Korean Name: 게임회사 여직원들
Genre: Slice of life, romantic comedy
Number of Episodes: 11 episodes
Episode Length: 7 to 8 minutes
Recommended For: Gamers or cosplayers, lovers of rom-coms and workplace drama
NOT Recommended For: People looking for a serious or action filled story
Starring: Irene (Bae Joohyun) as Ahreum, Lee Minji as Marshmell, Lee Jiyeon as Kihye
Plot Outline: Based of the similarly titled webtoon, the web drama Female Employees of a Game Company tells the story of three women who work together as game developers struggling to make their way in the industry. Kihye, the team’s director, has yet to successfully launch a game in her seven year career. She’s passionate and driven though, and carefully looks after her coworkers. Marshmell is the only designer on the team, and the liveliest employee of the bunch who isn’t afraid to share her opinions. Finally Ahreum is a coder that, though seemingly soft-spoken and reserved, hides her secret hobby of cosplaying from the rest of her coworkers. She impresses those around her with her beauty in the rare moments when she removes her glasses, but also loses all her coding abilities when her spectacles are gone. Her fellow team member Gaebal realizes his romantic feelings for Ahreum when he sees her take her glasses off one day. He’ll spend much of the rest of the drama trying to get closer to her because of this.
When the team’s months long project is suddenly scrapped in an executive order by the higher ups, the four computer techs must begin anew with a different approach to creating a mobile game. As they struggle through grueling work schedules and their own personal little roadblocks along the way, the team grows closer when they learn to open up to each other. The addition of a new member to the team, who is affectionately given the name “Pudding,” begins a new chapter into the development of this project. However, there are still secrets being kept amongst the coworkers and the beginnings of romance that bring some complications to the office table.
Review: Now, I haven’t read the webtoon this drama is based off of and thus can’t make a comparison between the two or comment on plot differences. But I can say that in the span of 11 very brief episodes, Female Employees of a Game Company takes the age old Kdrama premise of workplace shenanigans and puts a cute little twist on it. And this is done by the introduction of a single plot element: video games. It’s a subject very present in the real world but so rarely touched on in drama universes. Maybe because it’s not glamorous enough or drama producers think it appeals to just a niche of viewers. Regardless, the devotion to the video game theme is present from the very beginning of each episode with the animated intro sequence and 8-bit soundtrack that accompanies it. And it continues on as the team of techies go about their work and daily lives, lamenting the “bugs” in their computer programs as they tap away on their keyboards or fight the digitized monsters of their nightmares. The writers and production team were wholly invested in this video game premise and it gives the overall drama a fun and playful feeling. Even Ahreum’s “scary” dreams are more cute than frightening and her methods of conquering them are similarly playful. There’s really nothing that’ll leave you holding your breath out of fear or suspense in any episode. And it was a clear choice by the directors and screenwriters that the drama carry this bright and cheery tone.
But while the look and theme of the drama meshed well and was maintained across episodes, I’m not sure I can say the same about the plot. Despite the drama following a linear timeline, the story itself didn’t really feel linear. Female Employees of a Game Company seems more like a mishmash of events coming together to form a series than a smooth progression through an easily identifiable plot. Even halfway through the drama I didn’t really see where the story was going. It just felt like cute things were happening. And while some episodes definitely connected with later elements in the story in following episodes, others could have been deleted from the drama and you wouldn’t have lost any important information from the plot. So basically they were filler. And I suppose it could be argued that they were there to support the budding romance between Ahreum and Gaebal or show the workplace dynamic but they didn’t really lead anywhere in the end.
The climax of the drama came out of nowhere with Ahreum suddenly showcasing her secret cosplaying hobby. And the conclusion to her dilemma of hiding this activity from her coworkers (spoilers be warned) only resulted in her successfully tricking all of them except her boss Kihye. Which, in my opinion, is a very ambiguous ending. I have heard that a second season of Female Employees of a Game Company may eventually happen, so I suppose I should cut this drama some slack. But as it stands now, nothing really got resolved in the final episode. Without a following season, all of the questions brought up like coworker romance, Ahreum’s secrets, the success of the ongoing mobile game in development, and Pudding’s suspicious friend would just be left hanging. So I think my biggest qualm with this drama was the story writing. There were just too many loose ends, and an ending that lacked any sort of feel for finality. And while the simple-minded side of me had fun watching cute coworker shenanigans, the more objective side still had ask where they were going.
What’s interesting to me about Female Employees of a Game Company is that I went in watching it under the premise of “this is Irene’s web drama.” And it’s true that her character Ahreum seemed to take the central role as the calm but quirky coder who loved horror movies, guns, and cosplaying. But her coworkers seemed to get equivalent amounts of screen time and some of their plot lines even felt a bit more fleshed out than Ahreum’s. It was refreshing, however, to see a drama that was built around the female characters, especially given that they were career women. The cast was almost exclusively female actually, with Gaebal really being the only influential male character. And while all the female leads had drastically different personalities, none of them fit the mold of a stereotypical Kdrama heroine. Marshmell was the brash, talkative girl of the team. Kihye was the astute leader whose no-nonsense personality was softened by sadness over her repeated failed attempts to finally put a video game on the market. And Ahreum of course was seemingly meek and quiet but had the most surprising hobbies and interests like horror films and assault rifles. In contrast, Gaebal was the normal guy that was just a little out of his league with all these opinionated, capable females around him. But he was rather cutely overwhelmed by them, especially Ahreum in all her quirkiness.
Performance wise, and keeping in mind that this is a web drama, I think the actors and actresses did moderately well in their roles. This drama was Irene’s acting debut and while she still had a certain awkwardness on film that was unrelated to the character she played, I think she did a decent job overall. Maybe because her character here had a calm demeanor that matched well with her real life personality, but she seemed to showcase some of the most natural acting of the cast. Lee Minji, who I vaguely recognized from Reply 1988, also slid into her character very well, perhaps the best of all. I think Gabeal’s actor was the most noticeably awkward of the bunch, almost distractingly so, and he was very clearly a rookie to the drama scene. But it wasn’t quite the kind of awkwardness you could pass off as his character’s traits, it was more like he thought just a little to hard about his lines as they left his mouth. I feel like I need to be forgiving though. This is a web drama; I’m not expecting the cast to all grab Daesangs at the end of the year and overall the acting didn’t really hinder the production of Female Employees of a Game Company by any means.
In the end, I don’t think Female Employees of a Game Company is a drama that is going to suit everyone’s fancy. Fans of Kdrama thrillers or large, elaborate film productions won’t love it. But for those looking for simple fun and the development of coworker’s relationships as they work towards a common goal, I recommend it. There’s plenty of cute moments to go around as the coworkers labor into overtime at the office and I think those who enjoy video games will likely get a kick out of this game-themed webdrama. Not to mention, fans of Irene who set out to see her first project as an actress won’t come away disappointed. All in all, Female Employees of a Game Company is a very quick, very cute watch that doesn’t have the biggest budget but still has a lot of heart.