Full disclosure, I have played maybe an hour of League of Legends in my lifetime. My experience with the game largely resides with their bombastic animated music videos for the fictional k-pop group, K/DA, and I know there’s a character named Ahri or something. However, this time League caught my eye in one of the weirdest ways possible: Seraphine.
While I won’t get into the more grittier details of why some hardcore LoL players are pissed to high hell about her, I will talk about what her Twitter account means when it comes to marketing, authenticity and parasociality. Since parasociality is not a commonly used word in our modern vocab, here’s a handy definition: parasociality, or parasocial interaction, is a psychological relationship experienced when an audience interacts or reacts to an entertainer, public figure, or in this case, a professionally rendered anime girl. So. Stanning. Yes, this is about stannings and me pontificating about how Riot Games possibly acted unethically in this situation so strap in, pals.
According to Seraphine’s Twitter account, her account was created in June 2020 and to my knowledge, it was not known at the time that she was ran by an entity of Riot Games. This type of virtual celebrity, cartoonishly rendered against seemingly real life landscapes, is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. Instagram is filled to the brim with 3D influencers who look like zooted and booted Sims 4 mods with a layer of sophistication. However, they share the same backstory as Seraphine: they attract followers and engagement with a relatable online persona that attracts the more terminally online breed of social media users, people assume that there’s at least one person behind it and then, it is revealed that an entire corporate entity is behind them.
There’s many a Vice or Paper Magazine article about these e-influencers on the ‘gram so I won’t bore with specific instances concerning them, but all you need to know is that Seraphine is nothing new or a true horror show that should shock us. However, she seems like a natural progression of what we see on stan bastions like K-Pop Stan Twitter and the rise of v-tubers and that s--t is kinda weird, y’all.
As I scroll through her Instagram Miss Seraphine’s twitter looks almost normal. Her pinned tweet is a song she collabed on with others. Her retweets are aesthetic posts, art posts from others, and then, she posts herself. Where you’d expect to find a young woman posting about getting her hair dyed, you see a big eyed, uncanny valley but beautifully drawn anime girl photoshopped or drawn under a very real hooded dryer.
In an ideal world, Seraphine is run by a talented but shy artist using this approachable character as a means of engagement, but oops, she’s actually run by an entire video game company as a means of advertisement. Like I said, her existence should not be a shock to the system when people pay good money to go see the good sis Hatsune Miku in concert. The idea of virtual celebrity should not be this wild, but Seraphine’s relatable appeal is particularly because Riot gave a fake girl depression and anxiety. Which this very real girl has both and once again, the s--t is kinda weird, y’all!
Leading up to her becoming the newest member of K/DA, our plucky Seraphine posted about her quitting her day job (which, GIRL), posting pictures of her chilling with her cat and posting songwriting notes. The Twitter account is almost masterful in its storytelling because we are given a story and a clear hero to root for. In September, she announced that she has finally joined K/DA and this is our payoff: our girl is finally going to debut and join one of the biggest kpop girl groups ever. However, before her debut at the Worlds 2020 event in Shanghai, she posts about her doubts, fears and anxieties around if she is the right one to join this group and make such an impact.
(To break my own journalistic voice, who signed a waiver to have their cat be used for this account? Please DM me random Riot employee, I want to know whose cat that is.)
In true Looney Toons fashion, miss thing posts a dream board filled with tweets from actual factual fans in meatspace cheering her on and notes from the equally fictional K/DA girls doing the same. This is where we leave “kinda weird” territory to “HOLY S--T” territory folks. We have a billion dollar company lovingly crafting an image of a plucky, ambitious girl with cotton candy hair, debuting in a famous group after working so hard, and all to introduce her into their game and sell cosmetics out the ass. The element of monetizing the emotions and feelings that followers (now classified as consumers) have fostered for this character is truly the most f----d up element of it all.
This wouldn’t be an ethical hot ass mess if Seraphine had a social media identity similar to that of the Animal Crossing social media where, depending on the time, Animal Crossing fans receive dispatches from either Tom Nook or Isabelle. While not at all encouraging such parasocial interactions like Seraphine, the tweets are written in the voices of Tom Nook and Isabelle, but that account still has the fourth wall firmly intact. Riot, however, crafted a persona that was seen at one time as independent and genuine and continues to foster such an intense relationship with her fanbase that some underpaid Riot employee took tweets from real people to covered them in translucent tulle and placed them above fictional characters wishing another fictional character well. I say this emphatically and academically: Yuck.
Despite that we can truly go further in how parasociality and parasocial relationships are fostered in video games and its personality, the way that there are people playing into the puppetry of it all is more invasive and unethical. If Seraphine was Sera, a real girl who streamed League of Legends on Twitch, the same behavior would be concerning, but would fall in line with what is expected with modern online personalities: personable, relatable and vulnerable. We’ve seen streamers and other personalities cry, talk about personal issues such as divorce and overcoming abuse, and share and interact with their fans with middling to extreme lengths. That’s more or less the norm, but someone is at least behind that camera. Someone with a real name. A real family. Real thoughts, feelings and emotions that they put on display for millions.
With this clusterfuck, we have a literal ghost in a shell on our hands: there is no Sera, The Real Girl; there is only Seraphine, The Virtual Idol.
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