Women in Gaming: Pioneers of the Video Game Industry

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Women are behind some of the best video games of all time. Discover their stories.

Vintage image of Carol Shaw, video game pioneer

Luckily, in today’s video game industry, women executives can be found far and wide across the top companies worldwide. However, this was far from the case in the early days of this male-dominated industry. The female pioneers of the video game industry had to work double as hard as their male counterparts to make a name for themselves, and be taken seriously in the face of the video game boom of the 1980’s. Discover some of the female icons behind your favourite retro games, and how their work for equal rights within the industry lives on today.

The First Video Game Developer: Carol Shaw

The history of women in gaming goes all the way back to 1978. After completing her Master’s in Computer Engineering, Carol Shaw bravely applied to Atari, who were leading the industry at the time. Atari took her onboard, and her first project at the company was actually the development of a cross-promotional game called “Polo”, created to advertise Ralph Lauren’s new cologne (the project never reached the light of day – but what we would do to see it!)

Regardless, in late 1978, Shaw became the first woman to program and design a video game, with the release of her game 3D Tic Tac Toe for the Atari 2600.


Centipede: The Woman Behind One of the World’s Most Famous Arcade Games

Ever heard of Dona Bailey? If not, you wouldn’t be the only one. Bailey was the brains behind one of the greatest arcade games of the 1980’s, “Centipede”, yet she remains quite unrecognised for her work. So how did Bailey create Centipede? The story begins just two weeks after she started at Atari. Her manager came by her cubicle and told her it was time for her to look through their “brainstorm notebook” and see if any of the ideas peak her interest. Upon flipping through this “notebook”, a game involving a centipede caught her eye, and she quickly got to developing a prototype of the game.

Bailey put a lot of time into the visual aspects of the game, which took up a large portion of the games code space. However, Bailey says “To me, Centipedes visual appeal makes it special”. She was in fact not wrong, as Centipede remains Atari’s second most successful game to date.

Women in gaming roberta williams

Roberta Williams: The Name Behind the Graphical Adventure Games Genre

Roberta Williams is inarguably one of the most important figures in the history of video games. Williams is responsible for the development of the graphical adventure games genre, which combine graphics with text, to help shape a storyline to many games. Williams spent over 20 years developing this genre of games, and by the end of the 90’s, she was credited for over 30 top computer based video games, making her a pioneer for the industry and an icon for women in gaming. 

Mabel Addis: The Hidden Name Behind The First Game Ever Written

Born in 1912, Mabel Addis grew up to write the very first video game ever created. Addis, who pursued a career as a teacher, always had a passion for academia, and loved to develop new ways for her student ‘s to learn. With this in mind, it makes sense that the first video game ever written, called “The Sumerian Game” was created with academia for young students mind. 

Mabel played a crucial role in developing the game in collaboration with IBM, and was officially the first person to write a computer video game – ever! Read more about Mabel and her story here

Brenda Laurel: The First Female Atari Employee

Brenda Laurel is a long-term pioneer of the video game industry, and more recently also of the Virtual Reality industry. Laurel worked for Atari during the golden age of arcades, and played a key role in the development of various iconic games during this period. Reminiscing on her early day’s Atari, Laurel explains; “I had to kick the boys out of the women’s restroom because they were all in there smoking marijuana. I said ‘there’s a woman in the house now that actually has to go to the bathroom so get out of here’. It was crazy.” 

After her time as Head of Producers at Atari, Laurel moved on to work on her own company “Purple Moon” which focused on increasing female gamers, and strategies to get women involved in games. Purple Moon was built on a research-based design strategy, and making game characters accessible and relatable to a larger audience. Her work at both Atari and Purple Moon as well as her research in virtual reality have left a mark on the industry and serve as an inspiration for women in gaming – to last for decades to come. 

Women working at Williams for gaming manufacturing

The Women of Game Manufacturing from the 1980’s Onwards

Beyond game development and creation, women evidently also played a crucial role in the research and manufacturing process. Icons in research as well as marketing in the video game industry include Colette Weil as well as Mary Takatsuno, who’s work helped companies better understand players and cater to their diverse needs. Moreover, many women, such as the women pictured in the above image, worked for top companies like Williams Electronics to craft coin-operated pinball and arcade machines in the 80’s. 

The influence of women pioneers in the video game industry is often under looked when in fact, without these women, the industry would be vastly different to what it is today. As the industry continues to grow and develop, we look back at these pioneers with a sense of pride and gratefulness for all they’ve provided us with. Our arcade cabinets come equipped with hundreds of female developed games, to explore and pay homage to the women of gaming with. 


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