In respect to women’s history month, I would like to take a look at a history that is less well-known: gaming history. Though it is fairly recent, modern history has its place. It was difficult to dig up information concerning women in gaming history because of the length of time and lack of relevant information. However, because I want to be a part of the game development world some day, I thought it beneficial to learn about the women who have opened the doors for others like myself.
As any good Millenial would do, I googled “women in gaming history”. My first couple of searches rendered women in the last 10 to 20 years, but I wanted to go back to where it all began. It was quite clear that few women were part of the gaming industry back in the 1970s; or, if they were, they held positions that were not recognized. One particular figure eventually stood out. In 1978, Carol Shaw created the unreleased Polo, the first game ever developed by a woman; and, the next year, she released 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe. At the time, she was an Atari employee (it’s like the cooler retro version of your Xbox) where she held the title of Microprocessor Software Engineer. When she began her career at Activision, she developed her best known game, River Raid. After her development of Happy Tails, which bombed due to a strange dip in gaming sales during 1984, she left Activision. Keep in mind, this was a time when women comprised barely 5% of the gaming community. Shaw may not be remembered for her accomplishments in gaming circles, let alone most other circles, but her feat is no less important: the first woman to develop an official video game.
What about now? How has the industry changed to include women? Is the horizon too far for young female game developers?
My first search had plopped me at Gamasutra, in which the author recognized 20 major women who are making gaming history today. I took a glance at Gamasutra’s list and discovered that I knew little to nothing about these women, but that their incredible accomplishments significantly shrunk the distance to the horizon of game development for other women, just like as their predecessor, Shaw’s, had. I, for instance, had no idea the Executive Producer of 2K Marin, who published Bioshock, was a woman! Alyssa Finley and her team managed an incredible feat with Bioshock, paving the way for a unique shooter accompanied by an in-depth story and dynamic game play. The game won many awards including: “Best Visual Art”, “Best Writing”, and “Best Audio”. While Bioshock is recognized as her major accomplishment, she has shipped with almost every major publisher including work on Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for EA and Pool of Radiance II: The Ruins of Myth Drannor with Ubisoft.
Another woman that stood out to me was Jane McGonigal, whose focus on virtual reality is redefining the way we look at games. She was featured on TEDTalks back in March of 2010, advocating for the utilization of games in making a better world. If you ask me, she is epic simply for pushing back against the status quo of how most of society views gamers and telling them “hey, you could actually learn a thing or two from games.” Even better? Virtual reality is still a fresh industry which means McGonigal is a pioneer, one that is holding the door open for others eager to embrace a higher purpose for games.
One woman I noticed that was missing from Gamasutra’s list and is of particular interest to me is Rhianna Pratchett (daughter of Terry Pratchett) best known for her story development on some of my personal favorites: Tomb Raider and Thief. Both of these are games that have a mix of a female and male audience and are renowned for their interactive stories. As with movies, we often forget the people behind the scenes and this is no different in the game development world. We praise those who produce and create the beautiful graphics in which we revel, but what of the incredible, immersive stories we experience? Writers like Pratchett don’t get the attention they deserve despite many games that now rely heavily on dynamic stories.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the incredible women of the gaming realm. Anita Sarkeesian, known for Feminist Frequency, and Brianna Wu, whose game Revolution 60 was recently greenlit on Steam, are common names circulating today; women constantly on the front lines pushing against a misplaced hatred and exclusion towards female gamers and game developers. Then, there are average Janes, such as you and I, that put up with harassment, exclusion and ridicule all in the event that we can enjoy what our male counterparts enjoy without limitations. The women above demonstrate that, despite the negative forces that were working against them, it is possible to create a gaming community that encompasses all the great aspects we love while becoming more open and welcoming to all gamers.
We want to hear from you! What women have impacted your life, historically and today?
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