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Legendary Game Designers John Romero and Mabel Addis Honored at GDCA 2023

The Game Developers Choice Awards at GDC 2023 has revealed the recipients of the ceremony's prestigious special awards. Mabel Addis, recognized as the first female game designer, will posthumously receive the Pioneer Award, which honors breakthrough business, tech, and game design milestones. The award-winning game designer, level designer, and programmer John Romero will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on such iconic and genre defining first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3DDOOM, and Quake

“This year, the Game Developers Choice Awards will recognize two of the most impactful game development talents in history, Mabel Addis and John Romero.” said Stephenie Hawkins, Director of Event Production for Media & Entertainment at Informa Tech. “The Game Developers Choice Awards are proud to honor two artists with wildly divergent career trajectories, who worked decades apart but shared a creative passion and ingenuity that would help define entire game genres for decades.”

Mabel Addis is recognized as the first female game designer, but that title alone does not convey the breadth of her pioneering work. As the lead designer of 1964’s The Sumerian Game, she helped pave the way for game elements that wouldn’t become mainstream for decades. Among the innovations she helped conceive were game updates, in-game narrative experiences, and early iterations of what would become known as cutscenes—which, in 1964, took the form of photo slideshows accompanied by synchronized audio. The Sumerian Game itself predates modern display technology and instead used a computer printer to express dialogue and prompts, which took the form of an in-game narrator/character who conveyed game information and asked questions of the player.

Working as a grade school teacher and developing The Sumerian Game on the side, Addis turned to her degree in ancient history from Barnard College for inspiration, crafting an game narrative about ancient Mesopotamia and helping to create the genre that we now call edutainment games. The Pioneer Award will be presented to the family of Mabel Addis as a posthumous honor to recognize the innovation, creativity and dedication to education that she maintained through her professional life up until her passing on August 13, 2004.

John Romero will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work developing more than 100 published games, which include such genre-defining classics as Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM and Quake. As an early indie game developer, Romero’s first game development experience started in 1979 on a computer mainframe before moving to the Apple II in 1982, working as a completely self-taught programmer, designer and artist. He is considered to be among the world’s top game designers, with previous works that have won over 100 industry awards, and a range of development experience in the PC, console, mobile and mod space. Romero is an advocate and supports diversity in the game industry, particularly among Indigenous and Latine youth. He has co-founded 10 game companies, including id Software and Romero Games, which celebrated its seventh anniversary in 2022.

Recipients of the Pioneer and Lifetime Achievement Awards were chosen by this year’s Game Developers Choice Special Awards Jury, following suggestions from the International Choice Awards Network (ICAN) and GDC Editorial Committee.

The Game Developers Choice Awards will take place at GDC on Wednesday, March 22 at 6:30pm PT (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch). GDCA follows right after the Independent Games Festival Awards, which celebrates independent games and their creators. Both the GDCA and IGF ceremonies are available to watch for all GDC 2023 pass-holders.

GDC returns to San Francisco this March 20-24, 2023, and registration is now open! For more information, be sure to visit our website and follow the #GDC23 hashtag on social media.

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