Carol Shaw
Shaw in 1983
Born1955 (age 68–69)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Occupation(s)Computer programmer
Video game designer
Years active1978–1990
Known forRiver Raid (Atari 2600)
(m. 1983)

Carol Shaw (born 1955) is one of the first female game designers and programmers in the video game industry.[citation needed] She is best known for creating the Atari 2600 vertically scrolling shooter game River Raid (1982) for Activision. She worked for Atari, Inc. from 1978 to 1980, where she designed multiple games including 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe (1978) and Video Checkers (1980),[1] both for the Atari VCS before it was renamed to the 2600. She left game development in 1984 and retired in 1990.

Early life and education

Shaw was born in 1955 and was raised in Palo Alto, California.[2] Her father was a mechanical engineer and worked at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. In a 2011 interview, she said she did not like playing with dolls as a child but learned about model railroading from playing with her brother's set, a hobby she continued until college.[2]

Shaw first used a computer in high school and discovered she could play text-based games on the system. Shaw attended the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1977. She later completed a master's degree in computer science at Berkeley.[2]


Atari, Inc.

Immediately after earning her Master's degree in 1978, Shaw was hired at Atari, Inc. to work on games for the Atari VCS (later called the 2600) with the title of Microprocessor Software Engineer.[2] Her first project was Polo, a promotional tie-in for the Ralph Lauren cologne.[3] The game reached the prototype stage, but Atari chose not to publish it.

Shaw's first published game was 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe for the Atari 2600 in 1978. She also wrote Video Checkers (1980) and collaborated on two titles: a port of the coin-op game Super Breakout with Nick Turner and Othello with Ed Logg (1981).[4] Co-worker Mike Albaugh later put her on a list of Atari's "less publicized superstars":

I would have to include Carol Shaw, who was simply the best programmer of the 6502 and probably one of the best programmers particular, [she] did the [2600] kernels, the tricky bit that actually gets the picture on the screen for a number of games that she didn't fully do the games for. She was the go-to gal for that sort of stuff.[5]

Shaw worked on several projects for the Atari 8-bit computers. With Keith Brewster, she wrote the Atari BASIC Reference Manual.[6] She developed the programmable Calculator application, published by Atari on floppy disk in 1981.[7]


Platinum River Raid cartridge, awarded June 27, 1983, for sales of 1,000,000 units

Shaw left Atari in 1980 to work for Tandem Computers as an assembly language programmer,[8] then joining Activision in 1982.[2] Her first game was River Raid (1982) for the Atari 2600, which was inspired by the 1981 arcade game Scramble.[2] The game was a major hit for Activision and personally lucrative for Shaw.[2]

Shaw also wrote Happy Trails (1983) for the Intellivision and ported River Raid to the Atari 8-bit computers and Atari 5200.[8] She left Activision in 1984.

After games

In 1984 Shaw returned to Tandem. She took early retirement in 1990 and subsequently did some voluntary work including a position at the Foresight Institute. She has credited the success of River Raid as being a significant factor in enabling her to retire early.[2]

In 2017, Shaw received the Industry Icon Award at The Game Awards.[9] In the same year, she donated her gaming memorabilia, including games, boxes, source code, and designs, to the Strong National Museum of Play.[8]

Personal life

Shaw lives in California and has been married to Ralph Merkle, a researcher in cryptography and nanotechnology, since 1983.[10][2] They are signed up for cryopreservation with the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.[11]


Atari 2600


Atari 8-bit computers



  1. ^ Suellentrop, Chris (19 August 2014). "Saluting the Women Behind the Screen". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "VC&G Interview: Carol Shaw, The First Female Video Game Developer".
  3. ^ a b "Polo".
  4. ^ Hague, James. "The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers".
  5. ^ Spicer, Dag (November 12, 2012). "Mike Albaugh Interview" (PDF). Computer History Museum.
  6. ^ Atari BASIC and PET Microsoft BASIC. A BASIC Comparison by Joretta Klepfer cites the draft as a source.
  7. ^ a b "Calculator". Atari Mania.
  8. ^ a b c Marie, Meagan (2018). Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play. Dorling Kindersley. p. 27. ISBN 978-0241395066.
  9. ^ Alexander, Jem (8 December 2017). "Carol Shaw awarded 'Industry Icon' honour at The Game Awards". Develop. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  10. ^ Ralph C. Merkle. "biography". Retrieved 28 January 2024. My wife is Carol Shaw
  11. ^ Taya Maki (2022). "Notable Women in Cryonics" (PDF). Cryonics. Retrieved December 24, 2023.
  12. ^ "Atari 2600 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe", Atari Mania
  13. ^ "Atari 2600 Othello", Atari Mania
  14. ^ "Atari 2600 Video Checkers", Atari Mania
  15. ^ "Atari 2600 River Raid", Atari Mania