The women of the video games industry are finally getting their herstory book. Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play went on sale yesterday.
Meagan Marie, the book’s author, marked the occasion by organizing a evening of panels of female gaming pioneers at the headquarters of Crystal Dynamics in Redwood City, California.
The book illustrates how women have played — and will continue to play — important roles in the video game industry, which is now a $134.9 billion business.
Marie, senior community and social media manager at Crystal Dynamics, recruited women from decades of game creation for both the book and the panel sessions. Marie pointed to a young woman in the audience and said, “I wrote this book for women like you, to inspire you and, no matter who you are, to motivate you to go into the industry.”
The first panel
The first panel included Carol Kantor, a former Atari employee who created user research for video games; Evelyn Seto, a former Atari graphic designer who collaborated on early art work, branding, and packaging; Brenda Laurel, founder and vice president of design at Purple Moon Games; and Jennell Jaquays, former game designer at Coleco, id Software, Ensemble Studios, CCP, and renowned Dungeons & Dragons adventure module author and artist.
Asked how she felt about being the very first profile in the book, Carol Kantor, who worked at Atari in its early days in the 1970s, replied, “Old.”
Kantor was recognized for starting formal research in the game business, taking methods from companies like Clorox and figuring out what people liked in the arcades.
Getting honored “made me feel like an antique,” Kantor said. “We did what we thought was right to make the games better. Other people have done even more since then.”
Kantor said she loved Atari and that she has maintained her friendships, even long after leaving the company. She still runs her own promotional products business, Business Builders.
Evelyn Seto, meanwhile, talked about the manual process of creating the designs on Atari’s arcade cabinets in the 1970s. She joined the art department with her former boss and had a great time being creative with the branding, illustrating, and other production art work.
“All the panels you see on the arcade machines are hand-cut stencils,” Seto said. “We romanticized the concepts of the game.”
She went on to work with Atari cofounder Nolan Bushnell on Chuck E. Cheese. She noted that Chuck’s voice was kind of scary at first as an “East Coast gangster.”
Brenda Laurel, founder of Purple Moon, was a pioneer of games for girls with the Rockett series in the 1990s. She talked about how she worked for David Liddell, the head of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s think tank, Interval Research. For four years, she investigated why girls ages 8 to 12 dropped out of science, math, and programming while boys thrived. Video games were a big part of what kept boys motivated, but the games in those days weren’t tailored for girls.
“The 8 to 12-year-old girls had issues,” Laurel said. “Our goal at Purple Moon was to give girls emotional rehearsal space to make choices.
Her team interviewed more than 1,000 girls and 400 boys in eight cities.
“We began to discover what some of the barriers were for girls,” she said. “There weren’t any games for girls. There’s some inventiveness that has to come from understanding your audience.”
But the market was tough. While Rockett’s first game beat out Madden’s sales in the year it came out, it had to compete for shelf space with Mattel’s Barbie Fashion Designer. Purple Moon shut down in 1999.
“We made a positive difference in people’s lives,” Laurel said. “I’m happy we did it. Nobody made very much money.”
Jennell Jaquays became a fan of Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 (at the dawn of the tabletop role-playing game), and she created the second-ever published fan-created D&D adventure. She founded a D&D fan magazine, The Dungeoneer, that she sent out to people in hopes of getting subscribers.
She said she “was in between money” and interviewed with Eric Bromley at Colecovision in Michigan. She got the job and worked on an electronic game that combined voice chips and bar codes.
She made her way to Interplay, where she got to work on a game based on The Lord of the Rings. She added details that expanded the Tolkien universe, and went on in 1997 to work at id Software. That studio made her go through a week’s worth of interviews, but they offered her a job as a level designer for Quake, because they found she could make the leap from designing tabletop games to 3D computer levels.
Jaquays went on to cofound the Southern Methodist University Guildhall game development school in the early 2000s, where her son eventually attended. She got together with four women to start Oldsküül, which has specialized in porting classic games to modern game consoles.
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