8-bit Female Pioneers in Gaming
Updated: Mar 27
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Antstream Arcade takes a look at five women who worked in video gaming at a time when the UK industry was even more male-dominated than it is today. From a variety of backgrounds and in a range of five different roles, these are the ladies who pioneered their way through the beginning of the 8-bit era and beyond, working at male environments and cultures in an industry that itself was still in its infancy.
PR Manager, Mastertronic
Alison began her career with Richard and David Darling, two fledgling software developers who, along with their father, had created a company called Galactic Software. Galactic dealt chiefly with new budget company Mastertronic, and when Mastertronic subsumed Galactic into its empire, 18 year-old Alison moved across to its London offices where her initial role included miscellaneous paperwork, working on reception and taking software orders.
Her breakthrough came when she suggested to one of Mastertronic’s founders, Martin Alper, that she compose a newsletter for the software house, primarily to help promote its games, given that Mastertronic was always something of a reluctant advertiser. The newsletter proved popular, and Alison was soon more involved in the marketing, presentation and artwork of Mastertronic’s products as well as promoting its games to the numerous dedicated magazines.
In this young industry, new roles were being created all the time and Alison was at the forefront of the new specialised promotional role in selling games software. The experience proved invaluable to her as she set up her own company in 1995, Lincoln Beasley, specialising in PR for games developers and publishers.
Software Publisher, Mosaic Software
Of all the games software professions, surely running a software house single-handedly in the 80s was the one that was uniquely male? Actually, no, thanks to London-based Mosaic Software, run by Vicky Carne, previously of magazine publisher Haymarket and Sinclair Brown, a small publisher run by Sir Clive Sinclair and his friend Patrick Brown.
When Sinclair Brown began a computer-related imprint, Vicky was placed in charge of the new range. Via literary agent Richard Gollner, she was soon in contact with several writer/coders such as Tim Hartnell, and when Melbourne House released its videogame adaptation of The Hobbit to great acclaim, Vicky began her own publishing business – both books and software.
After efforts such as The Pen And The Dark, The Width Of The World and My Secret File (all adapted from books, which were usually included with the game), Vicky struck gold with The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, a Level 9-coded game of the phenomenally successful Sue Townsend novel.
Further releases such as Twice Shy and Yes, Prime Minister proved decent enough, but as the games market changed it became harder for smaller companies such as Mosaic to obtain the required licences. But while Mosaic was a small operation, it created some memorable games and, for a time, competed with the big boys. After returning to traditional publishing in the Nineties, today Vicky creates dog-training apps and runs a website that curates training videos for our canine friends.
Games Journalist, Dennis Publishing
Of the three main Sinclair Spectrum magazines of the Eighties, Your Sinclair was the funkiest, funniest and – on occasions – the most bizarre. Starting on the lower rungs of its owner, Dennis Publishing, Teresa rose through the production ranks of Your Sinclair, eventually becoming deputy editor under Kevin Cox, before assuming the editorial reins in 1987. Under her stewardship, the magazine entered its most successful period, infused with the anarchic sense of humour for which it became famous.
Teresa (or T’zer as she was affectionately nicknamed) continued to contribute light-hearted content, including the popular ‘T’zers’ section that mixed games previews with industry gossip, and the magazine’s letters pages. Juggling its strong-minded writers plus the shift in editorial content (cover tapes became a strong factor during her tenure), Teresa often had to gently rebuke declarations of love and proposals of marriage within the letters pages, but did it all with a style and humour that hugely endeared the Spectrum-loving public.
After leaving Dennis Publishing, Teresa continued her journalism career in non-gaming fields, yet leaves behind an important legacy in video games magazine publishing. And a few broken hearts.
Developer/Programmer, Magnetic Scrolls
Like many coders of both male and female disposition, Anita was intrigued by the emergence of home computers in the late Seventies and early Eighties, and self-taught herself the necessary skills and languages to program them. In 1984 she helped form Magnetic Scrolls, the pioneering developer of interactive fiction such as The Pawn, Guild Of Thieves and Jinxter.
With the famous American publisher Infocom rarely seen in the UK, Magnetic Scrolls took advantage of a gap in the market for its high-end graphic adventure games with its first release, The Pawn – which Anita helped develop – proving a smash hit. Using its own tools, developed in-house, Magnetic Scrolls broke the mould of adventure games, thanks to advanced interactivity, in-depth storylines and a complex parser for interpreting the player’s inputs. As one of the founder members of the developer, Anita was a driving force behind many of the great games that enthralled fans across a range of formats.
Artist, Ocean Software
Having worked for Liverpool-based developer Canvas Software, Dawn hopped cities to Manchester in 1988 when she joined publisher Ocean, with whom she had already worked on several titles for at Canvas. Initially a graphic designer, Dawn adapted her skills to the world of videogames and joined Ocean at a time when it was continuing to greatly expand its in-house development team. Her abilities were tested straight away as she was assigned to coder Mike Lamb and the half-finished Target Renegade on the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad computers.
The Renegade sequel was well-received, but it was with the team’s next game that Dawn’s career at Ocean really took off. Licensing the dystopian sci-fi flick Robocop proved to be a master stroke by software manager Gary Bracey, and Dawn and Mike were joined once more by musician Jonathan Dunn to create a game based on the film. It was a huge hit and cemented the reputation of all involved, with Dawn proceeding to test her artistic skills on a number of other notable games such as Batman: The Movie, Darkman, The Untouchables and Desert Strike.
Dawn left Ocean in 1997, as the industry was changing quickly again and embracing the dramatic shift to 3D graphics. Nevertheless, on the ZX Spectrum in particular she was responsible for the eye-catching graphics on a number of outstanding games, proving that if you had the aptitude, gender doesn’t even come into it.