Good Game

5 Women Share How They Made Your Favorite Video Games

Women and gaming have always gone hand in hand — even if the industry hasn’t been the most welcoming or inclusive of spaces. But for years now, women have been making their mark in the world of gaming, whether it’s leading the way behind the scenes in esports, dominating as professional players, or helping streamers carve out their own paths. And let’s not forget the many, many talented women who have had a hand in crafting the games we know and love to play
That’s who we’re taking the time to celebrate during Women’s History Month — the women who have undeniably and profoundly shaped some of our very favorite games. The women we spoke to below have composed Grammy-winning soundtracks, wrote the lore behind the support champion League pros have clamored to ban, and voiced the most popular Valorant agent that’s always instalocked in matchmaking. Without them, the games they worked on would not be the same. And they’re just a handful of the all-star women working in the industry today.

Stephanie Economou 

Age: 32
Location: Los Angeles
Job: Composer
How You Know Her: As the first-ever winner of the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media
Most Recent Project: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök
In February, Stephanie Economou watched the 2023 Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony (aka the non-televised event during which most of the year’s golden gramophone prizes are handed out) unfold in person. Wearing a chic black-and-white Safiyaa jumpsuit, the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök composer was nominated in the event’s long-awaited inaugural category created specifically for video game soundtracks, and was up against industry heavy-hitters like Call Of Duty Vanguard’s Bear McCreary. Relatively new to scoring for games, the 32-year-old had convinced herself that there was no way she would win, so Economou and her family nestled themselves in the back of the auditorium. Then her name was called. 
“I went into a fugue state,” she tells Refinery29, recalling how she had to half-run up to the stage from her faraway seat. “I was really in disbelief, and the shock of it didn’t wear off until a few days later, honestly. I was like, ‘Holy shit, did that really just happen?’ I felt really overwhelmed and was [wondering] if I really belonged up there.” 
But there’s no doubt that Economou has more than earned her place on that stage, imposter syndrome be damned. Growing up in New York, she first got into music when she picked up violin as a child, inspired by her older sister who played viola. She later went to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, figuring that she’d pursue concert composition as a career. While there, however, a friend needed a score for the student film they were working on, and Economou volunteered. “It just clicked — there was something there that I felt like I had been missing,” she says. “Writing concert music is very much just sitting in a room alone, just trying to express something in your head and it all feels very self-important. I was always so frustrated by it.” 
Composing for film and TV, on the other hand, had the collaboration Economou didn’t realize she was yearning for. She could create in service of a story and its audience. After her time at the conservatory, she headed to UCLA to study scoring for visual media and landed work and a mentorship with British composer Harry Gregson-Williams, who's done the music for films like Shrek, The Martian, and Disney’s live-action Mulan. The rest is history. Soon, Economou had her own credits to her name, including Netflix superhero series Jupiter’s Legacy and Sandra Oh-led drama The Chair
Despite being a lifelong gamer (in between music lessons, she and her sister were partial to the Sega Genesis and, later on, the first-gen Xbox), composing for games wasn’t on Economou’s radar. But when she got a call from Ubisoft music supervisor Simon Landry, who was looking for new composers to score Assassin's Creed Valhalla DLCs, she jumped at the chance. She first worked on Siege of Paris before taking on the project that would win her a Grammy. 
Now, it’s a world she loves creating in — and hopes to continue alongside her other work. “Scoring film and TV is linear,” she says, explaining that the relationship between gamers and video game music is almost symbiotic. “In games, [music] is triggered by the actions of the player. As a composer, you have to be very aware of these things that can happen at any moment, and you don’t have any control over that. The music has to work together like puzzle pieces, but still have shape, melody, harmony, contrast and feel immersive. Playing a video game is the closest that someone can get to being part of the art and experiencing it on a deep, deep level.” 
Hearing both Economou talk about her work and listening to her music, her passion and talent are clear, and it’s no surprise that the Recording Academy recognized her. A few weeks removed from taking home that Grammy, you'd think that some of the imposter syndrome she was feeling on stage would have subsided — “I think I have even more of it, strangely enough,” she says — but like any game, it’s a work in progress toward bigger goals. “I’m the main motivator pushing myself forward because I am striving for something greater.”

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Shannon Williams

Age: 24
Location: Los Angeles
Job: Voice Actor
How You Know Her: The voice behind Valorant's Jett
Most Recent Project: Yet-to-be-announced voice acting work
Going from being a rising K-pop star to voice acting may not seem like a natural transition, but for British-South Korean creative Shannon Williams, it made perfect sense. Williams has been obsessed with music since was a kid — she and her mom loved going to musicals in the UK, and she even taught herself how to sing opera. One day, her mom’s friend uploaded a video of her singing to what Williams calls the Korean version of MySpace, which attracted the attention of the producers at popular Korean variety series Star King, who then asked her to appear on the show to sing. One thing led to another, and soon a 10-year-old Williams was living in South Korea training to be a K-pop star
“I had always wanted to pursue [music], but I felt more inclined to do so there because I’m half Korean,” she says. “I wanted to be able to be more in tune with that half of me — my mother’s side — and learn more about that culture.” 
The opportunity to access the K-pop industry was not one Williams took lightly, and she was able to release various songs and two EPs over the course of her career. By the time she turned 21, however, she could feel her time there waning. She learned so much — the value of discipline and a work ethic — and met many talented artists, performers and producers who she respected, but she never felt like she could show her true self through her music. She was looking for more freedom and control over her creative output than what was being afforded to her.  
So Williams decided to go back home to the UK. Then something weird happened. She got an Instagram DM from someone at Riot Games asking if she would be interested in auditioning for a voice acting role. To this day, Williams doesn’t know how they found her — she had done a little voice acting as a kid, but nothing serious. Still, she was “super stoked.” As a kid, she loved games like The Legend Of Zelda — a franchise that didn’t feature much voice acting until 2017’s Breath Of The Wild — and used to create her own voices for characters while playing. She’d held vague dreams about voice acting professionally, though she wasn’t actively pursuing it as a career path, and knew this was her chance. 
It was tricky, though, because she wasn’t allowed to know who the character really was or even what game they would be part of. The information she was given though piqued her interest. The character was meant to be half Korean — Riot really wanted to make sure they were being authentic to that identity — and Williams could relate to the fact that she was opinionated with a hard exterior but was still soft on the inside. And, most importantly, Williams had a unique take on the role — she had a sense of what the development team was going for, and had ideas about how to make the character feel more dynamic. “I wanted to make her more cocky and confident,” she says, explaining she wanted the character to be badass, arrogant, and to feel like someone you were actually playing with, meaning you could shit talk without risk of offending. “I busted down the gate and kind of made her an asshole, but it fit. Every time I came in for an audition, I changed a little bit more about the character from what they had envisioned.” 
It was a months-long process — Williams even went back to Korea to perform in a musical in the meantime — and there was a point where it looked like Riot was going to go in a different direction. But something about Williams’ auditions stood out, and eventually she got the part. The role? Jett, the risk-taking, knife-wielding, no-nonsense duelist in Valorant, the popular first-person tactical shooter game released in 2020. “I’m really, really proud of it — Riot really embraced [my] vision, and I’m so glad Jett exists now,” she says, recalling it took about a week and half to do the initial recordings for the character. “Those first recordings are very special to me because it was like she was a blank canvas and we were figuring out what types of colors to put on there.” 
Up next for Williams? Getting back into music, for one, and keeping up with her personal passion for gaming by streaming on Twitch, but she won’t be giving up voice acting anytime soon, either. “Voice acting is such a huge part of gaming — it makes people want to know the history between characters, the lore, the story, their personalities — and makes [the experience] memorable. It’s really cool.” 

Rayla Heide

Age: 34
Location: Los Angeles
Job: Senior II Narrative Designer at Blizzard Entertainment 
How You Know Her: Creating fan-favorite League of Legends character Yuumi the Magical Cat
Most Recent Project: The Mageseeker: A League of Legends Story and a yet-to-be-announced survival game at Blizzard
Rayla Heide grew up around the world, spending time in places like Hong Kong, Belgium, and Taiwan. It’s why she fell in love with writing; even though there were vast language differences in all of these places, storytelling was the one way she could connect with people across various cultures. Now based in LA, she can still remember the first story she wrote at just 5 years old: It was about a cat with black fur who had a magical tail that could appear and disappear at will, and her mom created a bound version of the tale as a special keepsake. 
Years later, Heide went on to create another magical cat, this time Yuumi, the adorable BFF League of Legends champion who quickly became beloved (and dreaded) by the MOBA’s fans when she debuted in 2019. “I was really interested in creating a character that would speak more to women, and [through research] I had noticed a lot of people wanted a cute character. We had a ton of heroic fantasy characters, like knights and monsters, but we didn’t have a lot of cute and vulnerable players,” says the writer, known by some LoL fans as her Summoner name Jellbug. 
Going from creating childhood stories to being the architect of a major character of one of the biggest games in the world was not a linear journey, which is fitting considering, as Heide explains it, neither is video game writing. She loved playing SimCity and PC puzzle games with her dad, but didn’t realize working in video games was an actual job. She did always know she wanted to be a writer, however, and took every creative writing class she took; storytelling has always been how she processes emotions, stress and just daily life. But in college, she became interested in filmmaking — there was a certain magic, Heide says, in seeing her words said on screen —  and got a job working in the business side of the industry in Hong Kong. It was a way to make money, sure, but it also provided Heide an opportunity to read many, many screenplays, giving her a sort of crash-course in what makes a script work or not. 
Inspired, she moved to LA to write her own scripts, and started playing video games again for fun. That’s when she picked up on the intricacies of gaming storytelling and realized there was career potential there too. “In video games, you, as the player, control the narrative. You get to be the hero of the story, you’re not just passively following along like in a TV show or movie,” Heide says. A writer’s assistant job at Riot Games taught her the ins and outs of the job — as a video game writer, you may be responsible for drafting character backstories and arcs, dialogue, different routes for the player to take in the narrative, gameplay systems and more. Gone is the traditional beginning, middle, and end. You have to consider every possibility, all while making sure the story is clear and to players of all experience levels and seamlessly fits into the rest of the game’s design. 
With over a decade in the industry now under her belt, Heide has also worked on other LoL projects, including character design for sisters Kayle and Morgana, supplemental comics like Nami: Into the Abyss and the recently announced single-player RPG The Mageseeker: A League of Legends Story (out this April). Last summer, she joined Blizzard Entertainment as a narrative designer on an untitled survival game.  Through that time, she’s also seen some positive change in the boys’ club mindset and environment that has dominated the industry — that same thing she was trying to tackle when creating Yuumi for underserved gaming communities. “There is much more dialogue around issues of diversity and representation than there was 10 years ago — that’s really positive because when you can’t talk about a problem, you can’t solve it,” Heide says. “I hope that more women and [marginalized] communities get excited about the games that are being created now and then are able to come in with their own unique ideas and create something that hasn’t been done before.”

Brittney Morris  

Age: 31
Location: Philadelphia
Job: Writer at Insomniac Games
How You Know Her: As a writer on The Lost Legends of Redwall and Subnautica: Below Zero 
Most Recent Project: The upcoming Spider-Man 2 for PS5 and Wolverine for PS5
Brittney Morris always knew she wanted to publish a novel. Born in Oregon, she grew up in a strict household that restricted the type of media she was allowed to consume. So she became obsessed with video games — her first console was the Nintendo GameCube and she loved any Super Mario title — and creating her own stories and worlds as an escape. But when it came time to go to college, she made a practical decision and majored in economics. Her dream was still alive, but at least this way she could pay the bills while pursuing it. 
As Morris, who now lives in Philadelphia, tells it, she sent over 200 query letters to attract a literary agent that all got rejected over five years. Then she saw Black Panther and had an idea: What if she could combine the amazing fantasy world of Wakanda, and the Black community’s fervor for a Black superhero,  with her love of video games? “After I saw Black Panther, I was like, ‘I can’t go back to normal life,’” she says. Fate was on her side, because when she got home, she saw a pitch contest posted on Twitter that gave writers the opportunity to submit their book to agents. The catch? She had just 14 days to get it done. That book ended up being Slay, Morris’ first YA novel, which was published in 2019 and follows a Black teenager who develops an online game as a safe space for Black gamers that comes under attack by outsiders. 
Now that she could add published author to her resume, Morris had to think about what came next. More novels, of course (she’s since published three others, including YA action tale The Jump, which just hit shelves earlier this month). But when she saw a prompt tweet telling people to put their desires out into the universe, she thought, why not? She retweeted it saying that she wanted to write for video games one day, which led to a DM from a Soma Games representative asking her if she’d be interested in contributing to The Lost Legends of Redwall, an indie adventure game based on the British book series. “I essentially got a basic pitch and then was asked for a five-point outline,” Morris says. “Then from there, they were like, ‘Great, we need about 25,000 words of dialogue.’ So it was really just me writing the entire thing from the top down.” 
After that contract was over, she sent out another tweet saying she’d love to keep working in the industry, which connected her to her next gig. That job, the open-world survival game Subnautica: Below Zero, looked a lot different. There, she was tasked with reediting existing dialogue, shaping the overall narrative, writing user-interface assets that influenced gameplay and more. Those two games — plus Slay — were enough to catch the attention of Insomniac Games, because they reached out to Morris’ agent to ask if she’d be interested in writing a Spider-Man novel starring Miles Morales. It was an easy yes. The resulting book, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales – Wings of Fury, was a hit, and Morris was brought on to work on Insomniac’s upcoming Marvel PS5 games Spider-Man 2 and Wolverine. (Details are still very top secret.) 
“[Insomniac] took a chance on me and it all worked out,” she says, adding that she has felt empowered throughout her career to bring the inclusive, safe-space mindset she created in the world of Slay to her video game work. “I feel really, really lucky and happy to be here, and so, so grateful to everyone who’s gotten me to this point. I’ve been surrounded by strong women in the gaming space who have lifted me up as they absolutely kill it out here.” 

Julia Radulska  

Age: 28
Location: Brighton, UK
Job: Lead UI Artist at Hangar 13
How You Know Them: As part of the team who made Mafia: Definitive Edition 
Most Recent Project: Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Video games have played an instrumental part in Julia Radulska’s life for as long as she can remember. Born and raised in Poland by tech-savvy parents, her dad built her a computer when she was around 6 years old, which she calls “a game changer.” That act opened up her world to various MMORPGs and strategy games, like 1997’s Tibia and the popular Warcraft franchise. Sometimes her dad would play too, but as she got older she realized she could connect to communities of like-minded gamers online. There was just one problem: many of the people and groups she found were English-speaking. So, Radulska, who now works at game developer Hangar 13, learned how to speak the language. 
“I was able to make really meaningful connections through that experience, and I think it really speaks volumes about the depth of gaming. It’s not just about playing the game or moving controls, it’s about having emotional investment in all of it,” she says. 
Radulska wasn’t just enterprising when it came to gaming and language. She’s also a self-taught artist, spending hours creating characters, stories and animations, first by hand, then on a tablet by following YouTube tutorials. There was never a question about her pursuing some sort of artistic career, it was just a matter of what that might look like. “I was the happiest when I was creating things that people would respond to, that they were entertained by,” she says. Add in the fact that the nature of video games also required her to use both the creative and technical sides of her brain, and Radulska had a goal. 
She found a university program in England that would teach her all about animation, special effects, and video graphics and moved across the continent. While studying, she had the opportunity to do some freelance animation work for a local studio called Lambda Films, and when it came time to graduate and she needed a way to extend her visa, she asked for a job. That was Radulska’s foot in the door, and she steadily climb up in the industry until she was able to land her gig at Hangar 13, where she has worked on titles like Mafia: Definitive Edition, which is an expanded remake of the popular 2002 action-adventure game Mafia, and Marvel’s Midnight Suns, a tactical game featuring X-Men and Avengers characters that came out last December. 
Now, as a UI artist, Radulska’s work is integral to the gameplay experience. Her job, essentially, is to make games look and feel great. That involves creating a brand and visual identity for the title, designing the interface that guides players through the game, creating assets and animations and testing to make sure that gameplay is enjoyable and easy to understand. If, for example, you get stuck on a level of a Hangar 13 game and a helpful hint appears on the screen to get you moving, that may be courtesy of Radulska — and that’s just some of what her job entails. She is directly shaping the experience of the gaming community she held so dear as a little girl.
And that community — and how to bring more people into it — is something she still thinks about everyday, both as a gamer and an industry pro. “I got into gaming through my dad playing video games, and a lot of other women I know and speak to have a very similar experience — they got into games by a male influence in their lives,” Radulska says. “My generation and the generation after mine has this opportunity to pass gaming on to the next generation of women. I have a younger sister, and it’s really cool to be able to say that I was the one who introduced her to gaming.”

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