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Carol Shaw papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
The Carol Shaw papers are a compilation of game design documentation, notes, sketches, source code printouts, advertisements, and other ephemera relating to the career of Carol Shaw, the first widely recognized professional female video game designer and programmer. Materials in this collection are sorted by the company under which Shaw worked at the time of creation for the games and programs she produced. Of interest are the source code printouts for Polo (one of the first documented games designed and programmed by a woman, dated 1978) and River Raid (her most popular and award-winning game, published by Activision in 1982).

The Carol Shaw papers are arranged into three series, two of which have been further divided into subseries. The collection is housed in four archival document boxes and one oversized folder.


  • 1960 - 2017
  • Majority of material found within 1978 - 1984


Conditions Governing Access

Due to the nature of the printed source code on perforated, connected printer paper, reference scans of these pages may only be available at the discretion of the library staff.

Please see The Strong's Digital Games Files Access Policy here .

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. Though the donor has not transferred intellectual property rights (including, but not limited to any copyright, trademark, and associated rights therein) to The Strong, she has given permission for The Strong to make copies in all media for museum, educational, and research purposes.


4.4 Linear Feet (4 boxes, 1 oversized folder)


The Carol Shaw papers are a compilation of game design documentation, notes, sketches, source code printouts, advertisements, and other ephemera relating to the career of video game designer Carol Shaw. The bulk of the materials are dated between 1978 and 1984.

Biographical Note

Carol Shaw (1955- ) is an American game designer and programmer. She is best known for creating the best-selling Atari 2600 game River Raid (1982).

Shaw became interested in electronics at an early age. During high school, she learned how to program in BASIC and pursued a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. While obtaining her Master’s degree in Computer Science (also at UC Berkeley), Shaw was hired by Atari, Inc. as a microprocessor software engineer. In 1978, she produced one of the first documented game designed and programmed by a woman —an unreleased game called Polo (later was distributed on a CD-ROM compilation in 1996). When designing video games, Shaw and her colleagues in the Home Computer Division at Atari would draw graphics on graph paper, then hand-code it into the correct hex values on the computer screen. Shaw also hand-wrote her code on paper and later typed it in, since there were no sufficient editing programs at the time.

Shaw developed several games and software programs while at Atari from 1978-1980. She went on to work for Tandem Computers before joining Activision in 1982. Shaw created the popular game River Raid for the Atari 2600 while at Activision in 1982. This top-down scrolling shooter game sold more than a million cartridges and won multiple awards. (River Raid was later ported across other home console platforms.) Shaw also programmed the puzzle game Happy Trails for the Mattel Intellivision in 1983. She left Activision in 1984 to return to Tandem Computers, where Shaw worked for six more years until she retired in 1990.

System of Arrangement

Series I: Atari, 1960-1980

Subseries A: Game design documentation and reference, 1960-1980
Subseries B: Source code and other printouts, 1978-1980
Subseries C: Company publication, 1980

Series II: Activision, 1982-2008

Subseries A: Source code printouts, 1982-1983
Subseries B: Company publications and advertisements, 1982-2008

Series III: Reference, 1981-2017

Custodial History

The Carol Shaw papers were donated to The Strong in 2017 as a gift from Carol B. Shaw. The papers were accessioned by The Strong in two accession lots from Shaw (Object ID 117.2777 in March 2017 and Object ID 117.3703 in June 2017). An additional accession lot (Object ID 120.4416) was received in October 2020 via Kay Savetz.

Related Materials

The International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) at The Strong holds published versions of Shaw’s games for various consoles, as well as the EPROM (erasable programmable read-only memory) containing Shaw’s Polo game.

Revision Note

The two source code printouts received in the third accession lot were incorporated into Box 3 of this collection in January 2022.

Processed by

Julia Novakovic, September 2017


Finding Aid to the Carol Shaw Papers, 1960-2017
Julia Novakovic
26 September 2017
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.423.1886 (Fax)