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Celebrating Female Game Designers

XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design (courtesy Museum of Design Atlanta)
XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design (courtesy Museum of Design Atlanta)

While a recent report showed that almost half of those who play video games are women, the representation of women in game design is much lower. To increase female visibility, and in the hopes of encouraging would-be designers, the Museum of Design Atlanta is hosting the first exhibition on women as game designers.

XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design (courtesy Museum of Design Atlanta)
Nathalie Quagliotto’s “Maturity Turn” in “XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design” (courtesy Museum of Design Atlanta)

Called XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design, the exhibition, co-presented by Georgia Tech’s Digital Media Program starts with the old Atari game Centipede (1981), created by Ed Logg with Dona Bailey, and continues through more contemporary works that include board games like Brenda Romero’s emotionally complicated Train (2009) on Nazi complicity in the Holocaust, to experimental video games like Hye Yeon Nam’s Kiss Controller (2011) where a device activated by two people kissing controls a race car or bowling ball.

As the exhibition text states:

A response to the popular misconception that women neither play nor create video games, this interactive exhibition redefines viewers’ perceptions of what games are and can be. XYZ introduces guests to alternative games that are outside the mainstream and demonstrates their capacity to convey a diverse range of ideas, experiences and emotions.

Some of the games are commercial enterprises where women played a key role, while others are more indie games that you would expect be more likely to encounter in an exhibition like this than on your console.

Screenshot of "Mainichi" (2012) by Mattie Brice (via mattiebrice.com)
Screenshot of “Mainichi” (2012) by Mattie Brice (via mattiebrice.com)

One of the more beautiful choices is The Night Journey (2010) by Bill Viola and Tracy Fullerton with the USC Game Innovation Lab. Based on player introspection and the journey of enlightenment, you explore a shadowy landscape based on his consciousness-exploring video work. There are also thought-provoking games like Mainichi (2012), meaning “everyday” in Japanese, where you experience developer Mattie Brice’s own daily life and challenges as a transgender woman (you can download and play it for free here). These are alongside more fantasy-based psychological creations like The Path (2009) where you wander as a sort of Little Red Riding Hood towards grandmother’s house, but despite the instruction to stay on the path, the real fun of course comes in wandering off.

The XYZ exhibition comes alongside troubling incidents of appalling harassment against women in game development, particularly Jennifer Hepler where attacks escalated into threats on her children. While one exhibition can’t do much to totally change the tide of either women’s representation in game development or the culture of gaming, this spotlight can only help to affirm women designers’ presence where too often they are underrepresented.

XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design is on view at the Museum of Design Atlanta (1315 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta) through September 1.

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