Tributes to creator of computer games turning up on Web – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 17 1998


Tributes to creator of computer games turning up on Web

by Andrew A. Green

Online tributes are piling up for Danielle Bunten Berry, a Little Rock woman who colleagues say revolutionized the electronic game industry. Berry, 49, died of lung cancer on July 3 at a friend’s home.

Berry was described by many in the computer game industry as a visionary. In an industry dominated by complex games and fancier graphics, she steadfastly insisted that the human element of any game come first.

“She believed that the game takes place between people, and the computer is just a vehicle, the same as a Monopoly board or a football field. The interaction took place between people who were involved. That’s what’s unique about the games she did,” said J.D. Robinson, who worked with Berry in the early ’90s at Ozark Softscape, the computer game firm she founded.

Friends recalled a woman with an uncanny ability to connect with people as individuals.

“I think in the future I will remember what a joy it was to talk to her,” said Phyllis Thomas, a psychological examiner for the Kids First program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “Talking to Dani about almost anything was like having the top of your head opened up and the universe poured in.”

One of her earliest professional successes came in 1983 with M.U.L.E., a game for the Atari 800 that allowed four players to compete for resources while establishing colonies on an imaginary alien world. At the time, many in the industry believed that the strength of computer games was that they could be played by a single person. But Berry’s belief that games should encourage cooperation and competition between people has come to dominate current industry thinking.

“Most major releases that are coming out today have a multiplayer element, and all of the successful ones do,” said Scott Osborne, an electronic gaming consultant who also worked at Ozark Softscape.

Brian Moriarty, creative director for the gaming firm Mpath and Berry’s boss for the last few years, said Berry was to the [multiplayer] computer game what Edison was to the light bulb.

When the Computer Game Designers’ Association gave Berry its Lifetime Achievement Award this spring, Moriarty told the crowd, “Nobody has worked harder to demonstrate how technology can be used to realize one of the noblest of human endeavors, bringing people together.”

When she received the award, Moriarty said, Berry got a five-minute standing ovation from 500 people.

Berry had a profound impact on nearly everyone she met, colleagues said. Friends described her as a supreme humanist, possessing a penetrating insight and a profound genuineness.

“She had a really beautiful smile. It sounds like a cliche to say she could light up a room, but she had a real presence about her,” said Emily Sneddon, a Little Rock lawyer. Sneddon said she was always impressed with Berry’s ability to endure a great deal of difficulty in life and remain optimistic.

Berry was born Daniel Bunten and lived for more than 40 years as a man before going through a sex-change operation in the early ’90s. Friends said she made the change gracefully. According to Mark Baldwin, a fellow game designer, Berry came out of her shell during what she termed her “pronoun change” and became a much happier person as a result.

“Her growth throughout her gender change — as well as the strength required to do that — and the values she got out of doing it impressed me horribly,” Baldwin said. “Dani took the experience and grabbed it and grew a great deal.”

Jessica Mulligan, a private computer game consultant, said that Berry’s ability to take her transition in stride was a real lesson to those around her. “Personally she leaves a real legacy in the industry in terms of tolerance, of taking people for who they are, not our image of them, and treating everyone with at least a modicum of respect,” Mulligan said.

Others remembered an outgoing, friendly person with a wry sense of humor who was always humble and unassuming despite her near-universal acclaim among colleagues. Those Berry knew from professional conferences also warned that playing poker for money against her was a mistake nobody made twice.

“She was famous for it,” Robinson said. “There was always a big poker game at the Computer Game Developers conference, and Dani was notorious for paying for the trip” with her winnings.

By Thursday night, more than 15 colleagues had posted tributes on the Mpath Web site. “The amount of respect and affection and love and just sympathy that came from people [after Berry’s death] was just spectacular,” said longtime colleague Eric Goldberg.