A female video game pioneer, Wabbit’s Van Mai, has gone down in history – so far

Video game historians Kate Willaert and Kevin Bunch was looking for Van Mai for many years. They sent letters all over Texas, where Mai worked Wabbit Apollo developers, and searched the internet and all sorts of records. And now they have found her.

As it turns out, Mai’s name isn’t exactly remembered: For a time, historians thought they were looking for a Vietnamese woman named “Ban Tran.” With Organized video game history community on the Discord channel dedicated to finding Mai, a group of collaborators realized Wabbit The developer they’re looking for is actually Van Tran, whose married name is Van Mai. The group found her by searching Texas bankruptcy records; When Apollo went bankrupt in the early 1980s, there were records of former employees applying to the courts to have their royalties checked. Mai is one of those employees.

Willaert and Bunch searched for Mai because she was involved Wabbit, the first video game for home consoles with a female protagonist. Released in 1982 on the Atari 2600, Wabbit plays a character named Billie Sue, a girl who is protecting her carrot plant from rabbits.

“I don’t think it’s any great secret that the video game industry has been dominated by men since its inception, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any women making games and I think it’s important to push back that story by celebrating the real women who were there early on,” Bunch told Polygon.

Mai tells her story to Bunch and Willaert, which you can read through on the Video Game History Foundation’s website. (Video version of the story is embedded above.) Born in Vietnam, Mai came to the United States as an asylum at the end of the Vietnam War. She eventually learned computer programming – and was hired at Apollo after seeing an advertisement for the job in a local newspaper. She had never made a game before, but her ideas, specifically aimed at girls, made an impression on the studio. It took four to six months to make, but Apollo filed for bankruptcy shortly after its release.

It’s great that the world knows her story now; As Polygon wrote in 2021, the games industry has had a particularly hard time preserving its own history – even with modern games. Understanding the impact of women on early game history is also overlooked.

“A lot of people out there think that video games have always been made by boys for boys, when before the Genesis era, games were generally marketed to both families and women. forbidden to do them as they know. programming,” Willaert told Polygon. “Of course, women are discouraged from learning to code is a completely different story. But the important reason to write about women who have been erased from gaming history is also the important reason to write about women who have been erased from history in general: to prove that women are not, like like, it’s not biologically likely to do these things given the opportunity. ”

Willaert said: Finding Mai was a huge relief; For quite some time, the team thought she might be dead. “Many people have found a news report about a Ban Tran who was brutally murdered in the mid-1980s,” she said. “I would like to accept this is how the story ends, if we could confirm it would be for sure. It’s definitely the same person.”

Willaert continued: “The ‘Van Tran’ breakthrough was a huge shift in my reality. Even when Kevin told me he heard back from her, it was almost not real! ”

After Apollo closed, Mai continued to work with former colleagues at MicroGraphic Image, Willaert and Bunch write. After a few months of working on an Atari 5200 port of Solar foxShe left the video game industry, forging a brief but influential career.

Bunch says: “In Van Mai’s case, this is someone who not only makes video games, but also intentionally creates a game specifically for young girls, a demographic that today is still underserved. appreciate. “And it’s good, that honestly, you can’t talk about most of Apollo’s output!”

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