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Celebrating Women in the Video Game Industry

celebrating women in the video game industry
celebrating women in the video game industry

International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to honouring the achievements of women around the globe and throughout history. It’s also a day for basement-dwelling, insecure little boys to decry “WhAt AbOUt MeN’s DaY?!?” But those unwashed, keyboard warriors soon scuttle off when they don’t get the reaction they want.

In honour of this tradition (the former, not the latter) we here at Zatu games want to give a shout out to some of the influential women in the video game industry. So without further ado, let’s get the party started!

Amy Hennig - Nothern Dice

If you were to ask me which games had the best storytelling, I’d instantly answer with the Uncharted series.

The reason why should come as no surprise; the characters, motives, mystery, and presentation are all beyond what’s expected in a video game. Nathan Drake as the main character is a deeply flawed individual. He’s selfish, hard-headed, and doesn’t know when to quit. To say he’s the hero, he’s so very, very human throughout all the games. What’s more, these blockbuster games tell their story in 10 hours. Compared to recent AAA games with playtimes of 30+, it begs the question of quality over quantity. These deeply relatable characters were created and put into the world with the help of Amy Hennig, a video game developer and writer. Hennig has been described as having nothing but humility for her status in the industry and a passion for storytelling.

Amy Hennig is the individual I’d like to celebrate in the video game industry because of her humility and approach to being a “celebrity”. She doesn’t deem herself as someone who should be put on a pedestal and worshipped for her work. Instead, her focus is to inspire newcomers. She started out wanting to go into the film industry, but by chance fell in love with the work of video games. Her work as an artist for an Atari game allowed her to climb the ladder at EA and work on the Legacy of Kain series, before departing to work with Naughty Dog. There, she began work on the beloved Jak and Daxter and Uncharted series, before leaving in 2014.

I have massive respect for Amy Hennig because she has a passion for the story in gaming, and has always stood by that. It’s what she believes a single-player campaign game should be: a story. And this is clear in the games she works on, with their story-rich and atmospheric scenes and strong, memorable narratives. The memorable characters and their interactions. It’s a story from start to end, with enough meat in the middle to give it depth.

So, what’s next for her? Hennig has in recent years moved away from the AAA gaming scene and gone to Skydance Media, hoping to crack story-based games for both gamers and non-gamers alike. This is something I’m incredibly excited about, as a game shouldn’t be a time sponge. Why tell a story in 40 hours if you can tell it well in 10? She hits the nail on the head with her ethos, and her legacy of creation reflects that.

Shelley Blond - Beth

One of the first female icons of both Playstation and gaming as a whole was that of Tomb Raider. Lara Croft was brought to life by Shelley Blond, an iconic actress across film, TV, games and the stage. Shelley Blond embodied an iconic character that would go on to inspire countless video game characters such as Nathan Drake, Ellie from The Last of Us and so many more.

Embodying such an iconic role is no easy feat, but really impacted both gamers and the wider industry. For gamers, it allowed a female perspective in the world of action heroes. For the industry, the role proved that players would back a game with a strong female protagonist. Blond's work went far beyond just voicing the dual-pistol wielding heroine; she was able to inject a sassy yet powerful personality.

Growing up, Tomb Raider was always very close to my heart. As much as I loved Spyro and Mario, Lara Croft was always my choice! Shelley Blond voiced Lara in the first Tomb Raider game and then her soundbites were used until the third entry. Although she only voiced Lara on this single occasion, her impact on the gaming industry is undeniable. Through social media, Blond regularly replies to fans and gets involved within the community. Her iconic performance then allowed various actors to add to the role: Judith Gibbins, Jonell Elliott, Keeley Hawes and Camilla Luddington.

With the franchise starting in 1996, Tomb Raider is still going strong to this very day, even making an appearance in Astro's Playroom on the Playstation 5. To me, Shelley Blond and her work inspired me as a little girl and is the reason why I got invested in video games. Voice work within video games is so important and can be sometimes overlooked. Shelley Blond just proves how impactful voice work can be within video games, another example of influential women in the video game industry.

Aya Kyogoku - Fred Cronin

Any discussion about women in the video game industry would be lacking if it did not mention Aya Kyogoku! A powerhouse when it comes to the gaming world. With over 20 years in the industry and 18 years spent at Nintendo alone, Kyogoku was a scriptwriter for the early-2000s Legend of Zelda games Twilight Princess and Four Swords Adventures. With these games being highly successful, Kyogoku made a name for herself. She then went on to work on the Animal Crossing franchise. In 2012, Kyogoku was appointed joint director of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. If holding such a position isn’t impressive enough, she was also the first female director of a video game at Nintendo EAD, Nintendo’s largest software development division.

Kyogoku herself has noted the imbalance of men and women in the video game industry, especially in development teams. During her time as director of New Leaf, she hired a half-female team. She encouraged everyone to share their ideas, regardless of their official station. New Leaf would go on to sell nearly 13 million copies, making it the second-highest-selling Animal Crossing game after New Horizons, which she also directed.

It is not only the sheer success Kyogoku has had that makes her such an incredible figure, but it is also her drive to tip the scales back towards equality. Without her, the world of video gaming would certainly be much less vibrant, and I am excited to see what else she has in store for us.

Siobhan Reddy - Paul Blyth

Women have been creating games since the birth of the video game industry. It’s a sad state of affairs that they simply don’t receive the recognition they deserve. For instance, Mabel Addis wrote The Sumerian Game in 1964, becoming the world's first dona bafemale game designer, but is rarely mentioned. Dona Bailey co-created arcade sensation Centipede in 1981, but we only hear of Ed Logg as the creator. Many women in the gaming industry are unsung pioneers. Too many women have gone unnoticed and faded into obscurity. Thankfully, modern gaming is beginning to shift (albeit slowly) and it is in no small part thanks to one woman who refused to go quietly into the night - Siobhan Reddy.

Siobhan Reddy is an unstoppable force in the gaming industry. She played a major role in the creation of some of the world’s most innovative games and has also been a public advocate for the role of games in our culture. Creative excellence and collaboration lie at the heart of Siobhan’s work.

Siobhan Reddy joined Media Molecule in 2006 from Criterion Games. There she worked on titles such as Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Legends. At Media Molecule she has overseen the hugely successful LittleBigPlanet series; the BAFTA award-winning Tearaway for the PS Vita, and Tearaway: Unfolded for the PlayStation 4 and the award-winning Dreams. Reddy also received a Special Thanks credit on Horizon: Zero Dawn for her input and guidance.

Reddy sits on the advisory board for the International Game Developers Conference (GDC). This is held annually in San Francisco. She is also a former member of the BAFTA Games Committee. She has received numerous awards throughout her career. This includes the Production Award at the first Microsoft Women in Gaming Awards in 2009 and the Innovator Award at the same awards in 2014. In 2013, she was named one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the UK by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. During that same year, she was awarded the Australian Woman of the Year in the UK by Qantas. In 2014, she was installed in the UK Women in Game Hall of Fame. Followed by being named one of Fortune Magazine’s 10 Powerful Women in Gaming.

A strong advocate for diversity, Reddy believes that the games industry should be a place for all. It is the quintessential medium of our time. Siobhan Reddy is an amazing example for women in the video game industry.

Editors note: This blog was originally published on March 8th, 2018. Updated on March 8th, 2022 to improve the information available.