A former video game designer, Carol Shaw is notable for being one of the first female designers in the video game industry. In 1978, the same year she was hired as a Microprocessor Software Engineer at Atari, Inc., Shaw designed the unreleased game Polo as well as 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe. In 1982, she joined Activision and programmed her best-known game, River Raid, which made Shaw the very first woman to have her name included on a game’s box cover.
Growing up in Palo Alto, California, Carol didn’t enjoy the stereotypical girl activities such as playing with dolls, and was encouraged by her parents, a mechanical engineer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and a housewife, to play with model railroad sets with her brother instead. Shaw first showed interest in computers in high school after she used a computer for the first time and discovered it was possible to play text-based games on the system. She then earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1977, and went on to get a master’s degree in Computer Science at the same university.
In 1978, Carol started to work at Atari, Inc. where she wrote Video Checkers, 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, and, with Nick Turner, Super Breakout, all in the same year. In 1980, she left Atari and started to work for Tander Computers, and in 1982 she joined Activision. That same year, Shaw developed River Raid, a game that was a major hit for the company and personally lucrative for Carol. Her vision and the simplicity of River Raid are still considered by many programmers to be a gift to the game industry, as her codes for the game allowed it to have multiple and almost non-repetitive background designs.
While at the company, she also wrote Happy Trails (1983) for the Intellivision and ported River Raid to the Atari 8-bit family and Atari 5200. In 1984, she left Activision and returned to her former employer, Tander, where she worked until 1990, when she decided to retire. Married to Ralph Merkle, a researcher in cryptography and nanotechnology since 1983, Carol still lives in California, where following her retirement she did some volunteer work, including a position at the Foresight Institute, a Palo Alto, California-based research non-profit dedicated to promoting the development of nanotechnology (and other emerging technologies).
Still well-known in the game industry, Shaw won the Industry Icon Award at The Game Awards in 2017. Carol Shaw is a woman who went after her dreams and became successful in a field that is still heavily dominated by men. Thanks to her contribution to the world of games, she is an inspiration to many women who followed in her footsteps, or are still dreaming of starting their career in the game industry.