Game Developer Spotlight – Brenda Romero

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Games industry veteran Brenda Romero was presented with the Special Award at this year’s British Academy Games Awards. The BAFTA Special Award recognises individuals for their creative contribution to the games industry. For her endless talent and tireless passion and dedication to the medium Brenda is a more than worthy recipient and it’s heartening to see her work in the games industry celebrated in such a way. With that, let’s take a look back at her career and celebrate one of gaming’s most prominent and gifted females.

Formally known as Brenda Brathwaite, before her marriage to Doom creator John Romero in 2012, her lofty career in video games spans back to 1981. She has been credited as the longest-serving female game developer in the business and in that time has contributed her talents to an impressive 49 game titles. Brenda started out as a tester and manual writer for the Wizardry series before going on to become a fully-fledged games writer, penning Jagged Alliance 2 and Wizardry 8. She then progressed to designer roles, acting as lead designer on Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes and more recently was the director and lead designer on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Commander. It’s an impressive resume, we think you’ll agree.

Brenda is also widely recognised for her non-digital series of games collectively known as The Mechanic is the Message. This series attempts to express difficult emotions through game mechanics. Just how difficult these emotions are is no more apparent than in the game Train. A deliberately obscure game where players blindly follow instructions and try to complete their objective, only to discover their goal is to deliver the train’s passengers to Auschwitz. This alone shows not only Brenda’s acute creativity but her bravery in tackling such sensitive and controversial issues.

Her work as lead designer on Playboy: The Mansion inspired Brenda to explore the topic of adult content in video games and she has penned a book on the subject entitled Sex in Video Games. Today she is an advocate for gender equality and frequently openly criticises sexist and misogynistic content in video games. She has since regretted her contribution to the game and has admitted it is not something she would make now. Speaking to Kotaku she said:

“I understand that posing the human body to capture its beauty can be beautiful. But that’s quite different to reducing an entire gender into an ornament for pleasure.”

Her current focus is on educating and inspiring a new generation of games developers. She currently resides in Limerick, Ireland, where she is the Program Director of the Master of Science program in Game Design and Development at the University of Limerick.

The BAFTA Special Award is, of course, far from the first time Brenda Romero has been recognised for her significant contribution to the industry. Among her previous accolades is the Ambassador Award, presented to her at the 2015 Game Developer’s conference in 2015. She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the GDC Women in Gaming Awards in 2013. Next Generation named her on of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in the Game Industry, while in 2008 Gamasutra included her in its list of the Top 20 Women in Games.

Speaking about being presented with the BAFTA Special Award, Brenda said:

“I am first and foremost grateful to BAFTA for recognising the artistic potential and power of games. This recognition is culturally critical for games overall. So for that, I am profoundly thankful.”

Congratulations Brenda. You’re an inspiration.