September 26, 2020
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Influential women in gaming share industry insights

Minsky and Solomon discuss the impact of violence in video games. (Meagan McDowell / Photo Editor)

By Miguel Gonzalez
Sports Editor

Students took a trip through the eyes of three influential women in the gaming industry at the Pioneering Play: Women in Game Development and Design lecture in Roscoe West Hall Room 201 on Thursday, April 19.

Margaret Minsky, Cynthia Solomon and Joyce Weisbecker provided insight on the beginning of Logo Programming and its impact on programming education.

Minsky, who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pioneered techniques for creating Haptic texture. She spoke about her role on the programming committee of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, ACM SIGGRAPH.

SIGGRAPH plays a significant role in educating students on computer and graphic design skills, according to Minsky.

Alongside Minsky was Weisbecker, an independent contractor for the Radio Corporation of America. Weisbecker is considered to be the first independent game developer.

As a game developer, she wrote and programmed seven video games. Weisbecker still designs analog computers as a hobby. 

Solomon contributed to research in human computer interaction and design for children. Her most significant project was a collaboration with Seymour Papert to establish Logo in 1967, a language used to help children learn programming.

Solomon credits Logo for developing a computing culture for children. She spoke about two games that were created through Logo –– “Guess My Number” and “20 Questions.” Solomon spoke of how children were amazed by the games.

“Pick an object in the room and you guys decided what the object is,” Solomon said. “In 20 questions, it was picking what the object was. It always blew the kids away.”

Weisbecker talks about her experiences as a game developer. (Meagan McDowell / Photo Editor)

Solomon recalled her first encounter with computers in the early 1960s. At the time, she was developing a game by Atari called “Spacewar!” with Margaret Minsky’s father, Marvin.

Solomon explained how the game was entirely engineered on a new, revolutionary computer called the Programmed Data Processor-1.

Another notable accomplishment of Solomon’s was her co-written essay with Papert titled “Twenty Things To Do With A Computer.”

Solomon recognizes how games created in Logo have provided interactive entertainment for children.

“It’s a nice and sweet program with numbers,” Solomon said. “Kids love and still love to make quiz games. It could be math quizzes or geography quizzes. One of the purest things about that is seeing if kids got the right or wrong answer.”

When the panel opened up to audience questioning, Weisbecker and Solomon were caught in a debate about the effects of violent video games. Weisbecker asserted that movies are more graphic than video games.

“Why do you think they’re violent?” Weisbecker said. “It’s a picture on a screen. Look at movies, slasher movies with makeup — that really (looks) like violence.”

Weisbecker then argued that there are differences in how various types of people consume media.

“Depressed people listen to depressing songs and read depressing poetry and some of them commit suicide,” Weisbecker said. “But I don’t know any cheered up people who listen to depressing songs and read ‘down’ poetry with their friends. I’m not sure if people want a catharsis for taking things out that they can’t in real society.”

Solomon provided a counter argument — children have more accessibility to violent video games than violent movies.

“I do know a lot of kids that do get affected,” Solomon said. “I don’t take kids to slasher movies. They have opportunity to get video games much more easily than they do to get into slasher movies.”

By the end of the panel discussion, the three wise women of the video game industry provided the audience with a comprehensive understanding of how the history of computer science has shaped the way children interact with technology.

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