Home Features Who’s actually getting upset about how women are represented in games?

Who’s actually getting upset about how women are represented in games?

5 min read

For quite some time now I’ve been of the opinion that most of internet drama is caused by the internet’s unfortunate ability to amplify the hateful and angry voices that will always occur. Whether that is true or not is for someone else to investigate fully but what I’d like to approach is something I experienced in Germany last week whilst at Gamescom.

There is a South African game being developed at the moment by friends of ours called Jengo. Jengo is an old school point and click adventure game which has a definitive art style and what I’ll call a “Unique” sense of humour.

During Gamescom, I actually boarded with the two man team so we had a fair amount of time to chat about the game and life in general. Seriously, do I need more disclaimers about a possible conflict of interest here?

So the team had their game on the Gamescom show floor in the indie booth and since we only had a single key for our apartment I had to often pass by to drop off the key or pick it up and whilst there I enjoyed just watching the random Gamescom attendees playing through their demo, and chatting to the team on how they could possibly improve certain interactions in the game.

During this time what I did notice was that their style of game seemed to appeal more to women, with more men either skipping over the game entirely or not pushing through and completing it while most of the women I saw playing played it until the end. As with most of the indie games, the developers are always close on hand to help out and I couldn’t help but laugh when the one lady turned and told them to stop helping her as she’s enjoying trying to figure it out.

But more importantly, while the game had some crass humour, pictures of half-naked ladies and the ability to attempt to chat up a drunken lady in the bar not a single one of the ladies who played ever made a negative comment about it. According to the developers, they only received one complaint about those aspects and that was from a male, whose female partner instantly told him to get over himself.

However, I have heard that some locals complained about the game and the blatant sexism it contains and how it’s holding women in gaming back. But the reality appeared to be very different. We spoke with many women indie developers at the indie after party and not a single one of them had a problem with it. They thought it fitted the style of game perfectly and that there is nothing offensive about it.

During the same time, I saw a tweet by a local developer. I’ve smudged the name as this is nothing against the person in question, I just felt it was a good example.

Locally, are we focusing too much on the idea of not offending people and being all equal and warm and fuzzy whilst taking our eye off the ball? For me (and I’m not a game developer – so take my opinion for what it’s worth), the idea of game development is surely meant to be to create games that people enjoy and will pay money for? The more people who enjoy it and pay for it the better and more successful a game is. While the developer may be right that the South African industry is further developed in gender equality, and I may disagree – what does it really matter when our local industry is in its infancy and 99% of all sales made by the local industry are from overseas?

Anecdotally, it feels like many developers are pandering to overbearing social pressure in the local industry – and I believe that it may be doing more harm than good.

And for the people who literally saw the top header image and the subject line and came down to comment: for a bit of balance, there were two images made to poke fun at both sides of the over sexuality in gaming. Here’s the other.

Also in the second image, the drunken blonde lady is a princess who has been dumped by a plumber due to his new-found fame and the space marine is hitting on her in attempt to score. Just outside of the picture there is an old crazy scientist and a robot so I think all genders and sexualities are covered.

I reached out to Graeme Selvan of Robot Wizard to ask him about the idea behind the tone of the game

I feel people need to learn how to laugh again and have fun, the world is going through troubling times. Videogames are a form of escape. We want people to have fun with our game and laugh at the insane characters they meet

In closing, you are not expected to like the game just because they aren’t trying to offend and the few people I’ve met weren’t. But what I would like to see is people not getting offended without actually understanding the full story or even a partial story. Getting offended over a single image taken out of context is ridiculous and isn’t helping anyone. Context is important.

Just because you are offended doesn’t mean you are right, and that is something that needs to change.

If you’d like more information around Jengo you can visit their website here and follow them on twitter or Facebook. To find out more about what our local developers are working on then head on over to Make Games South Africa where many of our local talents hang out to discuss various aspects of the local gaming industry.

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Last Updated: August 29, 2017


  1. Geoffrey Tim

    August 29, 2017 at 13:45

    Well, I think you’re too hung up on what your idea of what game development is about. For many – possibly even most – your model of success is applicable. People want to make a game that people play, and importantly pay money for. Cool goal, I guess.

    That’s not the case for everyone though. Many developers want to make games to experiment, they want to challenge existing ideas – and that includes challenging the status quo. For them, they’d have a different idea of success, or what the goal of game development is. For them, representation in games – whether that’s race, class, gender, sexuality whatever representation – absolutely matters. For me, it absolutely matters.
    I’ve recounted this story before, about playing Sleeping Dogs and finally having that whole representation stuff just *click.* These were characters who spoke my family’s language, who had a familial set up that was like mine – and it was incredibly empowering, and it felt *awesome*. Not every game needs to feel like it was made to target me, however – but more games that people outside of the established audience feel like they can relate to is always a good thing.

    That aside, people making the games should be making the games they want to, not what your idea of games should be.

    I feel this way about games that I feel are trashy as well – like Dead or Alive XXXtreme, or House Party, or Hatred or whatever. If that’s what Team Ninja wants to make, that’s up to them – but I’ll be free to call it out as trashy, just as they’re free to make those games. I also think often people mistake calling things out as being “outraged” or “offended.” I may think shitty games that target prepubescent boys with bikini-clad women with bouncy breasts is crass, and may even take to social media to state that opinion – but don’t mistake that for being outraged or even offended.

    TL;DR: Cool story, bro.


    • Gavin Mannion

      August 29, 2017 at 13:51

      I’m 100% not against people calling games out but it changes when people start petitioning to have the game removed or altered based on their small world view.

      I wouldn’t want people to think I’m against diversity. Far from it I think it’s important and empowering but when people are making their game around that idea instead of the actual core gameplay I think they are doomed to fail.

      I also think creating games as social experiments and to showcase an idea is all good and well but then admit you are a hobbyist and not a true developer.


      • Nick de Bruyne

        August 29, 2017 at 14:03

        I find something that the much loved/hated Colin Moriarty (formerly of IGN and Kinda Funny) said very interesting, in that he said that he thinks diversity is good, but thinks that diversity only for diversity’s sake isn’t


      • Gardos

        August 31, 2017 at 15:34

        I would imagine many game developers get into the profession because they’re passionate about what they do. They love the process of creating something for people to play/enjoy/learn from etc.

        Now those same developers could also have a passion for certain social issues and to combine those passions (game development/a social issue) may be an idea that’s interesting to them. It may be their own measure of success.

        You’re creating a non-existent dichotomy here. That as a game developer, you’re either in it to make as much money as possible or you’re not a real game developer. If anything, it’s a talented game developer that’s able leverage their skillset to drive social change, not a hobbyist. Talk of small world views.


  2. Alien Emperor Trevor

    August 29, 2017 at 13:48

    That’s disgusting. Those dudes skipped leg day.


  3. Nick de Bruyne

    August 29, 2017 at 14:02

    From everything I know, Jengo specifically references the history of video games and plays on the character stereotypes in a funny way, complete with all the ups and downs – to shy away from that in this specific game would be to do major harm to the developer/artist’s vision/goal of the story they are trying to tell and the experience they want to provide.


    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      August 29, 2017 at 14:09

      It’s the difference between (for example) “this character is amazing because of traits xyz, and they’re gay” and “this character is amazing because they’re gay, irrespective of traits xyz”.

      Both characters are gay, and fall under the diverse label, but only the former is one that people will like – and if you happen to be gay you’ll bond with that character even more because of the additional layer of connection that you share. Poor characters don’t benefit anyone.


  4. Ottokie

    August 29, 2017 at 14:11

  5. Skittle

    August 29, 2017 at 14:19

    I’ve cracked the code. Lets say there are 10 tweets about a topic and one of those tweets is negative, a popular blogger sees this negative post and writes about it. Said bloggers fans (now part of a echo chamber) jump at the chance to attack the author of the tweet. People who weren’t paying attention at first start seeing this poor guy/gal being ganged up on and jump in to defend him/her. This then creates more tweets, the issue grows in popularity, more bloggers pick a side and write up articles and things continue to spiral out of control.

    TL;DR Screw Twitter


    • Gavin Mannion

      August 29, 2017 at 14:20

      Pretty much exactly this.. I think the female Dr Who drama was the most recent and obvious.

      99% of people couldn’t care, 100’s of articles about the morons who thought it was a bad move.


    • Nick de Bruyne

      August 29, 2017 at 14:22

      I actually firmly believe that some of the biggest “controversies” we have seen, usually fuelled by headlines like “Twitter furious over this, or Twitter reacts to that” are legit, I mean LEGIT based on around 10 tweets from a few people with a grand total of around 1000 followers.


    • HvR

      August 29, 2017 at 14:22

      Jip that seems to be the theme of the 2010’s on all subjects even those outside of gaming.

      Choose bandwagon jump on it and try to burn the other one.

      Since Nick already stole my Moriarty quote I will just add one from Rikus de Beer, “Rule number 1 don’t be a doos”


      • Nick de Bruyne

        August 29, 2017 at 14:31

        Be excellent – Bill & Ted


  6. Admiral Chief

    August 29, 2017 at 14:27

    I think Geoff should grow a ‘stache and show off his nipples more. They are so majestic


  7. Nick de Bruyne

    August 29, 2017 at 14:31

    I can’t speak for how women feel, or people of colour, or many things because I’m an overly represented white dude right… BUT what I can say is that for me, it feels way more “offensive” to me that studios are legitimately putting in diverse characters based on marketing data that suggests that they will make more money off of you by doing it. Diversity and representation doesn’t just = good. The studio is playing you like a game, and worse, turning your feelings into profit. There’s a reason that all the dudes on the cover have been white guys, and that’s because they think they are getting all their money from white guys. When the stats show different, and they see they can benefit from it or generate “good will” towards a franchise or brand, most of them will do it if it makes sense to their bottom line.

    Okay I’m going off topic now to a degree, but also saying that indie games are more art/vision than anything else, so expression should also be protected, when it comes to franchises, a LOT of time and money goes into finding out how we can all be exploited in the best way possible. There’s a reason NBA 2K18 isn’t going to be heavily marketed towards white, preppy frat boys and why The Sims 4 doesn’t have a muscley dude in a vest on the front cover.

    We are often all numbers, usually preceded by currency symbols. It makes it a tougher conversation when you realise that sometimes… “progress” is just managing your audience and generating good will towards a brand, strategized by bunch of people in a board room.


    • Admiral Chief

      August 29, 2017 at 14:32

      “it feels way more “offensive” to me that studios are legitimately putting in diverse characters based on marketing data that suggests that they will make more money off of you by doing it.”


    • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

      August 30, 2017 at 15:08

      On the button! This comment should be viral


  8. Original Heretic

    August 29, 2017 at 14:43

    People who get offended by everything? Yeah, they tend to offend me with their breathing.


  9. Nikola

    August 29, 2017 at 15:00

    Gav great article bud really enjoyed it! I also could not agree more that these day should everyone takes everything so seriously and like to jump up on every little comment and a joke, people need to lighten up and not take everything so personally and seriously


  10. Kromas Ryder

    August 29, 2017 at 15:24

    I like South Park so I can’t really comment. 😛


  11. Gluten-free Cheese Puffs

    August 29, 2017 at 19:44

    Social justice warriors need to stop getting their (man or woman or womyn) panties wet. Stop exaggerating even the most innocent of slights. It’s one of the reasons why I dropped Twitter as fast as I could. The mere sight of 35 year old millennial men acting and reacting to things like 14 year old teenage girls were too much for me. It’s embarrassing.

    Having said that, I hate to say it, but I agree with Gavin. Just because you’re feeling offended, it doesn’t mean you are in the right. It just means that (a) you’re sensitive to some realities of the world, (b) oversensitive to the issues at hand or c) maybe… just maybe… you’re just an asshole.


    • Gavin Mannion

      August 30, 2017 at 05:47

      so many people say “I hate to say it but I agree with Gavin” …. I’m starting to get a complex 😉


  12. konfab

    August 30, 2017 at 13:38

    1) Woman are not a single, collective identity, there are other women who play games besides the lunatic SJWs.
    2) Woman are not stupid [citation needed]. If they don’t like the game, they won’t buy it or play it. That is the developer’s problem.
    3) Developers are actually required to create games for a targeted audience of they want to be successful. If you truly believe in diversity of thought instead of the arbitrary categories that the SJW tell everyone to believe, you also have to understand that different people might like different things.
    4) There are far greater evils befalling women in the world besides what they look like and behave in a computer game.


  13. Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

    August 30, 2017 at 14:58

    Formally stated, Newton’s third law is: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.

    This applies to society as well.

    “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
    ― Mother Teresa


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