There Have Always Been Women in Gaming, You Just Need to Know Where to Look

Female game designers Robin Hunicke and Carol Shaw against a blue and pink illustrated background.
CC BY-SA 4.0 / EA / CC BY 2.0

At first glance, the gaming industry has always seemed like it’s dominated by men. Whether that be gamers, producers, writers or designers, gaming tends to look a bit like a man’s world. In actual fact, women have long been part of the assembly line of gaming and have helped shape the gaming industry into what it is today. And it’s time that history starts acknowledging that!

Here are 8 female game designers you should know about:

Joyce Weisbecker

Weisbecker is an icon because she is known as the earliest female commercial video game designer in 1976 for her work on TV Schoolhouse I. She programmed the game in one week (men today could never) for a payment of $250. Her work was kept anonymous and she didn’t receive any credit for the game at the time. She’s also known as the first Indie game developer, which is quite a title for a designer in 1976.

Female game designer Carol Shaw holding an award for her game River Raid.
Carol Shaw / CC BY-SA 4.0

Carol Shaw

A gaming pioneer, Shaw was one of the first women to ever design and program video games. After getting her degree in computer science she worked at Atari, where she was considered one of the best programmers at the company, and Activision, where she had a hand in designing games like 3D Tic-Tac-Toe and River Raid which went on to sell over a million copies.

She was awarded the Industry Icon Award in 2017 for her innovative code and massive impact on the gaming industry.

Amy Briggs

After graduating with an Arts degree in English, Briggs was hired by Infocom as a game tester. And it was thanks to her background in literature that she was able to contribute to immersive and narrative-led games like Zork and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

But what she’s most known for is writing the company’s only romance-genre text adventure, Plundered Hearts, in 1987. Even better, it was the company’s first game with a female character lead (previous Infocom games only offered male, a choice between male or female or unspecified gendered characters).

She explained her desire to create Plundered Hearts and said, “C.S. Lewis said he had to write The Chronicles of Narnia because they were books he wanted to read, and nobody else had written them yet. Plundered Hearts was a game I wanted to play.” And if that isn’t just one of the best reasons to write a game, what is?

Roberta Williams

Known for being a designer and writer for games like Mystery House and King’s Quest in the 1980s, Williams is considered one of the most influential game designers in history. She and her husband founded Sierra Entertainment Inc. where she had a hand in developing these games.

King’s Quest became a bestseller and Williams was commended for her skill in creating games that appealed to the mass market but also used cutting-edge graphics and technology. King’s Quest set a standard for future graphic adventure games as it introduced pseudo-3D elements in an explorable world, allowed the player character to move in front of, behind or over objects on the screen and was the first computer game to support the 16-colour EGA standard. Since she retired in 1999, she’s been focusing her efforts on writing a historical novel—how cool!

Female game designer Christy Marx.
Christy Marx / Instagram

Christy Marx

Whether you’re a gamer or not, you’ve probably enjoyed something Marx created thanks to some of the cool games, televisions shows and graphic novels she’s worked on. Not only was she involved in game design, but she also had a hand in writing some of our favourite TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe.

Games-wise, she’s best known for writing and designing Conquests of Camelot and its sequel Conquests of the Longbow. But it’s obvious that she’s a woman of many talents.

Corrinne Yu

An Asian-American game programmer, Yu is best known for her talent as a graphics engine programmer and has helped create several of the industry’s top 3D rendering engines like Unreal Engine 3. Which means you’ve definitely played a game that’s been powered by her code!

She’s worked as a programmer on games like Borderlands and Halo 4 and is considered one of the most influential people in gaming.

Female game designer Sheri Graner Ray at the 2015 Game Developers Conference.
Sheri Graner Ray / CC BY 2.0

Sheri Graner Ray

Not only did Graner Ray have a hand in designing the Ultima series and Star Wars Galaxies, but she also pioneered the research on gender in games. She was an early advocate for creating gender-inclusive games and games for young, female players. In 2000, she was a founding member of Women in Games International and served as the Executive Director for six years. In 2004 she published her book Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market. Her work is a huge reason that we can play as female characters!

Female game designer Robin Hunicke at the 2018 GDC Awards.
Robin Hunicke / CC BY 2.0

Robin Hunicke

Hunicke began her career at Electronic Arts where she had a hand in designing some of our favourite games, including The Sims! She was also a producer on Journey, the incredible PS3 game that’s been called one of the greatest games of all time and won many Game of the Year awards.

But she’s not just a designer — Hunicke has propelled the games industry forward through her academic research on “dynamic difficulty adjustment”, which is a fancy way of saying she investigates how to make a game’s difficulty level more flexible and personalised so that the player doesn’t get bored.

Recognising the History of Women in the Gaming Industry

There are so many other women who could easily be included on this list like Rebecca Heineman, who became a professional game programmer at 16 years old, Siobhan Reddy, the studio director of Media Molecule and Amy Hennig, the creative director and writer of the first three Uncharted games. It just goes to show that women have been influential in games for a long time. You just need to know where to look for them.

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