Brenda Laurel

Brenda Laurel, Ph.D. is a video game designer and researcher. She is an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in video games, a "pioneer in developing virtual reality",[1] a public speaker and an academic. She is also a board member of several companies and organizations.[2] She was founder and chair of the Graduate Design Program at California College of the Arts (2006–2012).[2] and of the Media Design graduate program at Art Center College of Design (2000–2006). She has worked for Atari, co-founded the game development firm Purple Moon, and served as an interaction design consultant for multiple companies including Sony Pictures, Apple, and Citibank.[2]

Brenda Laurel
Laurel in 2016
Known forHuman-computer interaction
Interactive narrative
Cultural aspects of technology
MovementInteractive storytelling
Game development research
Game development for Girls

Personal life

Laurel received a Bachelor of Arts from DePauw University. She received her Masters of Fine Arts as well as her Ph.D. from Ohio State University.[2] Her Ph.D. dissertation was published in 1986, titled "Toward the Design of a Computer-Based Interactive Fantasy System", and would form the basis of her 1993 book "Computers as Theater".[3]

In 2015 Laurel won the Trailblazer award at the IndieCade festival.[4]


Laurel's first games were for the CyberVision platform, where she worked as a designer, programmer, and manager of educational product design between 1976 until 1979.[5][3] She then moved to Atari as a software specialist, later becoming manager of the Home Computer Division for Software Strategy and Marketing, where she worked between 1980 and 1983.[3][6] After finishing her Ph.D., Laurel worked for Activision between 1985 and 1987.[6] In the late 1980s and early 1990s she worked as a creative consultant on a number of LucasArts Entertainment games and Chris Crawford's Balance of the Planet.[6] During this time Laurel also co-founded Telepresence Research, Inc., and became a research staff member at the Interval Research Corporation where she worked on research investigating the relationship between gender and technology.[3]

Purple Moon and games for girls

As one of the earliest female game designers, Laurel became active in writing on the topic of developing videogames for girls. She posited that while the early videogame industry focused almost exclusively upon developing products aimed at young men, girls were not inherently disinterested in the medium. Rather, girls were simply interested in different kinds of gaming experiences. Her research suggested that young women tended to prefer experiences based around complex social interaction, verbal skills, and transmedia.[1]

The game business arose from computer programs that were written by and for young men in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They worked so well that they formed a very lucrative industry fairly quickly. But what worked for that demographic absolutely did not work for most girls and women.

Brenda Laurel, Wired Magazine [1]

In 1996, Laurel founded Purple Moon, a software company focused on creating games aimed at young girls between the ages of 8 and 14.[7][8] Laurel's vision was to create games for girls that focused more on real life decision-making rather than creating games that focused on appearances and materiality.[9] The company was an experiment in turning research on girl's gaming preferences into marketable video games. The firm produced games designed around storytelling, open-ended exploration, and rehearsing realistic scenarios from one's day-to-day life, as opposed to competitive games featuring scores and timed segments.[1][10] The company produced ten games primarily divided into two series: "Rockett", which focused around a young girl's daily interactions, and the more meditative "Secret Path" series. It was eventually bought by Mattel in 1999, who closed the studio.[3][11][12]

Purple Moon received criticism for focusing on designing games based on gender.[10] The research was accused of reifying the differences between genders that girls were already socialized to accept, thus the focus on the stereotypically feminine values of cooperation, narrative, and socialization as opposed to the stereotypically masculine values embodied in most games as violence and competition.[13]

Virtual reality

In Laurel's work regarding interface design, she is well known for her support of the theory of interactivity, the "degree to which users of a medium can influence the form or content of the mediated environment."[14] Virtual reality, according to Laurel, is less characterized by its imaginary or unreal elements than by its multisensory representation of objects, be they real or imaginary.[15] While discussions around virtual reality tended to center on visual representations, audio and kinesthesia are two potent sources of sensory input that virtual reality devices attempt to tap into. Laurel's 1994 Placeholder installation at Banff Center for the Arts—a collaboration with Rachel Strickland—explored these multisensory possibilities.[16] The installation allowed multiple people to construct a narrative by attaching movement trackers to its subjects' bodies while letting them navigate a virtual environment by doing common physical acts with special results, such as flapping one's arms to fly.[3]


Following the closure of Purple Moon, Laurel worked as chair and professor at the ArtCenter College of Design and later the California College of the Arts, and became an adjunct professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has published a number of books, including Utopian Entrepreneur and Design Research: Methods and Perspectives.[3]



  • Computers as Theatre (2nd Edition), Addison-Wesley Professional, (2013) ISBN 0321918622
  • Design Research: Methods and Perspectives, MIT Press, (2004) ISBN 0-262-12263-4
  • Utopian Entrepreneur, MIT Press (2001) ISBN 0-262-62153-3
  • Computers as Theatre, Addison-Wesley (1991) ISBN 0-201-55060-1
  • The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, Addison-Wesley (1990) ISBN 0-201-51797-3


  • Goldilocks, on CyberVision. (1978)
  • Hangman, on CyberVision. (1978)
  • Rockett's New School, Purple Moon Media. (1997)
  • Secret Paths in the Forest, Purple Moon Media. (1997) ISBN 9781890278168
  • Rockett's Tricky Decision, Purple Moon Media. (1998)
  • Rockett's Secret Invitation, Purple Moon Media. (1998) ISBN 9781890278281
  • Rockett's First Dance, Purple Moon Media. (1998)
  • Rockett's Adventure Maker, Purple Moon Media. (1998)
  • Secret Paths to the Sea, Purple Moon Media. (1998)
  • Starfire Soccer Challenge, Purple Moon Media. (1998)

See also


  1. Beato, G. (April 1997). "Girl Games". Wired (5.04). Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  2. "Brenda Laurel". California College of the Arts. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  3. Marie, Meagan (2018). Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play. Dorling Kindersley. p. 20. ISBN 0241395062.
  4. Weber, Rachel (23 October 2015). "Her Story wins Indiecade 2015 Grand Jury award". Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  5. "The History of a Forgotten Computer – PART 1". Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  6. A., Kocurek, Carly (2017-02-09). Brenda Laurel : pioneering games for girls. New York. ISBN 9781501319778. OCLC 974487356.
  7. Gurak, Laura J. (2001). Cyberliteracy: navigating the Internet with awareness. Yale University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-300-08979-0.
  8. Cassell and Jenkins, Justine and Henry (2000). From Barbie to Mortal Kombat. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262531689.
  9. Moggridge, Bill, "Chapter 5 Play-Interviews with Bing Gordon, Brendan Boyle, Brenda Laurel, and Will Wright" Designing Interactions, The MIT Press 2014.
  10. Hernandez, Patricia. "She Tried To Make Good Video Games For Girls, Whatever That Meant". Kotaku. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  11. Gurak, 2001, p. 77
  12. Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology – 2006 0262195364 p352 "Secret Paths is what Brenda Laurel calls a "friendship adventure," allowing young girls to rehearse their coping skills and try alternative social strategies. The Play Town: Another Space for Girls? Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to
  13. Eisenberg, Rebecca (13 February 1998). "Girl Games: Adventures in Lip Gloss". Gamasutra. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  14. Steuer, Jonathan (2006). "Defining virtual reality: Dimensions determining telepresence". Journal of Communication. 42 (4): 73–93. CiteSeerX doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1992.tb00812.x.
  15. Sand, Michael (Summer 1994). "Virtual Reality Check: An E-Mail Interview with Brenda Laurel". Aperture (136): 70–72. ISSN 0003-6420.
  16. Laurel, Brenda. "Placeholder Virtual Reality Project". TauZero. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
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