Mabel Addis Was The First Video Game Writer You Never Heard Of

Back when video games had yet to enter the public consciousness in 1964, there was a text-based game called The Sumerian Game, a text-based economic simulator about managing your resources as rulers from Lagash to Sumer. It was also written and designed by Mabel Addis, a fourth grade teacher who wanted to impart the basics of economic theory to her class. But it’s a shame few have heard of her: she’s also widely regarded as the first female video game designer, as well as the very first narrative designer of video games of any genre, pioneering several features, such as narrative elements, cutscenes and even content. fixes – which can still be seen in modern titles.


The Sumerian game has its roots in an initiative by IBM researchers and the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) of Westchester County, New York, to discuss the potential of using games to educate students. While it was IBM’s Bruse Moncreiff who proposed using an ancient Sumerian civilization as a setting for a game, it was Addis who developed this idea into an economic civilization model, after studying Mesoptamian civilizations. at University. But The Sumerian Game was not a title played by thousands of gamers everywhere on personal computers; it was not commercial technology available to the general public at the time. Instead, it could only be experienced on an old IBM mainframe, where players – who were essentially sixth graders – had to take turns playing.

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Here’s how this game was experimented with: prompts from the central computer had to be printed on pieces of paper, with students typing their answers into the central computer via a keyboard. Monitors, at that time, weren’t yet a thing, so students were introduced to this virtual world via a slide projector that displayed images – even audio lectures – of the king’s cabinet discussions, as well as newsletters that functioned as economic reports for your accomplishments. In other words, it’s also the first-ever cinematic cutscene.

Although limited, this configuration was still able to convey multiple scenarios, such as details of the city’s current population, hectares of farmland, number of farmers, and the amount of grain and other resources harvested and stored. Notably, the computer also conveys all this information by playing the role of court counselor, immersing the player with lines such as “Forgive me if my questions seem simple.” It is my duty to urge you to see the relationship between the elements in your steward’s reports. These are advancements in a burgeoning gaming circle – not yet quite an industry – where games were mostly simple, straightforward affairs, like playing tic-tac-toe against an artificial intelligence, or titles like Mouse in the Maze, which involves designing a maze for a mouse to traverse.

The Sumerian Game 1

The Sumerian Game 2

And as players progressed through the game, there were even more complex scenarios or levels to complete. They could conduct research, to accelerate technological innovations to better feed the population and grow the city, or manage resources for a prosperous city, with later scenarios even including trade and expansion options. Later in 1966, Addis revisited and rewrote the storyline, adjusting it so that the gameplay was less repetitive and reducing the number of rounds to just 30. The game was later remade and renamed Hamurabi, which is widely considered as the ancestor of city building. simulators like Civilization.

Addis, however, would hardly receive mainstream recognition for its monumental work until much more recently, when games researcher Kate Willaert wrote a Twitter thread detailing Addis’ achievements in 2019. Sadly, very little remains of what remains of the original game – some slides from the game are archived at the Strong Museum of Play – but the least we can do is commemorate the legacy of Addis and how it opened a hot lane for the gaming industry as one of the most inventive game designers. At a time when gaming was far from mainstream, Addis’s innovations would eventually pave the way for other early and famous gaming visionaries such as Carol Shaw, Roberta Williams, and Reiko Kodama.

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