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Post Column: Female video-game designers, characters emerge in male-dominated field

Even less common than girl gamers are girl game designers, but some women have managed to break through in a field often dominated by men.

Kim Swift began her game-design career creating the puzzle game Narbacular Drop and was quickly hired by Valve Corporation to recreate a version of the game’s innovative “portal” concept for them. The resulting game, Portal, wasn’t expected to be as big of a hit as it was, and Valve even released Portal 2 in 2011.

I had never played Portal until recently. It’s a short first-person puzzle game — I completed it in just a few hours.

In Portal, you are put in the shoes of a nameless and voiceless test subject of Aperture Science. There are 19 puzzles you need to solve in order to finish the testing. To help, you are given a “portal gun.” With it, you can shoot oval openings on a variety of surfaces (usually the floor or walls and sometimes the ceiling).

The openings are connected portals: shoot a blue one and an orange one, enter the blue and exit the orange. It allows you to quickly travel around the test areas and reach the end of each room. Some of the puzzles are very complex, and definitely prove that video games can be good for your brain.

It took me a while to complete some of the tests. Give me some credit — I’m a journalism major, my brain doesn’t work in that spacial way.

The only speaking character throughout the whole game is GLaDOS, a villainous robot who can be heard through loudspeakers during the testing. She is constantly talking to you in a condescending tone, promising you cake at the finishing of the testing. The cake is a lie. She tries to kill you. I really did want that cake.

You can try to catch a glimpse of yourself if you align your portals just right. While it’s never stated in the game, you play as Chell, a woman test subject for Aperture. She’s dressed in a jumpsuit similar to what a prisoner might wear — not something skin tight and sexed up. She never talks, and you could very well get through the whole game and not realize that you play as a woman.

You can see the influence a woman had on the creation of this game through the respectful view of Chell. She’s a strong feminine character that doesn’t need to show some skin to get anywhere in the game.

In an interview right before the release of Portal 2, Valve writer Chet Faliszek told the story of a play tester who played all the way through the single-person campaign of Portal 2. While playing co-op mode, he realized that there were genders to the bots and became angry that he got stuck as a female bot. Faliszek told him that he had played the whole campaign as a woman and he didn’t seem to be upset. The play tester said it only bothered him once he realized there was a gender to the character, specifically the gender that he isn’t.

I know I can’t be the only one that is bothered by that statement from the play tester. There is a minuscule amount of female characters for first-person shooters. For the few where there is an option, the change doesn’t do much to the story line, only the name and possibly the outfit. There are a few more games that offer a female lead in third-person games, but that setting, you are controlling the character, not becoming her. Guys are scared to become a female character, even if she is a clever, smart and straight-up badass heroine. Get over it, boys. Let us have our times to shine.

Sophie Kruse is a freshman studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. How do you feel about the lack of female presence in the video-game design field? Email her at


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