March is Women’s History Month, a time where we should all reflect on the impactful, prominent, and ever-changing ways in which women are shaping our world. In the last several decades, women have made incredible strides in the workplace, particularly in game development, a historically male-dominated field. While things aren’t perfect yet — there are still far too many stories of “bro culture” at major developers like Activision Blizzard and Riot — we are actively moving toward an industry where women’s contributions are supported and valued.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are five games by female developers that deserve more attention.
This quiet, relaxing puzzle game involves unpacking boxes of items and placing them within apartments and homes. While it might not sound like a traditional game, beneath Unpacking‘s straightforward gameplay is a poignant story of intimacy, transition, and life as a whole. Just whose boxes are you unpacking? Where are they going, and why do they bring these things along with them? Those are questions you’ll need to play the game to answer.
Unpacking is a great example of the burgeoning genre of “cozy games,” a genre that focuses on slower-paced, more thoughtful adventures. There are no pulse-pounding, high-intensity moments here — unless you consider fitting the perfect item in the perfect space high-intensity. It’s a great way to relax after a long day of work or school. It’s also a great way to examine how games can continue to provide new experiences and new mechanics for players. Ever wanted to know how a story can be told with no characters? Unpacking is the game for you.
If you’re looking for a game with a few more words in it — okay, a lot more words — check out Butterfly Soup. This indie game for PC and mobile devices is described as “a visual novel about gay Asian girls playing baseball and falling in love.” While it’s only a few hours long, it’s got all that you could want from a visual novel: Lots of story, charming characters, and tons of lesbian and bisexual representation. It’s also completely free to download and contains plenty of memes. What more could you want?
Butterfly Soup has over 3,068 reviews and a perfect five-star rating on Itch: An incredible achievement. It’s also available in tons of languages, including Indonesian, Farsi, Czech, and more. Developer Brianna Lei, an interactive media student who made the entire game herself, explained on her blog that she was “inspired by the feeling growing up that there wasn’t any media out there made with me in mind.” She is working on a sequel, but it doesn’t have a release date as of this writing.
GreedFall is a more traditional RPG made by French developer Spiders. Players can explore a fantasy island, fight fantastic foes, and explore the ways that magic has affected their world. In true RPG fashion, there are plenty of abilities, skills, and spells to be learned along the way. The game’s biggest draw is its freedom of choice: players have a lot of freedom over how they complete quests, from traditional combat to stealth to diplomacy and deception. These options allow the player to influence the story and world in unique ways. It’s frequently compared to the Dragon Age series.
Spiders has made large strides in ensuring that women are represented and paid fairly at its company. On its website, it has a French-language Gender Equality Index that provides statistics about women at Spiders. Notably, women who take maternity leave receive a raise upon their return, and five out of 10 of the employees with the highest salaries are women or people of marginalized genders. The index concludes with the (translated) statement, “We are committed to continuing to make professional diversity an axis of improvement and development within the studio,” an ethos that more studios should follow.
Looking for more of a real-time strategy game? Offworld Trading Company can scratch that itch. This economy-focused resource management and strategy game is great for fans of Civilization — in fact, Soren Johnson, Civilization IV‘s lead designer, played a key role in its development. The game doesn’t have any combat. Instead, players fight with money and entrepreneurship, ultimately looking to control Mars’ burgeoning economy and become the first space tycoon.
Offworld Trading Company developer Mohawk Games’ CEO is Leyla Johnson, an immigrant who also served as the creative director on Old World, another Mohawk title. She recently spoke with Pocket Gamer.biz about her experiences as a woman in game development and about how the industry can encourage more women to pursue careers in games. In her interview, she stated, “Being a role model and speaking publicly about how we make games and why they are important to us can hopefully inspire more women to take a leap into the game industry.”
This colorful, retro-styled co-op title is perfect for fans of old arcade games. Pushy and Pully in Blockland is the story of two girls who are just trying to get their spaceship back while traveling through the, well, blocky world of Blockland. The game, which can be played solo or cooperatively, encourages players to think outside the box while manipulating blocks to destroy enemies and clear levels. Along the way, there are plenty of bosses, power-ups, and surprises to be had. Reviewers have compared it to Mega Man as well as classic arcade games.
Pushy and Pully in Blockland was funded through WINGS, an indie game investment fund that contributes to games made by female developers and developers of marginalized genders. WINGS has also helped a number of other prominent indie games, including Boyfriend Dungeon and Later Daters. Anyone can apply for the fund as long as at least half of their game’s development team is made up of women and people of marginalized genders. WINGS’ funding efforts are a great way to make the costs of game development less of a concern to small teams who want to make something different.
If you’ve got a moment, why not check out one of these excellent titles to celebrate Women’s History Month? As of this writing, Steam is running a sale on games made by female developers that includes several of the games on this list. By supporting and encouraging the creations of women in game development, we help make the future of games brighter for everyone.