When I think about video games, I think of my friends back in high school. Lunch period consisted of eating snacks brought from home and catching up on everyone’s status, all while furiously playing on their laptops. Someone had gone to Gamestop yesterday. The other was thinking of building their own computer over the break. Another friend had managed to log over 100 hours into this game in one week.
I never really understood much of what was going on—I was much more of a mobile gamer myself, getting really hooked with Monument Valley and Marvel: Future Fight. At some point, one of my friends tried getting me into gaming with them, but he ended up laughing for a good couple of minutes at how little storage my computer had. (What do you mean 128 GB isn’t enough? It’s been storing all of my school work since 2013!)
While anyone can participate in gaming, video games have historically been considered a hobby for “boys only.” This stereotype unfortunately not only distorts who people think of as a “typical” gamer, but it also shapes the games themselves: lack of female protagonists, oversexualization of female characters, gendered advertising, and so on.
Despite all of this, there are many women working in the video game industry today working to change that culture. Some of them have even contributed to the most popular games of all time! Here are 10 popular video games from all ages and the badass women who helped bring them to life.
Speedway/Tag: Made by Joyce Weisbecker
Speedway is a simple racing game with two cars (depicted as rectangles), and Tag is a two-player game of tag involving two spots on a screen. These games may sound overly simple in our digital age, but they actually play a huge historical significance—they made Joyce Weisbecker the first female video game designer in 1976.
Joyce was encouraged to work on programming by her father Joseph, who worked at Radio Corporation of America (RCA) at the time. When RCA was working on their Studio II, a video game console, Joyce developed the two games in one cartridge and sent it over to them—and they bought it!
Despite Studio II being a commercial failure and no longer being produced only a couple of years later, Joyce’s work still put her in video game history forever.
River Raid: Made by Carol Shaw
Carol Shaw, like Joyce, is credited as one of the first female video game designers. Working in Atari in the ’70s and ’80s, she produced and designed many popular video games at the time—and some that you may still know today. One of her first great works was the 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe in 1978. However, my personal favorite is River Raid, made in 1982. It’s a simple game of scrolling shooter, and yet there is something timeless about it, having been adapted so many times since its creation.
The Sims: Developed by Lucy Bradshaw
It’s true that most of my knowledge of The Sims comes from watching the “100 Baby Challenge” videos by Buzzfeed’s Kelsey Impicciche (another badass women gamer, in my humble opinion).
However, it turns out there is another woman who was central to The Sims’ existence: Lucy Bradshaw. Lucy, who was the General Manager of the Maxis label from 1997 to 2015, oversaw the development of The Sims in 2000. She also oversaw the development of SimCity, as well as served as executive producer of SimCity 3000 in 1999.
Halo: Influenced by Bonnie Ross and Kiki Wolfkill
Throughout the years, there have been many women involved in the Halo franchise. Today, we’re highlighting two of them.
Bonnie Ross is the founder and head of 343 Industries, the studio that manages the Halo video games, a sci-fi first-person shooter franchise. She is not only incredible in her field, but she also works on encouraging more women to join STEM fields, including video game development. Her influence is also credited for Halo increasing the number of female protagonists in their games.
Kiki Wolfkill is an executive producer for 343 Industries and joined the franchise with Halo 4 in 2012, working with story writing for that game. However, her biggest contribution was in developing the Halo Channel, a place where fans can better discover the game’s world.
Kingdom Hearts: Music by Yoko Shimomura
Have you ever thought about video game music? If that happens to be your favorite genre, then it’s time to meet Yoko Shimomura.
A Japanese composer, Yoko has worked on almost 100 video game soundtracks, including Street Fighter II, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and Final Fantasy XV. However, she is more widely known for her work in Kingdom Hearts, an action role-playing game released in 2002. And guess what? You can actually find her work in Spotify to add to your next playlist!
Assassin’s Creed: Produced by Jade Raymond
Assassin’s Creed is an action-adventure game whose success has lasted throughout the past decade, and it couldn’t have been done without Jade Raymond.
Jade, brought to the Assassin’s team in 2004, served as executive producer for Assassin’s Creed and its sequels, Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines. Not only did she help with the game’s development, but she also served as the “face” for the franchise for many years, giving many of the interviews on the game’s release.
Uncharted: Directed and Written by Amy Hennig
Amy Hennig has worked in the video game industry since the 1980s, but she gained popularity starting in 2007 with the Uncharted franchise, an action-adventure shooter game series. After graduating with an English degree and attending film school, she took her studies into her work, becoming a writer-director for many games of the franchise. (And she has already won two Writers Guild of America Awards for her work in the series!)
Portal: Designed by Kim Swift
Remember my friends in high school? Thanks to them, Portal now has a special place in my heart, as one of the games I watched them play during lunch period.
What I didn’t know then was that Portal was designed by Kim Swift, who is often also credited as project lead for the game. Portal is not only a marvelous puzzle game to play (or, in my case, to watch someone play), but it also made Kim one of the best-known video game designers and even landed her on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. The game can even technically be considered a work of art, as it is featured in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).
BioShock: Audio Developed by Emily Ridgway
I never really thought of audio cues on video games. But then again, I am the kind of person that immediately closes her eyes and huddles under the blankets when listening to that “oh shit, here comes a jumpscare” sound.
Audio cues may be my personal nightmare in horror films, but they are part of Emily Ridgway’s work in BioShock, a first-person shooter video game. She won two Game Developers Choice Awards for her work, one for audio and one for writing.
Journey: Produced by Robin Hunicke
Apparently, Wikipedia has a list of the best video games of all times, and Journey, a gorgeous indie game, is in it.
The game was produced by video game developer Robin Hunicke. Journey, being a wordless, relatively short game, was hailed as being like no other game before it. In recent years, Robin has not only advocated for expanding the kinds of games we play but also of expanding diversity in the industry.
The people listed above all amazing examples of how women have been leading the video game industry in the past decades—in design, in production, in writing, and even in audio. However, this is of course only a very limited list: there are thousands of women making games every day, and I strongly encourage you to delve deeper into who made your favorites.
Despite women’s past achievements, the video game industry still suffers from gender inequality. According to a 2018 Google research, only 24% of the adults in the video game industry are women. Meanwhile, despite 86% of teen girls playing games, only 24% want to make their own.
One of the main contributors to these gender gaps is the fact that video games—and STEM jobs, in general—are considered male-dominated fields. Not only does this drive many girls away from gaming-related STEM activities like coding, but it also can lead them to overlook other non-STEM gaming careers, such as in writing stories or drawing visuals.
We may have come a long way in terms of game design, but the same cannot be said about the gender gap in the video game industry. We need to not only support the work done by women in the gaming field but also the future game developers that will come after them. So read more on the topic. Support organizations that address these problems and work to fix them, like Girls Make Games, Girls Who Code, and Girl Geek Academy. Most importantly, keep an eye out for the new women joining the industry: their games will be amazing. Just wait and see.