The Video Games Women Make
December 1, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

"The experiences of women may not be easy to portray in the aggressive world of videogames. If such a game is made - and I hope it is - it will be because its creators demanded to be heard. It will be created because women made it." (Source)
While the vast majority of video game titles are designed primarily by men, women have been a part of video game development since the earliest arcades. Here are some of their games:

This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a cross section of video games primarily designed by women - classic, modern, AAA-studios, independent, full-featured, and experimental.

Centipede (1980), Dona Bailey, developer, with Ed Logg. Coin-op arcade/action game where you defend yourself from a long winding centipede as it makes its way to your location. Interview. [Play online]

GORF (1981). Jamie Fenton, developer. Coin-op arcade game similar to Space Invaders, notable for being the first game with multiple scenes/levels and speech synthesis. [Play Online]

River Raid (1982), Carol Shaw, developer. Early Atari action game where you control a plane in a top-down shooter/bomber. Interview. [Download]

M.U.L.E. (1983), Danielle Bunten Berry, developer. Four players cooperate and compete in this iconic economic strategy game. [Play Online]

Shamus (1983, Catheryn Mataga, developer. A detective searches for an evil robot while clearing rooms of enemies and avoiding certain death. [Play Online]

King’s Quest (1984), Roberta Williams, designer and co-founder of Sierra On-Line. Tongue-in-cheek graphic adventure game where a prince goes on a quest to save the kingdom. Interview. [Download Remake][Play Online]

Plundered Hearts (1987), Amy Briggs, designer. Published by Infocom. Text adventure/interactive fiction and one of the first romance games. [Download - requires emulator]

Quest for Glory (1989), Lori Ann Cole, designer, with Corey Cole. "So you want to be a hero?" Point and click adventure game with light RPG-elements and multiple solutions. Interview. [Buy at] [Download Q4G 2 remake]

Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail (1989), Christy Marx, designer, writer, and director. An adventure game from Sierra with some arcade elements, the player controls King Arthur in his classic tale. [Download]

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father (1993), Jane Jensen, designer and now co-founder of Pinkerton Road Studios. Noted departure from family-friendly Sierra games as a dark, horror-mystery series in the adventure game genre. Interview. [Buy at]

Suikoden (1995), Junko Kawano, designer, with Yoshitaka Murayama. Series of role-playing games centered around the political struggles in overthrowing an empire, with a large array of playable characters. Available on Playstation 1. [Watch gameplay]

Phantasmagoria (1996), Roberta Williams, designer and co-founder of Sierra On-Line. Interactive psychological horror adventure game using FMV (Full-Motion Video) with live actors, and controversial for highly graphic depictions of gore and rape. [Buy at]

Nancy Drew, series (1998), Megan Gaiser, CEO and founder of Her Interactive. Mystery adventure series made by women, for women and girls, based on the popular books. Interview. [Direct Link: Download Demo]

Worlds Apart (1999), Suzanne Britton, independent designer and writer. Sci-fi interactive fiction focusing on discovery, not puzzles. [Download]

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (1999), Amy Hennig, game director and writer. A vampire-turned-wraith shifts between the material and spiritual realm in this hack and slash game with puzzle elements. Interview. [Buy at]

Galatea (2000), Emily Short, independent developer. An interactive fiction (text adventure) where the player talks to an AI, notable for extensive dialogue and multilinear storytelling. Interview with Emily Short. [Play Online]

Masquerade (2000), Kathleen Fischer, independent developer. Interactive fiction romance story. [Download]

Shadow of Destiny (2001), Junko Kawano, designer, writer, and game director. Adventure game in which the the protagonist travels through time to prevent his own murder. Available on PS2, PSP, and PC. [Trailer]

Aveyond series [2004], Amanda Fitch, game designer and founder of Amaranth Games. Award-winning retro-styled role-playing games with many hours of gameplay. Interview. [Download Part I]

N: Way of the Ninja (2005), Mare Sheppard, programmer and designer, with Raigen Burns. Award-winning freeware game that became a successful XBLA/PSP/DS game (N+) about a ninja in a minimalist platforming world inspired by Lode Runner. Interview. [Download].

Cloud (2006), Kellee Santiago, co-founder and president of thatgamecompany, with Jenova Chen. Student game where a sick child in the hospital imagines himself flying, gathering clouds. Similar to the later Flower. TEDx talk. [Download]

Battle Fantasia (2007), Emiko Iwasaki, designer and director. Japanese fighting game with a fantastical, storybook style and text-heavy story. Originally designed for arcades, it was ported to 360 and PS3. [Trailer]

Portal (2007), Kim Swift, project lead and level designer. Award-winning first-person puzzle game. Originally the student game Narbacular Drop at Digipen. [Buy on Steam] [Download Narbacular Drop]

Miss Management (2007), Naomi Clark, freelance designer. Time management game juggling stressed workers in an office environment. Interview. [Download trial]

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007), Amy Hennig, game director and writer. Third-person shooter with an Indiana Jones-style plot. Available on PS3. [Watch Trailer]

Mighty Jill Off (2008), Anna Antropy, independent developer. Lesbian BDSM-themed tribute to old arcade game Mighty Bomb Jack. Interview. [Download]

Little Girl in Underland (2008), Erin Robinson, independent developer. Adventure game demake where American McGee's Alice falls into the hands of the Soviets. [Download]

The Path (2009), Auriea Harvey, co-founder of Tale of Tales with Michael Samyn. A horror game inspired by Little Red Riding Hood - will you stay on the path or be tempted by the forest? Developer Postmortem. [Download Demo]

Glitch (2009), Robin Hunicke, producer and designer. Popular social MMO that recently closed its doors. Previously.

Marionette (2009), auriond, independent developer. Point-and-click gothic horror adventure game about a captured sculptor and his host's strange rules. [Download]

Air Pressure (2010). Bento Smile, independent developer and artist. Short visual novel and subtle, depressing metaphor for addiction. [Download]

One Eye Open (2010), Caroline VanEseltine, independent developer, with Colin Sandel. Horror interactive fiction in which you are the test subject. [Play Online]

Gray Matter (2010), Jane Jensen, designer. The veteran designer returns to the classic point-and-click adventure genre with a supernatural mystery. [Download Demo]

Digital: A Love Story (2010), Christine Love, independent developer. A tale of love in the days of Apple II, dial-up, and BBS’s with a sci-fi twist, focusing on narrative. [Download]

Life Flashes By (2010), Deirdra Kiai, independent developer. Adventure game where the protagonist experiences her life in flashbacks, and coming to terms with what could have been. Successful kickstarter. [Download]

The Linear RPG (2010), Sophie Houlden, independent developer. Humorous game in which the Japanese RPG formula gets reduced to its simplest components. [Play Online]

Hey Baby (2010), Anonymous. First-person shooter commentary on street harassment. [Play Online]

Choice of Romance (2010), Heather Albano, co-writer. Choose your own (romantic) adventure. [Play Online] Also on Kindle, Android, and iOS.

Transformice (2010), Melanie Christin, lead designer, with Jean-Baptiste Le Marchand, programmer. You are a mouse and must get the cheese - a multiplayer competitive action-platformer with physics. [Play Online]

Calories (2010). Emma Fearon, independent developer. Short but powerful choose your own adventure. [Play Online (trigger warning)]

Ute (2010), Lea Shönfelder, independent developer. An experimental cartoon 2D action game about casual sex - and not getting caught. [Play Online - NSFW]

Don't Take It Personal, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story (2011), Christina Love, independent developer. "A full length visual novel about the erosion of privacy, gay drama, young sexuality, and the perils of modern online life for a high school literature class." [Download]

The End of Us (2011), Chelsea Howe, designer and indie developer, with Michael Molinari. Short art game about comets and friendship. [Play Online]

Journey (2012), Kellee Santiago, co-founder and president of thatgamecompany, and Jenova Chen. About a character on a journey, the game is notable for its anonymous multiplayer design. Interview. Available on PSN.

Quantum Conundrum (2012), Kim Swift, director. First-person puzzle-platformer where you play a boy trapped his uncle's multi-dimensional mansion after an unfortunate accident. [Download Demo]

dys4ia (2012), Anna Antropy, designer and developer. Experimental game and autobiographical exploration of gender dysphoria. [Play Online]

Personal Trip to the Moon (2012), VoEC, anonymous developer. A short, personal game "about dysphoria and astronauts". [Play Online]

Ristorante Amor (2012), Auto-Cyanide and Camille, independent developers. A recent graduate joins her uncle's Italian restaurant staff and romance develops in this visual novel. [Download]

Samsara (2012), Meg Jayanth, independent writer and developer. Interactive fiction about a dream-walker in 18th century India.[Play Online - requires sign-up]

TRACK+FEEL II (2012), Rachel Weil, independent developer. A unique homebrew NES game where players encounter glitches and chaos in an attempt to discover the rules. [Download]

Howling Dogs (2012), Porpentine, independent developer. Short piece of interactive fiction about virtual reality and isolation. Interview.[Play Online]

Long Live the Queen (2012), Georgina Bensley, independent developer and founder of Hanako Games. Your mother, the queen, has died and left you the throne - and a power struggle - in this visual novel. [Download demo]

BONUS GAME: Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure (2012), Cassandra Creighton, designer. TED talk. [Play Online]
Video games are not your style? Check out some of the women who make tabletop roleplaying games.
posted by subject_verb_remainder (39 comments total) 198 users marked this as a favorite
I love this post! GORF on the Vic20 was the formative gaming experience of my childhood and Soul Reaver on the Dreamcast was one of the first games to bring me back to gaming as an adult. I had no idea that the were developed by women. Lots of great link reading and gaming in my future.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:02 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is great and all but I don't know why you bothered to mention anything other than King's Quest IV: Perils of Rosella because it is the best game ever in the entire world.

I will also say that it was super neat to see a woman on the back of the box when I was a little kid playing that game with my brother.

Seriously, this is cool, thanks!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:06 PM on December 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

This is fantastic.
posted by jokeefe at 1:07 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The timing of this post and the MeTa contest are purely coincidental, I assure you.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:09 PM on December 1, 2012

I'm not trying to suggest the timing was deliberate, I was just trying to pay the post a compliment. I was thinking that the mods had put the kibosh on the idea of doing another Best Post contest in December... but apparently they came up with a different idea. </derail>

These days Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight's designer) is apparently still making detective games. Which is awesome.
posted by axiom at 1:18 PM on December 1, 2012

A big gaping hole here. Lucy Bradshaw was an executive producer on The Sims 2, the fastest selling PC title ever. She also had a hand in The Dig, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:05 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, I highlighted games created primarily by women designers. Lucy Bradshaw is an executive producer, which is a very different role. The Sims 2 is still Will Wright's brainchild, and the creative director was Charles London. There's tons of women not included here for this reason.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 2:30 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Roberta Williams is a fascinating figure. Phantasmagoia is one of those artistic events that looms much larger in retrospect, still the most serious attempt to create a gaming equivalent of a gothic novel, and much darker and nastier than many more willfully ooga-booga titles. Ugh, that force-feeding scene!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:30 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

At least two of my favorites on that list, M.U.L.E. and Shamus, were both written by men who later transitioned to females. Not that that invalidates their inclusion on this list, but I think it deserves some kind of footnote.

Apparently there a few other transgender game programmers who could also be on that list.
posted by Rant93 at 2:31 PM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is really, really awesome.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:36 PM on December 1, 2012

Lucy Bradshaw was the creative force behind the design of The Sims 2. I doubt Will Wright had much to do with any of it.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:39 PM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow, this is wonderful! I just finished Syberia and was looking for something else to try. I just played Choice of Romance (above) which was very interesting, though it ended abruptly.
posted by peacheater at 2:41 PM on December 1, 2012

This is amazing and makes me really happy. Like I just clapped at my iPad and scared the cats happy. Thank you!
posted by Stacey at 3:54 PM on December 1, 2012

I used to love M.U.L.E. as a kid. I desperately want to make this work on my Mac so I can play with my kids. I have no idea how I can pull this off, and may need to have my mother ship the Atari 800XL she still has in the closet.
posted by davejay at 4:26 PM on December 1, 2012

You're in luck davejay, check out planet mule.
posted by JamesD at 4:46 PM on December 1, 2012

This is great!
posted by brundlefly at 5:20 PM on December 1, 2012

This is an awesome, awesome post, subject_verb_remainder! I'm much more interested in seeing actual women making actual games than the usual Women in Games handwringing which I find sort of patronizing and angry-making on all sides. But this is a terrific post! One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb:

Suikoden (1995), Junko Kawano ... (and from Wiki: Suikoden II Designer, Writer[citation needed] 1998)
Shadow of Destiny (2001), Junko Kawano

Three of my favorite games, which I've always loved for little details that just make sense to me but most games ignore because they aren't necessary for the core game. Suikoden and its sequel are great examples: the geography and kinds of clothes people wear in different climates make sense, characters have lives outside adventuring and we see lots of domesticity, married life, family life, cleaning, cooking, laundry, stabling, waitressing, tailoring, smithing... The cooking game in Suikoden II, the castle... Details like that add so much richness to the game as a world, but most designers ignore them, or shoehorn them into the player's quest or something.

I have to wonder how much of this is Kawano, because these games were made from such a different (and more relatable and enjoyable, to me) perspective than you ordinarily see in games.
posted by byanyothername at 5:36 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do these games portray the experiences of women in a way other games don't?
posted by michaelh at 6:44 PM on December 1, 2012

Brocktoon - thank you! I stand corrected.

And Rant93, I think the full list of transwomen from the above are:
Danielle Bunten Berry, M.U.L.E.
Jaime Fenton, GORF
Catheryn Mataga, Shamus
Anna Anthropy, Mighty Jill Off & dys4ia
VoEC, Personal Trip to the Moon
Porpentine, Howling Dogs (I believe)
And a shout-out to Jennell Jaquays, though I couldn't find an appropriate spot on the list for her.

For more on the topic, you might like Game Designers Just Wanna Be Girls: Interview With Jaime Fenton. I didn't call them out separately because, well, I didn't want to make it seem like they were exceptions in any way.

On Preview: michaelh, many of them do, yes. If you have two minutes, Calories, for example, is an experimental game that I honestly don't think a man could have made.

Most of these games have strong, complex narratives surrounding relationships - how people interact with one another, exploring their identity, falling in love or depression or friendship or isolation or fears stemming from sex or sexual abuse. There's discussions about how The Path can been seen as a big metaphor for rape - and it's not the only one on that list that explores it. There's one game up there that lets you murder catcallers - feeding on the frustration of feeling so powerless when harassed. Two of them are about the process of transitioning from male-to-female. Not many men would be able to draw from these experiences and put them into a game.

As a comparison, very few of these games involve conquering and dominating your enemies. Outside arcades, there are no military games (and I looked for them). Real-time strategy games about war are absent (replaced by games about management). Those all could be considered distinctly male voices in comparison.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 7:14 PM on December 1, 2012

Another for the list! Thunder Castle (Intellivision), designed by Connie Goldman, notable for its incredible use of graphics and music (for that console, for that time).
posted by trunk muffins at 7:25 PM on December 1, 2012

Also another for the list: Brenda Brathwaite was lead designer on Wizardry 8.
posted by juv3nal at 7:35 PM on December 1, 2012

Most of these games have strong, complex narratives surrounding relationships - how people interact with one another, exploring their identity, falling in love or depression or friendship or isolation or fears stemming from sex or sexual abuse.

That's certainly what made Centipede so popular.

Or with less snark, there's a huge range of things that get lumped together and called "video games." For many of these, looking for a strong narrative or theme is just a category mistake.

For many kinds of games, if women are developers as well as men, the only discernible difference is that we'll end up with twice as many awesome games.
posted by straight at 8:07 PM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh this is a wonderful post!
posted by griphus at 10:07 PM on December 1, 2012

A couple corrections:

It's trans women, not transwomen. You wouldn't say blackwomen, among other good reasons a Google away.

Secondly, trans women are women, period. Making a list for them seems odd. I can see how it would be heartening to someone who is trans to see other creators, but compiling a list without even knowing how all those people identify is rather questionable and seems to single out.
posted by picklenickle at 10:58 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I usually write it "transwomen" and I are one. YMMV, honestly it's identity politics and ANY word you choose has a decent chance of being out of fashion this year.

And listing off which of the women on this list were born male doesn't bug me. Not that I pretend to speak for all transwomen or anything.

(One interesting generational divide: the modern transwomen have all transitioned younger, and have all made games that explicitly speak to the experience of being trans.)
posted by egypturnash at 1:38 AM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm not saying it's cut or dry, there's good and bad reasons to make a list like that, definitely. But blithely adding people to the list who may not identify as trans or prefer a different word or don't want to be outed or dislike the misconception of being seen as fake women--you can see how doing a little more research might be more considerate.
posted by picklenickle at 1:47 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

subject_verb_remainder, you helped make a world where the OP delivers. :)
posted by jaduncan at 6:05 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I worked at EA during the period when Sims 2 was in development (I was actually an intern on it at one point). Lucy Bradshaw is a force of nature.

That said, productions as large as Sims 2 really are collective efforts, and there's a part of me that always bridles at the notion of attributing games like that to any one person, no matter how high up the totem pole.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 7:05 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

One of my favorite female-lead games is Costume Quest (Tasha Harris, project lead, lead animator). On Steam.

The primary mechanic of the game is using various costumes to transform and battle monsters. Notable (to me) for allowing you to choose to play as either a girl or a boy (of a set of fraternal twins) to rescue the other. You lead 2 other characters (one male, one female) and can assign any costume to any character in your party, whether it's a knight or a pink unicorn.
posted by audacity at 9:23 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I worked at EA during the period when Sims 2 was in development (I was actually an intern on it at one point). Lucy Bradshaw is a force of nature.

And with managers, there's also Louise Murray, the Head of Franchise for Fable, and Jade Raymond, MD of Ubisoft Toronto.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2012

michaelh, many of them do, yes.

When adjusted for genre there aren't so many differences, though. I think the genre-adjusted differences are the ones with potential as games continue to mature. Same goes for male designers.
posted by michaelh at 3:45 PM on December 2, 2012

there's a part of me that always bridles at the notion of attributing games like that to any one person

"There's a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person," says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex. --, as quoted by Old Man Murray.
posted by straight at 5:14 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Where is the 'flag as terribly informative' option? Great post, thanks. I didn't know Suikoden, Soul Reaver, N and The Linear RPG were designed by women.
posted by ersatz at 4:29 AM on December 3, 2012

River Raid (1982)

My Dad and I played this more than any other game on our Colecovision. Yeah, that monkey with the barrels was a'ight, and that frog was fun with the jumping in front of cars and what-not, but a game consisting solely of flying and blasting everything in sight? Right on.
posted by snottydick at 7:39 AM on December 3, 2012

Portal on a TI calculator
posted by homunculus at 3:22 PM on December 4, 2012

Coming back to this post later, I thought I'd add Amy Henning (who is listed! hooray!) and Soraya Saga/Kaori Tanaka (graphic designer for Romancing SaGa 3 and Final Fantasy VI, scriptwriter for Final Fantasy VI, Xenogears, Xenosaga), both of whom have worked on some of the most absurdly ambitious games I know of. From the Saga Wiki link:

Soraya and her husband submitted a script Final Fantasy VII which was called "too dark" and "complicated" for a fantasy game, but were allowed to start a new project based on the script, which was worked into a full treatment with cutscenes. The story was inspired by the writing pairs interest in Jung, Nietzsche, and Freud, addressing questions of "where do we come from, what are we, where are we going."

...taken mostly from this interview (part one), which has a serious bummer of an ending.

This interview is also interesting, especially the tiny bit about culture specific symbolism being less interesting than universally human qualities.
posted by byanyothername at 12:19 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

And with managers, there's also Louise Murray, the Head of Franchise for Fable, and Jade Raymond, MD of Ubisoft Toronto.

Way after the fact, but: Raymond was also Producer on the first Assassin's Creed, probably the biggest new IP of the generation.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:51 PM on December 10, 2012

Oh, nearly forgot - Tau Petterson is the President and former CEO of Stunlock Studios, makers of Bloodline: Champions.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:33 PM on December 10, 2012

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