Home Cyberpunk Riot Games’ Seraphine Sure Looks A Lot Like Our Friend, Sara Phinn

Riot Games’ Seraphine Sure Looks A Lot Like Our Friend, Sara Phinn

by David Rutland

Seraphine, a new “virtual influencer” and League of Legends character, could be based on a VR-Artist and Cyberpunk Personality

Imagine waking up one morning and finding a cartoonified version of yourself splashed all over the internet. It’s not a photograph, but it’s close enough that even your mother would take another glance and ask if you’ve taken a second job as a model.

It’s inescapable. You’re on gaming websites and in magazines. Twenty feet high caricatures shoot by, plastered to the side of double-decker buses. People are using your face as their avatars on Discord while the next generation of printed gaming guides has an entire section dedicated to someone who is almost unmistakably you.

This happens to me all the time. I’m a 6’4 white guy with a shaved head and a scruffy beard. I see my likeness in popular media more often than I see it in a mirror.

It's a low maintenance lifestyle choice

But I’m an average looking dude, sporting a fairly unremarkable look. Apart from the skin tone, the sex and the latent animal magnetism, there’s very little about my physical appearance which couldn’t be achieved by anyone with access to a Bic Chrome Platinum and five minutes in the bath.

Sara Phinn
Not one of the Usual Suspects | Credit- Sara Phinn

In short, I’m generic. An approximation of my physical appearance wouldn’t be out of place in any medium from back when the first images were scratched onto cave walls by my primitive ancestors.

But the same can’t be said for Sara Phinn, a US-based virtual reality artist. You would notice her in a crowd.

Note the pink hair, the pale skin, the sparkly shape under her eye, and then take a moment to consider her name once again. Sara Phinn.

You may think it’s an iconic cyberpunk look, and you would be correct. Then again, there is a very good reason for that.

But I have another picture for you (see below). Note the pink hair, the pale skin, the sparkly shape under her eye and then take a moment to consider this character’s name. Seraphine.

The second image is a character newly introduced to the wildly successful online game, League of Legends. It’s not just us? You can see the similarity?

Seraphine Has to Be a Weird Coincidence, Right?

Sara’s look has been cultivated over the years. She wasn’t born with bright pink hair. She’s been dyeing it since 2016. The shape under her eye is stuck on, presumably with glue, and is an aspect of the artistic persona she has been growing into over the past decade. People just don’t have huge, metallic, suspiciously regular birthmarks. It’s not something that happens.

Even Sara’s surname is a fiction. Contrived in 2014 from a variety of sources and for reasons which are personal to her.

Seraphine League of Legends
Low-cost Fiverr impression | Credit: Riot games

“I love the Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Seraphini as well as The Voynich Manuscript. Both are mysterious, undecipherable encyclopedias that look like they’re from other dimensions,” Phinn said to Cyberpunks.com. “I find hyper-dimensional things really interesting, and angels are as close as western culture really gets to entertaining ideas of hyper-dimensional beings aside aliens. I have a fascination with representations of hyper-dimensional entities and other worldly things. Sara Phinn is a play on words regarding the six winged angels, the Seraphim.”

And the eye?

“The geometric shape is just one of many looks I’ve created for my art and performances.,” she said. “By no means do I think its exclusively unique, just in combination with my hair and name it was one more deeply uncanny element that has lead me to question where Riot(Games) came up with their character’s ‘inspiration.'”

Uncanny is right. We spent a good half a day searching through photos of celebrities and porn stars, as well as a bunch of personal Facebook and Instagram pages. We were trying to find any person who shares the unique combination of attributes which comprise a sizable part of Sara’s persona and which are now among the defining characteristics of Riot Games’ newest star.

The results were pretty much as we expected. There were a few scattered Sara Phinneys and couple of Sara Phinns. None of them had pink hair. None of them boasted a silvery birthmark.

It was pretty clear cut, at least on first inspection, if Riot Games drew their inspiration for the character Seraphine from any real life person, the balance of probability tipped towards the inspiration being from Sara Phinn.

Riot Games' Seraphine Sure Looks A Lot Like Our Friend, Sara Phinn
Riot Games, Creator of League of Legend | credit: Riot Games

Does the League of Legend Character Matter?

Believe it or not, Americans have a right to privacy…of sorts. It’s a messy legal area which clashes with all sorts of other rights and laws. But we found the best layman’s summary here. We’ve laid out the appropriate parts below.

In the modern era, the general nature of a right of privacy is the right of a person to be free from unwarranted publicity or the unwarranted appropriation or exploitation of that person’s image, voice, or likeness.

Legal Resource Website HG.org

A common law cause of action for misappropriation of name or likeness consists of the following elements:

  • The defendant’s use of plaintiff’s identity
  • The misappropriation of plaintiff’s name or likeness to defendant’s advantage, commercially or otherwise
  • Lack of consent by the plaintiff and
  • Resulting injury

It’s necessary to point out at this point that none of the writers at CyberPunks.com are lawyers. We’re a rag-tag bunch of happy-go-lucky freelancers, neuroscientists, crypto-anarchists and Viagra salesmen. Our opinion carries zero legal weight.

Ignore the legalese terms of ‘plaintiff’ and ‘defendant’ for now. We ripped the text from a fancy lawyering website.

Did Riot Games use Sara Phinn’s identity? Did they misappropriation her name or likeness to to their own advantage, commercially or otherwise?

Whether or not the Seraphine character is inspired by Sara Phinn or not is up in the air right now. We don’t know. We’ve reached out to Riot Games to ask them straight but as yet, they haven’t responded.

If they did, it’s certain Sara hasn’t consented. She couldn’t have because she wasn’t asked.

Has she been injured? Sure. Why not.

Sara isn’t some unknown rando. She’s an accomplished VR artist and publishes Youtube videos of her creative process. She conjures cats from thin air. Her other work includes conceptual art we can only effectively describe as flying space vaginas. Really. You should set an afternoon aside to take a look at her art.

In short, she is a professional with a brand image and a brand name – Sara Phinn. Having that brand diluted or potentially overpowered by her likeness and name appearing in one of the most successful online games of all time, without acknowledgement or compensation, is at the very least an insult.

Could Sara sue? Probably. Would she win? Probably not.

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CyberPunks.com — Gone Fishing for Seraphine’s Inspiration

To constitute an invasion of privacy, the use of someone’s likeness and other protected attributes needs to be an intentional act.

We abandoned our search for real people on whom Riot’s Seraphine could have been based and took a winding journey into the world of Anime, fan art and weird Japanese video games.

Our first stop was in 2015, when Nippon Ichi Software released Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. It’s described as “A tale of revenge and rebellion…hundreds of hours of over-the-top, award-winning gameplay”.  The complete edition has thousands of ‘very positive’ reviews on Steam and is yours to own for a mere £29.99 ( $39.99).

One of the main characters has pink hair and looks like this.

Seraphina
That's some quality dialogue right there | Credit: Nippon Ichi Software

You can see from the trailer image that her name is Seraphina. Again, it’s close to Sara Phinn and Seraphine. It’s obvious the character bears at least a superficial appearance to both.

But video games aren’t the only area in which we found more possible origins.The Webtoon Unordinary is a teen high-school drama set in a college where the social elite happen to possess unthinkable powers and abilities.  It’s exactly what you’d expect, and comes complete with the usual complement of battles, frenemies, deadly conspiracies and destiny.

One of the principle protagonists is Seraphina (nicknamed Sera). She is introduced as a super-cool person who plays games on her phone.

And guess what? This Seraphina has pink hair, too.

Seraphina Unordinary
There is an entire episode called 'Boob Envy' devoted to Seraphina | Credit webtoons.com/ unordinary

We now have two Seraphinas, one Seraphine and a Sara Phinn. All of whom have pink hair and all of whom have a variant on the same supernaturally inspired name.

But what about the shape? That unlikely under-eye geometric mark which pushes the bounds of coincidence to levels beyond unbelievable?

Yeah. About that.

Sara’s first post of herself with the shape under her eye was published in April 2019. But on a random fan art site, we found this piece created a month earlier.

Riot Games' Seraphine Sure Looks A Lot Like Our Friend, Sara Phinn
Oh my gosh! | credit: Ashueffects

We even ran the image through exiftool, and the creation date was right there.

Twenty-three days prior to Sara Phinn’s picture using the geometric shape, a piece of fan art based on a random webtoon had, without her knowledge, preempted it.

Riot Games' Seraphine Sure Looks A Lot Like Our Friend, Sara Phinn

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how phenomenally, astronomically unlikely that is.

It’s Going to Get Weirder for Sara Phinn

That Sara’s image wasn’t unique or original doesn’t change the story in any significant way, apart from making it considerably less likely that we’ll be sued for publishing it.

It doesn’t change Sara’s experience in any significant way either. Although, she hasn’t yet decided what to do about it.

Ultimately I want any actions I take to be on behalf of protecting other creators from having their likenesses stolen in the future by corporations. This is a problem that won’t go away until corporations realize they will be held accountable. In my research I’ve seen this has happened to other influencers and creators, their likenesses stolen by other companies such as mattel stealing a reporters likeness and the Bratz dolls company taking a young POC influencer’s likeness. This just seems to be the first time its been done with a virtual being. A few years ago, both Ellen Page and Lindsey Lohan had their likenesses stolen by two video game companies. Lindsey was ruled against and Ellen didn’t press charges. The video game company who took Ellen’s likeness changed the character a bit to avoid legal issues. Rockstar got away with it because the court ruled they’d changed enough about the character to warrant ‘freedom of expression’. I am not a celebrity. I am an independent artist and influencer/creative in the VR field. Going against a multimillion dollar company that obviously has no qualms is intimidating. ‘Equal treatment under law’ is a thing, but unfortunately little guys are often swept under the proverbial rug in law.

Sara Phinn to Cyberpunks.com

Companies with access to heavyweight legal representation and design teams have always been able to get away with a lot. But now, the power to appropriate people’s likenesses is in the hands of little people too. People like you.

Raise your hands up if you’ve ever photoshopped (other image editing software is available) the head of your crush onto the body of a pornstar and knocked one out over the resulting monstrosity.

You may have even gone one step further and edited it into a video. Pornhub is stuffed with celebrity lookalikes with similar stage names to the people they emulate being railed up against a [xxxx xxxx xxxx]. They get away with it because it’s parody porn. Along with the right to privacy, right to publicity and the concept of protected attributes, it is such a legally murky area that few stars are either inclined to or able to take action against the producers.

Deepfakes are new and they’re accessible. we assume you have seen Richard Nixon announcing the failure of the Apollo 11 mission along with the deaths of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. You’ve seen the deepfake of Nick Cage singing I will Survive while wearing a rather fetching blouse and dancing provocatively while clicking his fingers. There’s an entire subculture dedicated to pushing Nick Cage’s face where it doesn’t belong. You have, of course read our guide to how deepfakes will soon become undetectable.

But convincing deepfakes require a phenomenal amount of computing horsepower. That app on your phone which will throw out a substandard rendition of you performing at the Superbowl halftime show doesn’t do squat. The actual work takes place on a server farm where the heavy lifting is carried out by insanely powerful graphics cards.

Currently, you can produce deepfakes at home only if your desktop rig is a particularly beefy one. That barrier to entry will get lower year on year. With each new generation of processors, more and more people will be able to appropriate your image, use it for whatever they want and publish it as original work.

When the person who’s stolen your image and maybe even your name isn’t a giant corporation potentially making millions  from it,but just some Joe doing it for the lulz, you really don’t have any recourse beyond asking the hosting platform to take it down.

And let’s throw another factor in there. What if they acquire your image through completely legal means? What can they do with it then?

If you use Instagram, you’re probably aware of the 2019 furore when a virulent morsel of fake news had users frantically reposting that Instagram was changing its terms and conditions so that it would automatically own any images uploaded to it.

The truth is that Instagram would never need to do that. Since its creation, every user who has ever signed up for an account on the platform has clicked through a legally binding agreement which allows Instagram a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to photos, username, profile photo and relationship information.

Pay attention to the words transferable and sub-licensable here. They mean exactly what you think they do.

Did you read the Terms and Conditions? Did you read the Terms and Conditions on whatever random app you downloaded and which, for some reason needs unrestricted access to your photo gallery? Did you read the terms and conditions for the app to which you gave enough high quality video footage to actually make a semi-convincing fake?

Of course you didn’t. You have no idea what rights you’ve given away along with your data, your images, your location, your voice, your name, your WiFi signal strength, the names of your friends and your porn preference.

Next time, It Could Be You

As far as we’re aware, neither Instagram nor any of the other big players who retain rights to your images in perpetuity have actually exercised their transferable sub-licensing options. From a 2020 point of view, it’s unlikely that a games company would be able to secure the license which would allow them to use images of individuals in games without getting too bogged in the legal quagmire.

We’re guessing that it’s because by doing so, they’d scare users away from the platforms which make obscene amounts of money through selling your data in other ways.

But at some point, those revenue streams will dry up. The bottom will eventually fall out of personalized advertising. Image hosting sites will look for new forms of revenue. Even as they crumble to dust. Those licenses will one day be valuable, and the contracts you agreed to will be enforceable.

One day, not too far in the future, you could be waking up to find a cartoonified version of yourself splashed all over the internet. You could be on gaming websites and in magazines. Twenty feet high caricatures of your beautiful mug shooting by, plastered to the side of double-decker buses. People could be using your face as their avatars on Discord, while the next generation of printed gaming guides has an entire section dedicated to someone who is almost unmistakably you.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

Leave a Comment

8 comments

Avatar
Ross November 12, 2020 - 10:10 pm

what the fuck is wrong with u mate

Reply
David Rutland
David Rutland November 13, 2020 - 2:09 pm

Well, I’ve had the Covid recently, so that wasn’t great. Creeping middle age? Male pattern baldness? An occasional yet overwhelming sense of ennui and apathy? Lactose intolerance? Gallbladder issues? Recent onset cat allergies? Periodic episodes of panic at the fleeting nature of human existence, the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, and really – what is the point of it all, when you get right down to it?

Nothing major, but you’re free to take your pick from the list.

What’s wrong with you, Pal?

Reply
Avatar
Kevin Herrera November 15, 2020 - 6:23 am

It ain’t hurting anyone right, this girl isn’t getting hurt and to even claim she is inspiration is crazy it’s like the guy that said he was Prince’s son but he wasn’t it’s people trying to link themselves to something popular or try to get 15 minutes of fame. However if she can prove without a doubt that she was the inspiration then cool I’m wrong but I’m Mexican and have long hair and look like Victor from Smoke signals but I don’t claim to be him or be the inspiration I just happen to have similar characteristics. But know everyone is trippien on the most minute thing

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Gina November 15, 2020 - 4:10 am

What about this claim from another individual the character was inspired by her? https://www.pcgamer.com/woman-says-league-of-legends-character-seraphine-is-based-on-her-riot-denies-it/
What on earth are the odds of all this??

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Avatar
Maverick December 1, 2020 - 6:26 am

This article can’t to my mind as well as I had just read it a few weeks ago and at first I thought this article was covering the same girl from the pcgamer article. I will agree both girls share eery resembleness to the character. Certain screenshots of the character more closely resemble the Sara from this article, while other screen shots more closely resemble the girl from the pcgamer article. I think the research that cyberpunks.com uncovered of anime and video game characters whose not only appearance but name also closely resemble the overwatch character and are from 5+ years ago just proves that these girls may not be as original as they claim. You may think you’re being original but many don’t realize that their creativeness borrows off images that’s been stored in your subconscious. A cutesy, pale skin, pink hair, girl is not that far fetched as I know females personally who are petite, pale skin, and die their hair pink. The shape under the eye is also nothing new as just about any girl who takes a selfie on snapchat or instagram use filters that add shapes and characters to their face many times being under their eyes. Most artwork I see nowadays also adds such shapes under the characters eyes. Did overwatch deliberately steal likeness from these two girls specifically? I doubt it, I think the artists who created this character probably has watched alot of anime and played alot of anime in their years and although we can’t remember ever character we come across, but borrowed traits from all of these characters pulled from their subconscious without them even realizing it. The same goes for the name, the girl from this article admitted for reasons unknown to us that her name is fictious, but often times when trying to come up for a name for a personal your concious will connect the dots for you without even knowing it. So with so many pink hair characters named saraphinne, saraphinne, that Sara phine is not that far fetched either. Another point is try coming up with a petite, pale skin, pink hair, character that does not somewhat resemble any of these Sara’s. It may be harder than you think and there’s only so much you can do to differentiate a character from anything else that has ever been created. We live in a world with artistic freedom whether it’s with your personal looks, artwork, or animation and for about 40-50 years now many have strived to create something new and unique now leaving very few stones un-turned. Just like how normal people that no one has ever heard of coincidentally resemble a pop culture character whether it’s from a movie, tv show, book, or game, we do have 7 billion people on this planet who have create a unique personality for themselves, the human body only has so many characteristics so it’s pretty common for two people to look like each other or a character you created to resemble someone you never seen before. So no I think these girls have no right to say or sue riot games because a character they have somewhat resembles themselves, especially with examples from years prior to the creation of their persona also resembles in name and likeness. I see no harm in the coincidence either. If anything it will just give them more exposure, but to say it’s harming their image? No way, that just gives off the vibe that they are self entitled believing they are owed something just because of a few similar traits that are not uncommon in our culture, only speaking up for attention. Otherwise anyone who looks like anyone would be crying for a payout, hell I get told I look like MGK because of my tattoos and hair style that I’ve had since 2008 and I’ve never went to the news to complain about it. These girls need to grow up and realize that it you want to make something of yourself it’s going to take hard work and dedication, dressing up and taking pictures of yourselves might get you by when your young but it won’t bring you world wide recognition, fame, or riches. You got to set yourself apart from everything else and put in dedication and hard work to achieve that.

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Anti-Alt November 16, 2020 - 11:35 pm

you’re retarded if you think they even look remotely alike. her ex boyfriend didn’t have a say in character design and was long fired when she was released.

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David Rutland
David Rutland November 19, 2020 - 11:56 am

Who? What? Are you lost?

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Pussyfooter Santiago December 1, 2020 - 6:42 am

Sara looks like every other edgy hyper woke egirl gamer that has ever walked this Earth……Which is what Seraphim is based on……lmfao. This isn’t the first girl to come out and claim Sara Saraphine is based on them, won’t be the last. Funny how it’s only a certain type of person that makes these claims? I don’t see a bunch or people out here claiming any of the non-egirl dyed hair Champs look like them

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