Dona Bailey Lights the Way

Dona Bailey lights the way

Dona Bailey Lights the Way is an interactive paper light box designed and engineered to remind us about the creative game Centipede, made by Dona Bailey. The light box is a representation of Centipede, the Atari Arcade game created by Dona Bailey–one of the pioneering women in game development. Dona Bailey graduated college at 19 with a degree Psychology and 3 minors. After her first year in graduate school, Bailey worked at General Motors, where she programmed car user interfaces. After her first experience with the arcade game Space Invaders, she wanted to make games. She quit her job at General Motors, moved to California, and was hired as the first women game developer in the Atari’s coin-op department. Despite the often unwelcoming work environment, Dona Bailey created Centipede, one of the all-time memorable and celebrated arcade game–the game that was even featured in the 2019 Captain Marvel movie!

Dona Bailey Lights the Way combines digital technology with traditional crafting materials to honor the story of Dona Bailey’s experience at Atari. The integration of technology and artistic crafting materials challenges how we define interactions with computer science and engineering. Electrochromic Displays (ECD) are flexible, energy efficient, transparent, and double-sided digital artefacts that, when polarized, trigger alternations between the front and back displays. The ECDs in ‘Dona Bailey Lights the Way’ make up the interactive portion of the artefact and allow users to change what is presented with the linked button box. The button box controls the ‘Atari Girl’ shooter who is on her quest to conquer the challenges presented in the mushroom displays. The four mushroom displays contain phrases from Dona Bailey, each representing challenges she faced while being a woman game developer in a pre-dominated male environment. When one of the buttons are pressed, the corresponding shooter darkens and its associated mushroom will switch from Bailey’s phrase to the points awarded for destroying it. The phrases, defined and written by Dona Bailey, include: Boys Club, Lazer, Wage gap, and Narrow Minded. These phrases represent different aspects of Bailey’s experience at Atari. ‘Lazer’ referenced the confusion she felt towards her coworker’s inability to spell the simple word correctly. It also related to the abundance of game ideas containing ‘lazers’ in the Atari idea book. The other phrases allude to women’s experiences in the tech field–ranging from microaggressions to alienation. With this artefact we hope to shine light on the adversity Bailey faced and celebrate how she came through. We created ‘Dona Bailey Lights the Way’ to change society’s ideas of who creates technology, and how it is materialized.

Concept, art, and manufacturing: Erin Graves, Khadijah Jordan, and Nicole Washington