Carol Shaw (video game designer)

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Originally an Atari employee, Carol Shaw is said to be the first female video game designer (for her unreleased Polo game in 1978[1] and 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe the same year,[2] both for the Atari 2600). Shaw's official job title at Atari was Microprocessor Software Engineer.[3] Later she joined Activision, where she programmed her best-known game, River Raid.[4] According to the manual of River Raid, she is also a “scholar in the field of Computer Science.” With Keith Brewster she worked on the Atari Basic Reference Manual.[5]

She left Atari in 1980 to work for Tandem Computers. After 16 months she was contacted by an employee of Activision (possibly Alan Miller) with a job offer which would include stock options. She also attended an interview at Imagic but they did not offer her a position at the company on account of a lack of experience in writing action games. Shaw joined Activision in 1982.[3]

Carol Shaw left Activision in 1984 after designing Happy Trails (1983) for the Intellivision and porting River Raid to the Atari 800 and Atari 5200. Her other credits include Video Checkers (1978), 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe (1978), and, with Nick Turner, Super Breakout (1978), all for the Atari 2600.

From 1984-90 Shaw worked at her former employer, Tandem. She took early retirement in 1990 and subsequently did some voluntary work including a position at the Foresight Institute. She has credited the success of River Raid as being a significant factor in enabling her to retire early.[3]

Shaw lives in California and has been married to Ralph Merkle, a researcher in nanotechnology since 1983.[6][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1955, Shaw was born and raised in Palo Alto, California.[3] Her father was a mechanical engineer and worked at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Shaw first became interested in computers in high school when she used a computer for the first time and discovered she could play text-based games on the system. Shaw attended the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1977. She went on to complete a master's degree in Computer Science at Berkeley.[3]


Atari 2600

  • 3D Tic-Tac-Toe (Atari, 1978) [7]
  • Polo (Atari, 1978) [8] unreleased
  • Super Breakout (Atari, 1978) with Nick Turner
  • Video Checkers (Atari, 1978) [9]
  • Othello (Atari, 1978) with Ed Logg,[10] re-released in Taiwan as Chess
  • River Raid (Activision, 1982) [11]


Atari 8-bit family

  • Calculator (Atari, 1979)
  • River Raid (Activision, 1983) port from 2600 to Atari 8-bit and 5200.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ VC&G Interview: Carol Shaw, Female Video Game Pioneer, interview by Benj Edwards.
  2. ^ Suellentrop, Chris (19 August 2014). "Saluting the Women Behind the Screen". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "VC&G - VC&G Interview: Carol Shaw, The First Female Video Game Developer". 
  4. ^ Atari: 2600: River Raid. The Internet Archive Software Collection. ret. Mar 2014.
  5. ^ Atari BASIC and PET Microsoft BASIC. A BASIC Comparison by Joretta Klepfer cites the draft as a source.
  6. ^ My wife is Carol Shaw., Ralph C. Merkle
  7. ^ "Atari 2600 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe", Atari Mania 
  8. ^ "Atari 2600 Polo", Atari Mania 
  9. ^ "Atari 2600 Video Checkers", Atari Mania 
  10. ^ "Atari 2600 Othello", Atari Mania 
  11. ^ "Atari 2600 River Raid", Atari Mania 

External links[edit]