Pioneering women in video game history who deserve more recognition

A few of the women who worked in the video game industry during its early - and highly male-dominated - days.

A few of the women who worked in the video game industry during its early - and highly male-dominated - days.

It’s no secret that women are getting more involved in video games than ever before, helping to provide vital new ideas and perspectives to an industry that has been accused of growing stale and repetitious. And while some of these women are rightly celebrated, a lot of those who came before them have been forgotten.

It would be easy to believe that women entering the game industry is a recent development, but as this article (titled “Welcome to the Club”) from the March 1983 issue of Video Games magazine proves, that just isn’t the case. In fact, women have been involved since the early days of the industry.

The women below are just a few of the ones who paved the way for the women working in the industry today. Hopefully, as we begin recording and defining video game history, their names won’t be left out.

Carol Shaw – Game Designer/Programmer

Carol Shaw with River Raid box, November 28, 1982

After receiving a master’s degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, Shaw was hired at Atari in 1978. She is widely considered to be “very likely the first female video game designer in the U.S.” for her work on Polo, 3-D Tic Tac Toe, Video Checkers, and Super Breakout. However,  her best-known title is River Raid, which she created after moving to Activision. Most of her video game work was done before 1984, and she more or less retired in 1990.

Also worth mentioning here is Carla Meninsky, another early woman game designer and programmer who came to work at Atari just after Shaw left. Meninsky worked on Dodge ‘Em, Warlords, and an unreleased prototype for Tempest. She now works as an intellectual property lawyer.

Dona Bailey – Co-creator of Centipede

Dona Bailey, as featured in the “Welcome to the Club” article

Bailey was another Atari programmer who is best known for partnering with Ed Logg to create the arcade classic Centipede. After this success she worked on another game that was never released, and she left Atari for Videa soon after. Eventually she dropped out of the industry altogether, although she did approach it again as the keynote speaker for the Women in Games International Conference in 2007. As of 2012 she was teaching writing and rhetoric at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Roberta Williams – Game Designer, Writer, Director

Roberta Williams, as featured in the “Welcome to the Club” article

Roberta Williams and her husband Ken co-founded On-Line Systems (which later became Sierra On-Line) in 1980 and co-created the first graphic adventure game, Mystery House. A few years later she created the first game of her most famous series, King’s Quest, and she worked on all its sequels up to 1998’s King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity. During her time at Sierra On-Line Williams worked on a vast number of games and has been credited in many roles, including director, producer, designer, programmer, creative consultant, and even voice actor. She retired in 1999, and as of 2009 was reported to be working on a historical novel.

So, is there anyone else you think should be on this list? And who are your favorite women working in the industry today? Let us know in the comments!

Additional Sources: [1][2][3][4][5][6]

About the author

Zanne Nilsson

I am the terror that squees in the night. I am the fluorescent flapper that Charlestons through your nightmares.