Inspirational Women: Roberta Williams

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The 1980’s feel like a distant age long past, it’s very difficult to imagine a time in which gaming wasn’t as easily accessible as it is now. Look back thirty-five years ago and the gaming industry could barely call itself that. There were consoles, such as the Atari 2600, and computer systems like the Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum, but their technology was terribly primitive. Eventually, the gaming industry came to a stand-still with the crash of ‘83, and console gaming was only revived with the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

But throughout all this, one small company offered a glimmer of what really was possible: Sierra Online. Founded by Roberta and Ken Williams in 1980, Sierra Online developed software for PC’s throughout the 80’s and 90’s, becoming industry leaders by implementing revolutionary technology in their games. The company is now renowned for having essentially defined the adventure game genre, in no small part to Roberta’s talents for writing.

Roberta helped develop the company’s very first game; Mystery House (1980), by writing the game’s basic, yet entertaining story, with her husband coding the software. The game was an instant hit, and catapulted the company into success, allowing them to create their second title, Wizard and the Princess (1980) in colour.  Roberta went on to help develop many, many other games for Sierra, including the immensely charming King’s Quest series in 1984, which went on to spawn a total of eight sequels, a number of spin-off titles and an upcoming reboot.

Her later titles include the Space Quest series (1986), the Laura Bow series (1989) and the notoriously gory Phantasmagoria (1995). Though vastly different in tone, all of these games share the same crucial element; a captivating story and immersive world. Roberta is all about the writing. Certainly, she recognised the importance of things like graphics, sound, gameplay etc. but her love for storytelling shines through every game she’s helped make. In an interview with the staff of Sierra, Williams calls herself a writer; someone who lovingly crafts entire worlds and stories in her head.

Take the King’s Quest V for example. What most remember about the game are not its authentically bizarre and often illogical puzzles, but the vast and exciting world it takes place in, and the game’s cast of memorable characters. Williams made an entire career out of writing stories that take a person’s hand and lead them into an adventure. As someone who craves any opportunity to get lost inside another world, I cannot deny how much this industry owes to her.

At the time, Williams was probably the most important female figure in gaming. In such a male-dominated environment, she provided an essential female voice; writing stories starring women who went on adventures, for women who wanted to go on adventures. Having finally been given recognition for her achievements at last year’s Video Game Awards (along with her husband), Roberta Williams remains proof that women can do amazing things for this industry, if only given the chance.

 

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Third-year English undergraduate, dabbles in records and video-games. Can be found trying to raise money for new games and consoles, worshiping David Bowie and reading young-adult fiction unashamedly.

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