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Female Game Developers You Need to Know

In an industry flooded by male domination, here are a few female game developers you should know about.

Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash

It's no secret that gaming, on both the creation and consumption sides, have overwhelmingly been thought of as male spheres. With growing numbers of women pursuing their interests in gaming though, those numbers are changing. From the powerful and impressive veterans whose success paved the way for these changes, to the dedicated young women who continue to prove their place in the industry, understanding why women game developers matter so much cannot be discounted. Here are some of those impressive female video game developers who are helping to change the industry from both sides.

Rebecca Heineman

Rebecca Heineman, born William Heineman, is not only one of the most significant female game developers in history for her work on projects such as Doom, the 80s hits Tass Times in Tonetown, and The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, but she is also a significant figure for the LGBTQ community for being one of the first transgendered individuals to work in the gaming industry. She was involved in the founding of Interplay Productions, which is the famous game developer of the Fallout series, and worked with major video game developers including Microsoft and Electronic Arts. She has also put out a number of successful fan-fiction novels.

Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is not only the force behind many positivity-channeling games, but also an outspoken voice for her philosophy and her work in the gaming world. Her 2009 creation, SuperBetter, came to be after she suffered a concussion, and is designed to help treat concussions and other issues. She is also a prominent author, who has written both Reality is Broken and the more recent title SuperBetter, both of which look at the intersection of positive psychology and gaming, and make a case for the positive role of games in society today. She has appeared on TEDTalks in addition to discussing her work and books.

Karla Zimonja

Karla Zimonja is one of the most influential female developers in the indie gaming world. She is one of the co-founders of Fullbright, an indie game developer, who is most famous for their recent release, Gone Home. Originally released in 2013 for Windows and Mac, Gone Home has since been adapted for PS4 and Xbox One, and will soon be available on Switch. The game has received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its intriguing storytelling and storyline, as well as its compelling, rounded female characters, particularly the protagonist of the game. The video game company has also produced games like Minerva's Den and Tacoma.

Roberta Williams

Roberta Williams was one of the first female game developers—in fact, she was one of the earliest game developers in history, and is largely credited with the invention of the graphic adventure genre, including the King's Quest series and Mystery House. Her groundbreaking work in the 80s and 90s altered the nature of gaming and game design, and her influential role opened doors for, and inspired, many of the women in working in the game development industry since then. Although she retired in 1999, her legacy remains a crucial part of the history and present state of gaming. She was also one of the founders of Sierra On-Line or Sierra Entertainment, which remained one of the most influential development companies for decades, and was later adapted to continue work under different names and leadership.

Souha Al-Samkari

Souha Al-Samkari is one of the founders of Truant Pixel, a development company that focuses on story-based games such as Path of Five. This young woman is not only an up-and-coming force in the game development industry, but also a talented artist and someone to keep your eye on in future years, as her career is still just starting out. Through Truant Pixel, she and her co-founders have worked with and consulted for big-name companies including SEGA, Naughty Dog Interactive, Flashman Games, Lions Gate Entertainment and more. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Brianna Wu

Another impressive female game developer and big name in indie game development is Brianna Wu. Wu is a co-founder of Giant Spacekat, an indie development company run by her and her co-founder, Amanda Warner. She is also an outspoken voice about the gaming industry, utilizing blogging and podcasting platforms to discuss industry news and issues, as well as expressing her opinions. She is also involved in politics, having run for Congress with the Democratic party in the 2018 Massachusetts election. A significant part of her running platform regarded issues related to her industry, including privacy rights and other issues particularly relevant to the technology age.

Jane Ng

Firewatch is one of the most strikingly beautiful graphic video games to date, in terms of scenery, plot, and style alike. Much of this is due to 3D environment artist Jane Ng, who has worked on this project, along with a number of other visually striking works of gaming art. She has previously worked with Electronic Arts and other major companies, and currently works as the lead environmental artist for Campo Santo, the video game development company that released Firewatch in 2016. With already a decade of work in the video game industry under her belt, Ng is certainly one female game developer to keep your eye on in the future.

Jane Jensen

While the King's Quest series was created by Roberta Williams, she was not the only female game developer to work on the project. It was also influenced by Jane Jensen, a video game designer and author who has had a crucial hand in dozens of projects. She has also been a formative character in the development of the graphic adventure game genre, working as a writer and designer for many of these story-based quest games, including the Gabriel Knight mysteries and Agatha Christie game series. She has also published dozens of novels, both under her own name and under the name Eli Easton.

Theresa Duncan

Theresa Duncan is an important name to know for a number of reasons. First of all, she was a significant creator of video games for young girls, a niche which at the time—in the 90s—focused almost entirely on attracting boys. Duncan wanted to create interactive games for young girls that did not have these overtones of dependency and anti-feminist sentiments. 

Duncan also became an important name after her death. She was found dead in her apartment in Manhattan, and her death was ruled a suicide. Her husband killed himself a week later. The media buzz surrounding the couple's death lasted for a long time, and influenced other media forms, including an episode of Law and Order, and a number of songs.

Kellee Santiago

Kellee Santiago's career in the gaming industry is illustrious and important. She co-founded thatgamecompany, and later became President. Currently, she works for Google Play Games, and advises on many other projects. Her third creation with thatgamecompany reached particular fame, the first installment of the Journey collection. She has been an outspoken voice in the gaming industry in discussion of the role of video games as a form of art, and its potential power for emotional influence and import. She is also a member of the Women in Games International advisory board, solidifying the fact that she is one of the more successful female game develops to ever live.

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