One of the things that makes pop stars so beloved by their fanbases is the parasocial relationship they share. An object of fandom presents a persona, one that is relatable, aspirational, or sometimes both; fans respond in turn with not just adoration, but the kind of love that only comes from believing that the pop star is speaking directly to them. It's an intoxicating mix—and one that Riot Games is deliberately encouraging with their bizarre new character: virtual pop singer, Seraphine.
League of Legends lore is such a quagmire that it's hard to tell what is or isn't in-character for Seraphine. In the game, she hails from Piltover, a glamorous city of progress that also powers itself using the souls of a dead race trapped in crystals. That's right: at least in the main continuity of League of Legends, Seraphine directly benefits from a pretty recent genocide.
Technically, every skin for each of League's 151 characters comes from its own alternate universe. The Seraphine that exists on the official Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud accounts is not the same Seraphine that, in her own words, sings the elegy of the Brackern that power her city. That doesn't make it any less weird that Riot Games is adding this character to their already extant K-pop group, K/DA, which is also made up of League of Legends characters. In the game, Seraphine is also a musician, one who wants to use her musical gifts to heal the tension between her native Piltover and their rival city Zaun (where the oppressed underclasses of Piltover were cast-off), and feels a tension within herself knowing how privileged she is. This translates into the real-life-pop-star version of the character as… self-esteem and mental health problems.
Seraphine's social media accounts, and especially her Twitter, try to portray her as the most relatable girl on the planet, with a dash of the melodrama from a tween soap opera like Instant Star or Gossip Girl's Jenny Humphrey storylines. Just like us, she's got a day job, a passion for music and a dream. Unlike us poor rubes, she gets to live out that dream by joining K/DA. We, as her fans, are here to cheer her on, dutifully telling this fictional character that she can do it when she asks for our support, so that she'll later show us all how she printed out our tweets and posted them on a bulletin board.
This branding experiment is beyond perverse—it's honestly offensive. Seraphine's tweet about quitting her day job hits different during a pandemic where over seven million people have lost their jobs. While a lot of young women suffer from mental health problems like depression, or have issues with their self-esteem when they try to express themselves through art, Seraphine's tweets about her issues aren't meant as an opportunity for other young women to be open and vulnerable about their issues. It's a naked attempt to get League of Legends fans to further invest in their parasocial relationship with Seraphine. It's not that fictional characters can't or shouldn't bring up the kinds of things that real people deal with. Ironically, Barbie's vlogs—yes, the doll—do a great job of using her relatability and aspirational nature to create a space of safety, where young girls can process complex feelings. But Seraphine isn't interested in fostering the growth of other young people—it's an emotional feedback loop directing you to more Seraphine content. Don't you see? You're one of her special favorite fans!
This would all be enough without the genocide angle, which is truly bizarre. Even if it's not canon to this version of the character, the tension she feels because of it is an indelible part of that character no matter the universe they exist in. It's not unreasonable to think that a young white woman would feel some tension taking up space during a time of extreme political upheaval, but there's no hint of that in her feed. Seraphine has no interest in the political reality that exists around her, despite all the great lengths that Riot takes to draw her into our physical world. She's just interested in performing at Worlds for all the League of Legends fans that are definitely her very special, best friends.