If you’ve always assumed the creators of most computer games are male, you’ll be surprised to know that many of the games you’ve played into the early hours of the morning were developed by female programmers. So, who are these women? Here are just ten of the top female computer game programmers.
Robin Hunicke is known for her work on the MySims game, a version of The Sims released for the Wii in 2007. She is a professor of game design at UC Santa Cruz and the co-founder of Funomena. Hunicke is recognized in the industry for her support of independent game development, experimentation in game design, research in dynamic difficulty adjustment and the advocacy of women within the games industry.
In 1978, Carol Shaw created a 3D version of a classic game that everyone played at school: Tic-Tac-Toe. As one of the first female computer game designers, Shaw is regarded as a visionary, and she’s also known for designing games like Video Checkers (1980) and River Raid (1982).
You know those games where you use devices to open portals and teleport from one place to another? Kim Swift designed the original Portal game in 2007. In fact, Swift has always been a programmer — in 2005 she designed a game called Narbacular Drop. This game caught the attention of Valve, creators of Half Life, who hired Swift to work on the first Portal game. Swift was featured by Fortune as one of “30 Under 30” influential figures in the video game industry.
Do you like games full of thrills and mystery? If so, you’ll have heard of Gray Matter. A game that pushes the limits of psychological suspense, Gray Matter was designed by another female programmer, Jane Jensen. Jensen began her career as a writer for Sierra On-Line and later found herself designing King’s Quest VI alongside Roberta Williams. In 1993, Jensen designed Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and in 2010 she brought magic to the world of computer gaming with Gray Matter.
Do you remember the mind-blowing graphics of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune when the PS3 was first released? So good that you looked at the blades of grass and thought: “Wow, that looks good enough for a game of football!” That game. One of the lead designers in the team that developed it was Amy Hennig. Hennig’s experience goes right back to the Atari 7800 and her first game was Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City (1994). Next, she worked on the Legacy of Kain series and Jak 3. After that, her involvement in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (2007) and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) earned her a place in every gamer’s heart.
Of course, women were also involved in creating the ancestors of the modern computer game — coin-operated Atari arcade games. Previous generations of gamers would queue up to play Centipede, designed by Dona Bailey in 1980. Bailey taught in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing of Arkansas University, and she has inspired many of the games we see today.
Christy Marx is a writer in every sense of the word: She’s written books, screenplays, television scripts, graphic novels and computer games. A creative mind known in many circles, Marx first started working with Sierra On-Line in 1989 on Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail, and in 1991 she wrote, designed and directed Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood. More recently, she’s worked as a creative consultant on games like URU: Ages Beyond Myst and The Matrix Online.
With a name like Playboy: The Mansion, you would think that there’d be dozens of men behind the creation of this game. Wrong! Brenda Romero (formerly Brathwaite) was the lead designer of this game. Romero developed the Wizardry RPG game series in the 1980s, and in 2005 she took on the task of creating Playboy: The Mansion, a simulation game similar to the Sims. She later became a head game designer.
9.Sheri Graner Ray
Sheri Graner Ray was one of the creators behind the Ultima series, a phenomenon of its time, and played a particularly pivotal role in the development of Ultima VII. She later began working at Her Interactive, a game developer that specifically aims its products at young girls. Ray also worked on Star Wars Galaxies, and now she’s Studio Design Director at Schell Games.
Finally we come to Roberta Williams, founder of one of the best-known names in the world of computer games: Sierra On-Line. She and her husband Ken founded the company in 1979, and in 1980 they released their first game, Mystery House. Roberta Williams is known for creating the King’s Quest series, one of the first adventure games, as well as Mixed-Up Mother Goose. She’s one of the first people to come to mind when someone says “female programmer”.
We wanted to show you just a few of the successful female programmers in the world of gaming, but women have contributed much, much more to technology than just games. To read about other women who pioneered in the worlds of technology and science, check out our Mothers of Invention series.