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History time: Top 5 women pioneers in the video game industry

  March 8, 2023

There are so many women who have led incredible changes and improvements in every sector they have been part of. We cannot talk about how the world has evolved without thinking of the women’s fight for rights and equality and how it took us where we are today. And Women in the video game industry are not an exception.

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the most important women in the history of video games

1) Carol Shaw

Carol was born in 1955 and is one of the first females that became a game programmer and designer. It’s impossible to talk about her without thinking of her work at Activision. Here she created River Raid, a vertically scrolling shooter for the Atari 2600 that came to life in 1982 and sold over a million game cartridges.

Activision ported the title to the Atari 5200, ColecoVision, and Intellivision consoles and also to the Commodore 64, IBM PCjr, MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Atari 8-bit family. Carol did the Atari 8-bit and Atari 5200 ports herself.

But this was not her first success. Years before, in 1978, she became the first woman to program and design a video game called 3D Tic-Tac-Toe for the Atari 2600 as well.

Her career was at the top when, in 1983, the video game crash happened. A large-scale recession hit the video game industry from 1983 to 1985, primarily in the United States. It was a sad coincidence that it came just after she released the final game. She completely designed a programmed Happy Trails.

Carol decided, then, to take a break from making games while the market faced the most challenging time and came back in 1988 to help with the production of River Raids 2. This was the last game she was ever involved in before retiring from the console gaming world.

And nobody can deny that she earned her spot as one of the most important women in video games industry.

2) Dona Bailey

Dona was born in 1955 and is best known as the first woman to design an Arcade game in 1981. She started her career as a young programmer at General Motors. Soon she began to develop some interest in the video game industry, which led her to accept a position at Atari in 1980.

Carol was already left when she came into the company, but it would’ve certainly been a pleasure to see what could’ve happened if the two of them had worked together. But let’s keep talking about Dona.

She co-created and designed Centipede with Ed Logg. A fixed shooter Arcade game that was one of the most commercial games in the golden age of Arcade video games. Besides, did you know that Centipede was one of the first with a significant female player base? It did not only have a female programmer behind it but also made history by getting a lot of attention from women.

Sadly, this was Dona Bailey’s one and only hit since she disappeared from the industry. She reappeared 26 years later as a speaker at the 2007 Women in Games Conference. Here she finally talked about her history. She was under a lot of pressure and criticism from her male counterparts, which was why she drove from the video game industry.

Thankfully, even though the fight is still real, Bailey now works as a college instructor teaching the new generations about game design.

3) Amy Briggs

Amy was born in 1962 and graduated from college in 1984 with a B.A in English, specializing in British literature. A year later, joined Infocom, the company she was a fan of, as a game tester.

Her knowledge of literature allowed her to write the company’s only romance-genre text adventure video game. Where she chose to have a female lead character, another first for Infocom.

When she was asked about it, Briggs recalled the words C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia). He said he wrote it because it was a book he wanted to read. Well, Plundered Hearts, was a game that Amy wanted to play and did not exist, so she made the logical decision of creating it. It was the only romance-themed video game published by Infocom.

After this, she co-wrote games such as Gamma Force: Pit of a Thousand Screams and co-designed portions of Zork Zero. In 1989 Infocom was shut down, and she returned to Minnesota. She went back to college to learn about cognitive psychology, which led her to work at 3M as a human factor engineer.

Nowadays, she continues to write and owns a company that specializes in human-factors engineering and cognitive psychology.

4) Anne Westfall

Anne is an American video game programmer that started her career in the industry in 1984 and kept working there. She’s better known for 1983’s Archon: The Light and the Dark, written initially for the Atari 8-bit family.

Before entering the video game industry, she was already a brilliant programmer. She actually created the first microcomputer-based program to structure subdivisions. In 1981, Westfall and her husband, Jon Freeman, created Free Fall Associates. This was the first independent developer contracted by Electronic Arts.

Between the games co-designed by Freeman and programmed by Westfall, we can find the hit Archon, which at the time was EA’s biggest seller.

Due to her success in the video game industry, she was part of the Game Developer Conference board of directors for six years. She became one of the greatest females in the video game industry and a reference for women in the field.

5) Doris Self

We have talked about women that created games. Now it’s time to talk about the women who played them.

Doris Self was born in 1925 and, at the age of 58, was one of the first female competitive gamers. She entered the 1983 Video Game Masters Tournament and broke the world-high score record for ​Q*Bert with 1,112,300 points.

Her record was broken time after by John Lawton, the 72-year-old Funspot Family Fun Center co-founder in Weirs Beach. But she always worked hard to keep being the game’s leader.

Unfortunately, she died in 2006, but in 2007, Guinness World Records was recognized as the world’s oldest video game competitor. If you want to know more about this incredible player, watch the documentary film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Which details Self’s quest to recover her standing as the “oldest champion.”

Women in video games: There’s still a final boss to defeat!

women in video games

Women have been leading so many industries by now! And even though we keep fighting for equal rights, we have managed to get where we never thought we could.

So remember, you can do whatever you want in life, and nobody has the power to decide for you or discourage you from your dreams. Remember all these women who fought and got where they always wanted to be when you think you can’t.

Ugami, the #1 debit card for gamers in the USA, is happy to be part of the history. We celebrate all the amazing women behind the scenes in our marketing, creative, and development teams. They make it possible for you to enjoy our services.

Celebrate gaming by downloading the Ugami app today and accessing the best reward system for gamers in the USA.

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