Saving Rayman

A recently published Hitman trailer brought to attention that sexist depiction of women is still an ongoing problem in games. Penny Arcade tried to put this into perspective by listing what they consider a positive example, implying that the problem is not universal. But when Hitman is one extreme of the spectrum and Quantum Conundum the other, it’s worth looking at grey area in-between.

Recently, I picked up Rainmain Origins. It’s beautiful, whimsical game. At fist sight, it seems to share a lot of qualities with Quantum Conundrum. It has some really polished game mechanics and cuddly characters all in a lush, colorful art style that seems to come straight from a Saturday morning cartoon. But very quickly, you meet one of those:

Rayman Legacy Control

Comic from

Rayman Origins repeats the tired old platformer formula of structuring the plot around a series of damsels in distress. In this case the damsels are “nymphs” which stand out by being exceptionally sexy. They are drawn with huge hips, bouncy breasts and not much clothes to cover either. The game is very tounge-in cheek about it by having Rayman constantly trying to have upskirt peeks in cut scenes.

Rayman Upskirt

Come to think of it, how does sexuality work with Rayman anyway?

There is a curious dissonance between the innocent, childish art and the sexy, adult nymphs. Sure, cartoons with adult content are not exactly uncommon nowadays. It’s just that Rayman never seemed like an adult cartoon, certainly not at PEGI 7+. Be it as it may, it never occurred to me as an issue until I saw a recent Kickstarter project by Anita Sarkeesian.

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist pop culture critic I greatly respect. She has a wonderfully exhaustive YouTube channel with eloquent and very polished videos on various pop culture subjects from a feminist perspective. Seeing her go into games is something I’m looking forward to. I couldn’t help to note that she featured the Rayman nymphs in her Kickstarter pitch. That got me thinking.

Rayman Gourmet Nymph

Now that you mention it, yeah that’s actually a problem.

I’m usually paying attention to sexist stereotypes. I don’t really know why the Nymphs slipped under my radar. Perhaps it’s the adult comic thing. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are actually a solid representation of Nymphs. According to Greey mythology, the are supposed to be beautiful, amorous and seductive young women. Considering that the word Nymphomania is derived from them, I guess their depiction in Rayman Origins could be considered tame.

The execution is not exactly the problem. One could argue that it’s the fact that the designers thought it would be a good idea to have Nymphs in the first place. But is it really the solution? Here is a thought experiment: how would you save Rayman? Imagine you are Dr. Sam Beckett and you quantum leap into the body of the creative director of Rayman Origins with the goal of preventing the game from being sexist. How would you do it?

  • No Nymphs? – Exchanging the Nymphs with less sexualized female characters would get rid of the objectification issue. But the game would still fall into the damsel in distress trope.

  • Male Princess? – Exchanging the Nymphs for male/neutral characters would avoid the damsel in distress trope, but it would lead to a game devoid of female characters.

  • Female Sidekick? – Putting in a female supporting character would make the game tap exactly into that: the female sidekick trope.

  • Female Protagonist? – Exchanging Rayman for a female character would make the game fall into the Smurfette Principle. Even if the character wasn’t as plump as a “Raywoman”, just releasing the game under the Rayman brand would immediately make it stand out among the Rayman games as “the one with the chick”.

The final point is seriously problematic. Because it means that even if the entire cast of the game was all-female, the game would still fall into the Smurfette Principle. Yikes!

It’s an interesting challenge and I don’t really have a good solution. I guess the problem with sexist content is that there are no simple fixes to it. It’s all about balance and nuance. Here are some ideas that could work.

  • Not Just Sexy – Having sexy characters is not bad per se. But it’s a problem when one gender is represented exclusively this way. So breaking the female = sexy pattern is an obvious way to start. There are plenty of characters in the game, why not making some of them female and not sexy. Why not have Uglette instead of Globox?

  • Not Just Damsels – Same goes for the damsel in distress problem. You fall into the damsel in distress trope if all of the people you rescue are female. How about some male nymphs as well? You could even keep them sexy. There could be some Cross-Dressing humor. There could be different reactions in cut-scenes depending on what gender the playable character is.

  • Not Just one Sidekick – The problem with the Smurfette is really the fact that there is only one Smurfette among the all of the male Smurfs. Having multiple female supporting characters would avoid that problem. If they were visually as different from Rayman as Globox is, it would avoid the “male is the standard” issue, even if Rayman was the main protagonist.

Generally, problems with sexist tropes often seem to boil down to not enough variation. Sexy female characters and male protagonists are not bad per se. They are just bad if they are the ONLY gender representation a game contains. Adding alternatives diminishes the issues and in case of Rayman Origins would actually add even more opportunities for comedy.

But as you’ve seen, it’s not exactly a simple issue to solve. So if you have any ideas on your own, be sure to share them in the comments!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “Saving Rayman”

  1. bushidogamer

    You could a political spin on it. A guy sees something beautiful, he goes after her. Women are worth going out of your way for. Women are everything.

    Or you could do what Lauren Faust did for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, kill yourself over the show to create characters that pop and aren’t stereotypes.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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