Female voices in games

Several people have asked, apropos of recent Twitter/Gamasutra/Metafilter/Kotaku discussions, for lists of women whose games they should know about.

So here is a short list of female authors whose work I’ve especially enjoyed, recently or in the past, with links to most-recommended works by each. It’s not even a little bit complete or comprehensive, and it skews towards indie game designers and women who work in narrative, simply by virtue of the fact that those are the areas I follow most closely. In no particular order, then:

Deirdra Kiai — Deirdra has an extensive catalog, but I particularly like Life Flashes By as an exploration of roads taken and not taken, relationships and career paths pursued or rejected, and the way one’s personality forms in response to or reaction against circumstances, people, and social pressures. ETA: I just today ran into her The Little Girl Nobody Liked, which is very quick and also rather cool.

Rose Estes — as a kid, I had her Dungeon of Dread adventure book. There’s a central sequence about retrieving a key from a well that turns out to contain a water weird. I hadn’t heard of a “water weird” before, and the combination of the strange imagery and interactive sucker-punch made that one of the creepiest CYOA moments I’d yet encountered. Apparently she wrote quite a few other gamebooks as well.

Yoon Ha Lee — Moonlit Tower is still my favorite of her work: full of strange images and yet not exactly alien.

Yasmeen Khan — my very favorite work of hers is content buried deep in Fallen London, so I can’t link directly there. But she also wrote the separate Tales of Fallen London: The Silver Tree.

Katherine (also published as Sarah) Morayati — Katherine’s done several intriguing experiments in IF. Broken Legs — though difficult — is a terrifically fun exploration of the voice of a not-very-nice young woman, and the competitive experiences to be found among dancers.

Naomi Clark — Miss Management, one of her projects at Gamelab, remains pretty much my favorite time management game ever, with a complex story arc and plenty of dialog. Among other things, it explores the female protagonist’s struggles with the role of keeping everyone else happy.

Suzanne Britton — those who came recently to interactive fiction may not recognize the name, but Suzanne’s epic Worlds Apart remains one of the most extensive and polished pieces of science fictional world-building in the IF catalog.

Christine Love — shame on me: I still haven’t had a chance to get to Analogue: A Hate Story, which is probably at the moment her best-known piece. But any of her stuff is worth a look.

Kathleen Fischer — ca 2000-1, Kathleen was writing historical romance IF that used its genre as a lens to talk about women’s freedoms and constraints. I always admired how Masquerade lets you get the boy or walk off and do something completely different with your life instead. I keep hoping that one day she’ll show up again and write more.

Porpentine — in particular, howling dogs, which is very much about women and their experiences (among other things).

Heather Albano — writing for Choice of Games, Heather has worked on several of the CoG titles I enjoyed most: Choice of Broadsides, Choice of Romance and Choice of Intrigues. These works let the player decide what gender to take up and allow for some thought-provoking experimentation with what gender means in the context of that storyworld.

Anna Anthropy — dys4ia remains one of the most heartbreakingly personal games I’ve ever played. I also have huge respect for Anna’s work to bring game creation to people who might not feel they were invited to the party.

Jacqueline Ashwell (also published as Jacqueline Lott) — Jacq’s care and understanding of the natural world comes through strongly in The Fire Tower, an interactive walk in the woods. (If that sounds like a mild experience, it’s not — the terrain is a specific setting, acutely observed and implemented in great depth.) Jacqueline has also put an impressive amount of time and energy into the IF community, running competitions, writing reviews, and sponsoring Club Floyd — a collaborative-play IF group that has met pretty much weekly since 2007.

Amy Briggs — She of Plundered Hearts fame. Plundered Hearts was one of Infocom’s most narratively advanced works, with multiple strongly-characterized NPCs, a definite plot arc, and set scenes that were about relationships rather than object-fiddling. It wasn’t just the romance genre of this work that drew my attention back in the day. It was also just a rompingly entertaining game, and cemented my love of interactive fiction.

Chrysoula Tzavelas — lately she’s mostly been writing non-interactive fiction, but Chrysoula’s shadows on the mirror is a multiple-ending, conversation-based story where the major relationship can go any of a number of directions. I wish there were more of these.

Georgina Bensley (also publishes under Papillon and through Hanako Games) — Georgina’s work includes a broad selection of Ren’Py dating stories and life-sims, and her IF and CYOA also looks at the challenges of juggling romance with other responsibilities. This is probably an oddball choice and not what she’d pick of her own work, but I enjoyed the variety of One Week, where you get to control a high school senior making life-critical choices just before SATs and the prom. I played that thing more times than I’d care to admit.

Meg Jayanth — if you’ve been reading this blog recently, you already know I loved her evocative StoryNexus game Samsara.

Carolyn VanEseltine — she’s written or collaborated on several IF games, but the one that gripped me hardest was One Eye Open; which is saying something, because it’s horror and I generally have a tough time getting into horror games. But it was strangely compelling and I still think about it now and then.

It’s harder to call out the specific effect of people who collaborate on big projects, but one might also look into the contributions of Rhianna Pratchett, Susan O’Connor, Wendy Despain, Holly Gramazio, and Margaret Robertson — several of whom not only do awesome work, but go out of their way to support newcomers to the industry.

And for bonus points: I also recommend Jenni Polodna’s hilarious, verbally pyrotechnic reviews and Leigh Alexander’s reporting.

7 thoughts on “Female voices in games”

  1. I have three of Rose Estes’ D+D books on my shelf, including the Water Weird one. I loved them as a kid and I don’t think I actually survived through any of them. Even then I was trying a kind of elementary bruteforcing, on each read trying to change one thing I did, but I still ended up dying. I realise as an adult I’m 10000 times better at this kind of thing and I suspect (but can’t guarantee) I might finish these D+D books easily if I went back to them with the goal of winning. But because there’s only a few of them and I like my memories of their impossibility, I kind of prefer not to.

  2. Emily, thanks for this post – I’ll also suggest Irene Callaci, author of Mother Loose and Dangerous Curves. Also, Laura Knauth’s Winter Wonderland won the IF Comp in 1999 and was, of course, very well-liked.

  3. I had that same Rose Estes book and had a similar reaction to the Water Weird. It’s still one of my favourite D&D monsters, and when later in life I started playing and DMing D&D, I would slip one in whenever I thought I could get away with it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: