A Brief History of Women in Gaming: The 1980s

The Strong National Museum of Play

From the assembly line to the marketing department, women have shaped the game industry through hard work, creative coding, artistic imagination, and business savvy. A Brief History of Women in Gaming: The 1980s tells this vital but underappreciated part of history.

Photo of Carol Shaw (1981) by Carol ShawThe Strong National Museum of Play

Hidden Histories

Video game history is often told as a story of great men building an industry one game at a time. But women also designed, created, marketed, sold, and wrote about video games. This exhibit explores how women shaped a burgeoning industry often dominated by men.

Carol Shaw's River Raid Atari 5200 game (1982) by Carol ShawThe Strong National Museum of Play

Design and Programming

As the video game market grew rapidly in the 1970s and early 1980s, new opportunities emerged for people wanting to make games. Carol Shaw began her career at industry leader Atari, then joined industry upstart Activision where she created the best-selling 1982 jet pilot shooting game River Raid.

Mystery House Apple II Game (1980) by Roberta WilliamsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Changing the Game

While at home caring for a young child, Roberta Williams became enthralled with text-based computer adventure games. Her obsession inspired her, along with her programmer husband Ken, to found software company Sierra On-Line and create and publish the first graphic adventure game Mystery House in 1980.

Arcade game:Centipede Arcade game:Centipede (1980)The Strong National Museum of Play

Programming a Universal Hit

Atari’s first female coin-op programmer Dona Bailey joined with Asteroids designer Ed Logg to create the frantic, bug-blasting 1981 arcade game Centipede. The game’s alluring pastel-colored graphics and track ball-controlled game play appealed to both male and female players.

Centipede Arcade Game Video Capture (1981) by AtariThe Strong National Museum of Play

Méwilo Video Game (1987) by Muriel TramisThe Strong National Museum of Play

Exploring Culture through Games

Likely the first Black woman to professionally design video games, Muriel Tramis mined her French-Creole heritage to explore the ghosts of slavery on the island of Martinique in her 1987 debut title Méwilo. It earned her a silver medal from the Parisian Department of Culture.

Wonder Woman Pinball Playfield Concept Artwork (1979) by Evelyn SetoThe Strong National Museum of Play

Art and Graphics

In the 1980s, female artists created some of the vivid visuals that brought games to life. Atari senior graphic designer Evelyn Lim (now Seto) crafted this concept artwork for a never produced Wonder Woman pinball machine and also helped define the look of the company’s home video game packaging.

Joust Arcade Video Game Flyer (1982) by Williams ElectronicsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Creating Game Graphics

While at Dave Nutting Associates, Janice Hendricks programmed and developed video graphics for Bally’s video games. In 1982, she designed the computer animation for Williams’ Joust, an arcade game whose surreal imagery of ostrich- and stork-riding knights made it a fan favorite.

Joust Arcade Game Video Capture (1982) by WilliamsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Phantasy Star Video Game (1987) by Sega Phantasy Star video gameThe Strong National Museum of Play

Crafting Characters

Reiko Kodama was among the first female video game artists. After designing characters for Sega arcade games, she created the art and characters for the iconic 1987 role-playing game Phantasy Star, a science fiction-inspired game starring a strong, revenge-seeking female protagonist Alis.

Women Working on Williams Production Line (1980) by WilliamsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Manufacturing and Market Research

In the 1980s, many women worked in corporate back offices researching player preferences. Others labored on factory floors assembling, testing, and packaging games. The women pictured here manufactured games on Williams Electronics’ coin-operated pinball and video game production lines.  

Colette Weil MBA Thesis: "A Study of Two Game Centers and the Profile of their Patrons (1980) by Colette WeilThe Strong National Museum of Play

Researching Play

Hired by Atari in 1977, Colette Weil refined the innovative market research techniques first developed by her predecessor Carol Kantor. Weil’s 1980 masters of business administration thesis was the first study to analyze the motivations of male and female arcade game players.

Inter-Office memo from Mary Takatsuno re: Asteroids Deluxe Field Test (1980) by Mary TakatsunoThe Strong National Museum of Play

Listening to Players

Mary Takatsuno (now Fujihara) began work at Atari as a marketing assistant alongside Linda Butcher (now Adam). Under Colette Weil’s supervision the two helped create the industry’s first game user research program, which carried out countless focus groups and surveys to better understand players.

Mary Fujihara Atari Focus Group Video (1980) by AtariThe Strong National Museum of Play

Crossbow Arcade Game Flyer (1983) by Exidy, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Marketing and Sales

Many women held significant marketing and sales positions in the growing game industry. Lila Zinter worked at coin-operated game manufacturer Meadows before joining competitor Exidy as a marketing director in 1977. Soon she was leading Exidy’s international sales division.

Photo of Hope Neiman and Celebrity Race Car Driver Jackie Stewart (1982) by VectrexThe Strong National Museum of Play

Selling Fun

Hope Neiman led Vectrex home game console manufacturer General Consumer Electronics’ marketing efforts in the early 1980s. In this photograph, Neiman prepares race car driver Jackie Stewart for a television commercial promoting a home version of the adrenaline-fueled racing game Pole Position.

Softalk Magazine (1980-12) by Softalk MagazineThe Strong National Museum of Play

Editing and Writing About Games

Women writers and publishers helped create the gaming press. In 1980, Margo Comstock and Al Tommervik started Softalk, a magazine for Apple II computer users that reported industry news, featured a top thirty chart of the best-selling software, and provided a model for future industry periodicals.

Nintendo Power Magazine (1988-07) by NintendoThe Strong National Museum of Play

Publishing Play

In 1988, Nintendo tapped advertising manager Gail Tilden to create and edit a new customer magazine, Nintendo Power, which not only promoted the company’s video games but also provided the tips and maps that taught a generation of gamers how to master Super Mario Bros. and other favorites.

Atari Advertisement (1980) by Atari, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Conclusion: Women in Games

From the assembly line to the marketing department, women have shaped the game industry through hard work, creative coding, artistic imagination, and business savvy. The Strong’s Women in Games Initiative collects, preserves, and interprets this vital but underappreciated part of video game history.

Credits: Story

A Brief History of Women in Gaming is produced by The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

Learn more about The Strong's Women in Games Initiative.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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