Although video game development is still often considered a male-dominaed field, women have been a significant part of gaming history since the beginning. Many women are directly responsible for creating some of the most popular titles of the past and present.
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Since March is Women's History Month, now is the perfect time to highlight many of these incredible and creative individuals. These examples and much many prove that women have always been a major part of the face of gaming.
Released during the golden age of arcade games, Centipede is a 1981 fixed shooter co-created by Dona Bailey, who was the only woman in Atari's coin-op division. Controlling a tiny magical gnome, the player fires at a centipede moving through a field of mushrooms. The game's pastel color palette (created by accident) and the simple but difficult to master gameplay led to Centipede becoming one of the most popular arcade games and one of the first to have a large female player base.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
Besides Bailey, many women paved the way during the early decades of video games. This includes Mabel Addis who helped design and write the first narrative game in 1964 called The Sumerian Game, Danielle Bunten Berry who created M.U.L.E. which was one of the first multiplayer games, and Carol Shaw who created River Raid and was one of the first full-time video game designers.
After working in the video game industry for almost a decade, Wren Brier recently co-created the 2021 award-winning indie title Unpacking, which is a puzzle game about moving to a new place and having to unpack. Each time the main character moves to a new house, the player must find a way to place all the previously packed items within the small, cute rooms with a beautiful pixel-art aesthetic.
Along with being one of the best customizable houses in video games, the game is also incredible for being able to tell the main character's story through the various items. Before creating this title, Brier also worked on Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride.
Developed as a fully-fleshed version of the original 2016 PICO-8 game jam title of the same name, Celeste is a 2018 award-winning platformer created by Maddy Thorson, who also created the 2013 action multiplayer game TowerFall. Celeste follows a young trans-woman named Madeline who wants to reach the summit of the titular Mount Celeste, but she will have to overcome her inner demons as she climbs the dangerous terrain.
With a beautiful pixel art-style, an incredible soundtrack, smooth controls, well-designed levels, an interesting cast of characters, and a heartwarming emotional story, it's no surprise that many people consider it to be one of the best indie games. Also, Madeline's struggles with her identity and anxiety, which reflects Thorson's experience at the time, make her an extremely relatable character and one of the best indie protagonists.
Created by Jane Jensen, who is an American video game designer and author, Gabriel Knight is an iconic 1990s trilogy of point-and-click adventure games starring the titular character as he solves supernatural cases along with his friend and future love interest Grace Nakimura. Like most video games where players are meant to solve cases, the player interviews a large cast of unique characters and investigates different environments filled with puzzles.
The first entry in the series, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, has well-known actors such as Tim Curry, Virginia Capers, Mark Hamill, and Michael Dorn in lead voice-acting roles. Besides creating other adventure games like Gray Matter and Moebius: Empire Rising, Jensen has also written many novels and novellas.
It's impossible to talk about women in the gaming industry without talking about Roberta Williams, who co-founded Sierra Entertainment and is often called the "Queen of adventure games." In 1980, Williams pioneered the adventure genre by creating the first-ever graphic adventure game, Mystery House, which was for the Apple II. Later, she would also create the classic 1995 FMV adventure game Phantasmagoria.
Out of all her works, however, Williams is likely best known for creating the classic adventure game series King's Quest, which mostly follows King Graham and the rest of the Kingdom of Daventry's royal family. Every entry in this historic series was designed by Williams until the 2015 reboot.
Loosely based off the classic Chinese novel Water Margin, Suikoden is a JRPG series that typically follows a group of 108 heroes as they fight against political corruption. Although most people solely credit Yoshitaka Murayama for creating this unique franchise, he actually co-created the first two entries with Japanese game designer, director, and writer Junko Kawano.
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During the early 1990s, Konami had Murayama and Kawano work together because they were both newcomers, and their combined ideas and work later led to this series. Though Kawano didn't work on Suikoden III because she was already working on Twinbee RPG and Shadow of Memories, she became the main creator of Suikoden IV and Suikoden Tactics after Murayama left Konami.
While at Square, Japanese video game writer Kaori Tanaka, who is also known by her pen name Soraya Saga, created a project proposal with her husband, Tetsuya Takahashi, for Final Fantasy VII. Although this proposal was considered too dark and complicated for a Final Fantasy title, the couple was allowed to develop it as its own game, which would eventually become the first title in the science fantasy Xeno series: Xenogears.
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Released in 1998 for the PS1, Xenogears follows Fei Fong Wong and his friends as they travel across several countries in order to uncover the mysteries of the world and defeat the floating country Solaris. After leaving Square, Tanaka helped create the Xenosaga games as well, but she left the franchise before the Xenoblade titles.
Released in 2007 and often considered one of the best games ever made, Portal is a puzzle platformer created by female game designer Kim Swift. After Swift and the rest of her team developed the game Narbacular Drop for their senior project at DigiPen Institute of Technology, one of Valve's developers, Robin Walker, noticed their work at one of DigiPen's career fairs and invited the team to showcase the game to Valve.
The company's president, Gabe Newell, hired the group after the presentation, and Narbacular Drop slowly developed into Portal, which follows a silent protagonist named Chell as she uses a portal gun to solve puzzles orchestrated by an A.I. called GLaDOS. Besides this game, Swift has also worked on other titles such as Left 4 Dead and Star Wars Battlefront II.
Since the late 1980s, Amy Hennig has worked in the video game industry and helped create multiple titles, which include entries in the Legacy of Kain and Jak and Daxter series. But, she is best known for creating the beloved Uncharted series and directing the first three main installments.
Inspired by Hollywood franchises such as Indiana Jones, this critically acclaimed series follows professional treasure hunter Nathan Drake as he goes on dangerous adventures across the world. After leaving Naughty Dog during the development of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, she is now working on the upcoming action RPG game Forspoken.
Since the beginning of this century, Aya Kyogoku has been a major Japanese video game director, producer, and supervisor. Before joining Nintendo in 2003, Kyogoku worked at Atlus and helped create the Dreamcast title deSPIRIA and the PS2 spin-off of the Wizardry series Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land. Once she joined Nintendo, she initially worked as a scriptwriter for The Legend of Zelda franchise, specifically Four Swords Adventures and Twilight Princess.
From 2008 onward, however, she has worked as either a director, producer, or supervisor of the Animal Crossing series. For the latest main entry in this social simulation franchise, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Kyogoku was the main director of this incredible installment that helped many people through the tumultuous time of 2020.
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Anastasia Wilds is a freelance writer for Screen Rant. Because of her passion for video games, her main focus is writing video game listicles for the website. Along with writing, she also streams various video games on Twitch and uploads some of her highlighted streams onto YouTube. Before working at Screen Rant, she worked as the Senior Arts Editor for "The Spectrum" newspaper at the University at Buffalo.