The Most Important Women in the History of Video Games
February 5, 2015
By D S Cohen
The days of the video game business being a boy's club are long over as women are now taking charge as some of the industry's top executives, but it wasn't an easy climb. In the '70s and '80s when the video game market was just getting itself established, women had to fight hard to get their voices heard in the completely male-dominated business. Those that did made major marks in the industry, not because they are women, but because their innovations and influences changed the world of video games for the better.
These are the most important, influential and historic women in the world of video games.
Roberta Williams: Co-Creator of Graphical Adventure Games, Co-Founder of Sierra
One of the most important figures in the history of video games. In '79 Roberta became inspired after playing the text-only computer game Adventure and put together a design doc outlining an interactive game combining text with graphics. Her husband Ken, a programmer at IBM, developed the software engine and tech using their Apple II home computer. When finished their game, Mystery House, was an instant hit and the graphical adventure genre was born.
The couple formed the company On-Line Systems (later called Sierra), and became the dominating force in computer games.
By the time Roberta retired in '96 she was credited with over 30 top computer games, the majority of which she wrote and designed, including Kings Quest and Phantasmagoria.
Computer programmer Carol Shaw is best known for her work at Activision with the retro hit River Raid, but years before Carol had already made a name for herself in the history of video games. In 1978 she was the first woman to program and design a video game, 3D Tic-Tac-Toefor the Atari 2600.
In 1983, the final game that Carol would completely program and design herself,Happy Trails, released just when the video game market crashed. With the industry in shambles, Carol took a break from making games, but returned in 1988 to oversee the production of River Raid II, her final swan song in the world of console gaming.
Carol is now retired with her husband and fellow brainiac Ralph Merkle, a specialist in the field of nanotechnology.
Determined to break into the game making biz, Dona received a position as an engineer at Atari in 1980. As Carol Shaw had already left for Activision, Donna was the only female game designer at the company. There she co-created and designed, along with Ed Logg, the classic arcade hit, Centipede.
After its release to instant success Donna disappeared from the video game industry only to resurface 26 years later as a keynote speaker at the 2007 Women in Games Conference. Donna admitted it was the pressure and criticism from her male counterparts which drove her from the business.
Today Donna encourages women to pursue careers in games and works as a college instructor, teaching numerous courses, among them game design.
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