For the Love of Games — A Closer Look into the life of Roberta Williams, the success of Mystery House, and what it means to be an actual Computer Scientist
For the average American housewife(or in some cases, house husband), even today, having to raise a child or two (or more) is considered the end of your youth, as well as your exploration days. However, to creative-minded Roberta Williams, who was already a mother of two during the late 1970s and early 1980s, everyday was a day of exploration, especially if your husband, Ken, were to come home one day with a text-based adventure game called Colossal Cave Adventure.
At the time when Williams was a young mother, many women of her age were still not as heavily involved in the Math and Sciences as their male counterparts, either because they were not as encouraged to pursue careers in the Math and Sciences or because they chose to spend more of their time protesting on the streets as opposed to actually fixing the problem, not that protesting on the streets in inherently a bad thing.
Despite the efforts of women such as Grace Hopper, who made great strides in the world of Computer Science long before the creation of second-wave feminism, it was very rare for a woman such as Roberta Williams to come out of her comfort zone and accept the fact that both the worlds of Art and Science are not as different as society perceives them to be as. This is due partly because the American academic system was still broken as it is today and partly because of the beliefs and stereotypes that were prevalent at the time.
Fortunately for Roberta, because she was an intelligent, open-minded woman who loved to create things, rather than choosing to either follow or go against what the societal expectations of a woman are, she instead decided to go down her own path, which benefited her, her family, second-wave feminists, and eventually, those involved in the world of game designing.
After playing “Colossal Cave Adventure” with her husband and begging him to find more adventure games similar to “Colossal Cave Adventure”, inspired by the game, Roberta convinced Ken to help her design a computer game that would include both text and images. That game was none other than “Mystery House,” a game that was based off of Agatha Christie’s novel, “And Then There Were None.”
Though considered an amature gaming project by today’s game designers, “Mystery House” was nevertheless a revolution of its time. Not only did it manage to sell about 800,000 copies worldwide, it also became the first ever adventure game to have both text and images, which later inspired the creation of the “point-n-click” adventure game genre. Even though there were already role-playing adventure games that included both text and images at the time, because a woman such as Roberta Williams chose to take a risk and design her own game, she nevertheless proved that not only could women do more than run a house, they could also (to some degree) turn a computer from a simple calculating machine into something more.
As such, not only did the creation of “Mystery House” proved that housewives such as Roberta were good for more than raising children, it also proved that as long as a person has a passion for learning more about the world of technology and how it can be innovated, anyone can become a Computer Scientist, regardless as to how good of a programmer and/or hardware designer you really are. Even more so, it also proved that regardless as to what your views on society are, if a person can learn to both (appropriately) work within and out of the system, change will happen.