For Ladies Who Geek’s first blog post, we are highlighting one of the many amazing women who participated in the early stages of videogame development and design: Dona Bailey, who worked for Atari and co-created the classic arcade game Centipede in the early 1980s.
Gamasutra interviewed Dona Bailey ahead of her appearance at the Women in Games International Conference in 2007, and Bailey gave a little more information about her role at Atari. She was the only female software designer hired to work with a team of about 30 men at Atari in 1980 on coin-op arcade games – and by the time she left two years later, she was still the only woman in a team of about 120 people.
With Ed Logg, Bailey created the classic arcade game Centipede, which was extremely successful. She participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) forum a year ago, in which she talked a little more about her experiences at Atari. She mentions that her own dislike of buttons led to the use of the trackball, relatively unused at the time but fundamental for the success of the game. She also urged the technician to use a hot pastel color palette in addition to the typical primary color palette; she says her goal was to create a visually appealing game.
Whatever the reason, the game was more successful with women than other arcade games. In Bailey’s own words, “All creative projects demand specialized knowledge and skills, too, as well as daydreaming, inspiration, accidental discoveries, and luck.”
However, after the release of Centipede, many accused Bailey of lying about creating it herself. She left Atari and the industry for two decades, saying she was tired of fighting against her detractors. She went back to school at the age of 48 and got two Masters’ degrees, and then went on to teach rhetoric and writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; she’s very proud of her career change later in life and says, “you’re never too old to reinvent yourself.”
Bailey now encourages women in videogame and other traditionally male-dominated industries. She writes, “Anyone who wants to enter a male dominated field needs to be ready to fight hard for as long as it takes.” You can watch a video of Bailey herself at Vice’s Motherboard.