World’s First Female Video Game Protagonist Was Created by a Vietnamese Programmer
Early video games weren’t the best at portraying female characters in the best light. From Pauline in Donkey Kong to Princess Zelda, early depictions of female characters have always served as damsels in distress for male heroes to save.
Things did begin to change in the 90s, when more women took center stage, like Chun-Li from Street Fighter and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. While many might think of these women as the first female protagonists, it turns out that everything began with a simple farmer girl.
Billie Sue, the protagonist of 1982’s Wabbit on the Atari 2600, was the first playable female protagonist in video game history. With a farming background and a gingham dress, Billie Sue borrows a lot of elements from Dorothy Gale, the protagonist of The Wizard of Oz books.
Featuring gameplay that is similar to arcade shoot ‘em ups like Space Invaders, Wabbit had players controlling Billie Sue as she defends her crop of carrots from invasive rabbits from the sides of the screen.
The player controls Billie Sue from the bottom of the screen as she hurls rotten eggs onto the incoming rabbits. The goal is to knock off as many rabbits as possible, and should the rabbits gain enough carrots, it is game over.
Like most early games, it was simple and provided a fun challenge. What makes this game even more interesting is the fact that it was created by a female Vietnamese programmer named Van Mai.
For a while, this information was deemed lost, as seen in this initial Polygon article, but through extensive research by The Video Game History Foundation, Van Mai’s true contributions to the video game industry as a whole have been uncovered.
The true story of Van Mai’s life is one for the ages, a story that modern Southeast Asian developers and gamers should hold in high regard. The fact that the first playable female protagonist was made by a Southeast Asian developer all the way back in 1982 is nothing short of incredible.
The article and video by The Video Game History Foundation truly paint the picture of Van Mai’s life as a pioneer in the video game industry. To think that the industry has Van Mai and Wabbit to thank for modern games like The Last of Us, Bayonetta, and Horizon Zero Dawn.