When we celebrate the history of games (something I believe in doing very much) we can inadvertently celebrate a longstanding systematic exclusion of women in the industry. So many works from the early history of games were made by men, for men and boys. However, the absence of women in the historical canon is also driven by what games we deem worth remembering, what we define as games, and who we define as designers. Inspired by Rachel Simone Weil’s work with the FEMICOM Museum, I wanted to showcase games made by women from the 1980s and 1990s as a small effort to amend what and who we remember from this period.
Each of the six games was available to play for several weeks, and accompanied by a statement describing the game and who made it. These are reproduced below:
Plundered Hearts by Amy Briggs from September 19th 2016
Published in 1987 as one of the last few Infocom titles, Plundered Hearts by Amy Briggs is considered among the best games of Infocom’s late period. It’s an interactive romance novel, and places players in the role of a young woman whose trip to the 17th century West Indies is beset with pirates, adventure and derring-do. It was praised in contemporary reviews for its gripping prose and fair puzzles, and modern historian Jimmy Maher has said “in terms of sheer entertainment I don’t think Infocom ever made a better game.” Designer and writer Amy Briggs had been a tester at Infocom, and she so impressed Steve Meretzky that he convinced management to hear her pitch for a new title. Now you can play this under-appreciated classic yourself, on the Feminine Mystique cabinet!
The Playroom by Dr Leslie Grimm from October 10th 2016
On the Feminine Mystique cabinet this week is 1989’s The Playroom, by Dr. Leslie Grimm. Grimm was one of the original four founders of The Learning Company (along with Adventure (2600) creator Warren Robinett), one of the most prolific edutainment software companies of the 80s and 90s. She primarily served as a Director of R&D, but she also personally lead development as lead designer on a trilogy of games beginning with The Playroom. A multi-award winning game, The Playroom is a set of various mini-games and software toys, navigable through a graphic interface of a child’s room. There are six games in all, along with various animations and other surprises. Go explore it!
Phantasmagoria by Roberta Williams from October 24th 2016
Just in time for Halloween, we have 1995’s Phantasmagoria, by Roberta Williams. One of the most prolific and influential game designers of the 1980s and 90s, Williams is best known for her hugely successful King’s Quest series. She didn’t wish to be typecast as someone only capable of “fairy stories” however, prompting her to design Phantasmagoria, a horror adventure game. Making extensive use of full-motion video, it was controversial at its release for its violent and sexual content. Reviewing her body of work in a recent interview, Williams revealed that Phantasmagoria, not King’s Quest, was her own personal favorite of all the games she designed. Go see why!
Dream House by Joyce Hakansson from November 7th 2016
This week we have a fascinating Commodore 64 game, 1984’s Dream House by Joyce Hakansson. Featuring advanced editing tools for the time, Dream House lets the player decorate and furnish the house of their dreams. Prefiguring the home-decorating gameplay of The Sims or Animal Crossing, Dream House is one of the earliest digital dollhouses. Joyce Hakansson is a pioneer in education technology, starting many of the first library computer labs and was responsible for introducing computers to the Children’s Television Workshop (the makers of Sesame Street). Her games company, where she served as Creative Director, produced games designed to help children see the magic of computers. “It’s like theater,” she said in an interview, “The computer is a little world you can enter.”
Conquests of the Longbow by Christy Marx from November 21st 2016
This week we have an amazing adventure game, 1992’s Conquests of the Longbow by Christy Marx. One of late period Sierra’s best adventure games, you play as the legendary Robin Hood attempting to restore Richard Lionheart to the throne. In contrast to the fantastical faery-tale style of Roberta Williams’ Kings Quest series, Conquests of the Longbowstrove for historical accuracy in its writing, depiction of the period, and even its music. The manual includes a bibliography of over twenty books, and an essay from Marx on the Robin Hood legend. When she made this game, Christy Marx was already an accomplished writer, having been a screenwriter on many 1980s cartoons including G.I.Joe and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as Jem and the Holograms, a series she created. She’s continued to work on narrative design across many media, from games and MMOs to animation and graphic novels. She continues to work as the principal game designer of narrative design at Zynga today. Conquests of the Longbow retailed for $69.95 when it was released, over $120 in today’s dollars, so steal from the rich and give to yourself by checking out this classic!
Rockett’s New School by Dr Brenda Laurel from December 12th 2016
Rounding out our semester of amazing games we have 1997’s Rockett’s New School by Dr. Brenda Laurel, a classic CD-ROM visual novel. You help Rockett Movado navigate 8th grade in a new school, with all the social anxiety inducing adventures that entails. A “Friendship Adventure for Girls”, it was the debut title from Purple Moon, a studio founded by Laurel to make games for young girls. Laurel was already a games industry veteran; she had worked for Atari and Activision in the 1980s, was a founding member of the Computer Games Developer’s Conference (now GDC), and was a pioneer in virtual reality, and continues to work as an interaction design consultant today. So check out one of her most beloved games, and transport yourself back to the halcyon days of trying to make friends in junior high!