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Meet The Five Girlbosses Of Game Development

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Meet The Five Girlbosses Of Game Development

In March we had International Women’s Day and to celebrate, the women of GAMINGbible put our pretty little heads together to come up with a list of our ten favourite goddesses in gaming. While all those gaming girls go hard when it comes to gameplay, they just aren’t real. Which is what got me thinking, ‘why are we celebrating these pixels and polygons and not the amazing real life women who paved the way for games like those to exist in the first place?’ So here’s my list of gaming’s real goddesses who are a big part of the reason our hobby is just so great. 

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Mari Shimazaki

Soul Caliber, Okami and Bayonetta 2 concept art / Credit Mari Shimazaki
Soul Caliber, Okami and Bayonetta 2 concept art / Credit Mari Shimazaki

As the country which popularised cosplay, it shouldn’t be surprising that Japan has some of the most talented character designers of all time. Yet, whenever I think of a name out of all those great talents, my mind always wanders to Mari Shimazaki. Possibly best known for designing gaming bicon Bayonetta, Shimazaki is an industry veteran. Our talented artist has more credits to her name than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has fighters. 

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Her incredible art and designs have brought so many games to life, that it’s hard to imagine what they would look like without her. What is Okami, if not its incredible characters and art style? Would people be so into Soul Calibur or Tekken if the costumes and characters weren’t so memorable? Shimazaki’s costuming is so gorgeously detailed, and exudes such powerful feminine energy, that it paves the way for unique character design. She has taken the sexualisation of women in games and flipped it, giving sexy ladies their own powerful autonomy. 

Amy Hennig

Legacy Of Kain / Uncharted / Jak & Daxter / Credit: Crystal Dynamics / Naughty Dog
Legacy Of Kain / Uncharted / Jak & Daxter / Credit: Crystal Dynamics / Naughty Dog
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Often known as the mother of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, it is hard to imagine the gaming landscape without the work of Amy Hennig. Starting out as an artist and animator for early console games on the Atari and NES, Hennig truly made her mark on the industry when she moved into design and direction. Working on the Legacy Of Kain series, Hennig took over multiple aspects of the project from production to writing, starting with Soul Reaver

Her legacy only grew as the years went on. Contributing to Jak And Daxter for Naughty Dog she soon began working as creative director for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. This included leading 150 developers to create what is still considered one of gaming’s greatest ever franchises. Hennig is very much still in the business, and is writing for the upcoming Square Enix title, Forspoken as well as working on a new Star Wars game with her own division Skydance New Media. She truly is a jack of all trades when it comes to game design, and a master of each one. 

Roberta Williams 

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King's Quest / Phantasmagoria / Half-Life / Credit: Sierra / Valve
King's Quest / Phantasmagoria / Half-Life / Credit: Sierra / Valve

If Hennig is the mother of the amorphous 3D action adventure genre, then Roberta Williams is the queen of point and click. Starting Sierra On-Line with husband Ken in the early 1980s, the pair went on to create some of the earliest and best renowned adventure games. From the King’s Quest series, to FMV horror Phantasmagoria, Williams was one of the earliest pioneers of game design, art, writing, and marketing.

Not only did Williams develop her own games and create new artistic techniques such as colouring and dithering, but she helped shape many great games through her company’s publishing efforts. Ever heard of Frogger? Perhaps Half-Life tickles your gaming itch? Or maybe you’re more into Crash Team Racing or the later Spyro games? Whatever series you enjoy, it’s likely that Sierra had some hand in making it a reality. Our girl doesn’t stop there. If you are into any of gaming’s hundreds of wonderful female protagonists, then you have Ms. Williams to thank for pushing back against the prevailing voice that games starring women wouldn’t sell as well. What a gal!

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Keiko Erikawa

Angelique / Haruka: Beyond The Stream Of Time / La Corda d'Oro Credit: Koei
Angelique / Haruka: Beyond The Stream Of Time / La Corda d'Oro Credit: Koei

Her’s may not be a name which is instantly recognisable, however Keiko Erikawa created so many things within the gaming industry it is a name you should remember. One of the founders of one of Japan’s big five gaming companies Koei, she not only invented romance games as a genre, but was one of the driving forces behind encouraging women into game development.

She hired and retrained women from other industries and encouraged them to join her all-female development team, Ruby Team. This was the first ever development team to hire exclusively women, and its success showed girls that gaming was, and is, a valid industry which they could enter into. The Ruby Team aimed to create games by women for women, and under Erikawa’s influence gaming turned its head toward women as a valuable market to create for. 

Jennifer Hale

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart / Mass Effect / Metroid Prime / Credit: Insomniac Games /  Bioware /  Retro Studios
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart / Mass Effect / Metroid Prime / Credit: Insomniac Games / Bioware / Retro Studios

We have covered female artists, designers, writers, and directors, but Jennifer Hale breathes life into gaming in a way that men could not - by acting. Hale is known as one of the most prolific actor in the gaming industry, having voiced characters in Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Metal Gear Solid. Chances are if you have played a AAA game within the last decade, you have experienced at least one of Hale’s performances. 

Not only is she one of gaming’s greatest goddesses, but she also gave a voice to many characters which could share that title. She voiced one of the original female protagonists, Samus Aran, in arguably Metroid’s best trilogy, Metroid Prime. She played Femme Shep in the Mass Effect trilogy, and she is still going to this day - voicing one of gaming’s coolest new female leads, Rivet, in the latest Ratchet & Clank game, Rift Apart. 

These five women represent just a snapshot of all the women in the industry who have made games so great over the years. So next time you think about how women have changed the gaming landscape, don’t think of Lara Croft, think of Erikawa, Hennig or Hale.

Featured Image Credit: Roberta Williams via historylink / Keiko Erikawa via Koei Tecmo / Jennifer Hale via jenniferhale.com / Amy Hennig via Twitter / Capcom

Topics: Naughty Dog, Uncharted, Half Life, Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock

Georgina Young
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