuteness, and define visual stereotypes. Design knowledge is learned practically and developed through experience, thus, it is mostly intuitive and extremely hard to verbalise. But he pulled through, and created a coherent examination of framework and documentation of his process. I imagine the actual character design, although time-consuming, was a cakewalk after that.
The best parts for me were, of course, that I was allowed to participate in this. We spent a couple of very fun meetings image-searching stuff like “bat nose“, “issey miyake origami dress” and “tasuki” (the latter of which raised a highly insecure discussion about Japonisme and cultural appropriation). Being allowed to look at his sketches and command him to “try this” and “do that” was an incredibly exciting experience for me, and I learned a lot. Most importantly, for the first time I have consciously observed that constructive criticism is love: I had to force Peter to throw out an unbelievable amount of LoL lore he had written into his thesis, and listen to his laments of what his beloved game could be if it was better — those long rants are what makes this thesis special to me, and I believe the outcome reflects how much he cares.
As I write this, I am sipping Malzkaffee because I already had three troughs of real coffee and my hands are shaky.