At 29, She Was A Trailblazer. At 40, She Was Gone. Here’s Why You Should Know Her Name.
Theresa Duncan. It's a name you probably don't know. But as the gaming world continues to wrestle with the importance of women creating, playing, and appearing in video games, there was a woman who started working all this out a long, long time ago.
Back in the mid-1990s, computers were young and dumb.
Video games, too: They were almost all about violence. Successful gamemakers targeted the action straight at the blunt-force minds of so many young teenage boys. If girls liked a game, well, that was just a bonus.
Duncan wondered if they weren't missing something.
Why did video games have to be so dumb? How about some games that were truly creative? How about games with some emotional depth to them?
She decided to create games for kids who don't care about blood and noise. Like young girls. (Full disclosure: Not all boys like to kill either.)
And so Duncan and co-creator Monica Gesue set out to create a video game for 7- to 12-year-old girls.
In 1995, they released it.
Chop Suey was imaginative, crazy, and fun. It was a hit. Duncan was right: Girls did love it. And it was declared CD-ROM of the Year 1995 by Entertainment Weekly.
Two more games followed.
Zero Zero (1998)
After seeing her games safely into kids' hands, Duncan's attention turned to animation, with unique films like her "The History of Glamor." But even after such a brilliant first act, Duncan's career was cut short when she committed suicide in 2007, at 40.
Duncan's audience grew up. Old games like Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero can't run with today's hardware and operating systems, so the CD-ROMs have disappeared into drawers, closets, and landfills.
Rhizome, an Internet-based arts organization, is joining with University of Freiburg, Germany, to bring back Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero, this time online. Anyone will be able to spend some time in their wackadoodle universes. Rhizome recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise money, and an exhibition of Duncan's work is planned at the New Museum.
Here's the Rhizome Kickstarter video:
The re-discovery of a pioneer.
Think about it. The 7- to 12-year-old girls who were in Duncan's audience in 1995 are now 26- to 31-year-old women. Millennials. These games are no doubt hiding in the back of many Millennial minds. You gotta wonder what effect they've had. Did you play these games when you were a kid?
Many people have never heard of Theresa Duncan, and it's time this gaming visionary is finally granted her rightful place in history.