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May 29, 2006
They aren’t exactly on a crusade; but all-female gaming clans are fast taking on what’s easily a male- dominated bastion, and landing corporate deals in the bargain too...
Sandy Cohen / AP
Traditionally, the only women in video games were digital. There’s busty, pistol-packing Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, or the scantily clad walking pin-ups in Grand Theft Auto.
But things are changing, thanks to a core female gamers who are increasing women’s visibility and influence. These women are programmers, designers, tech students and members of all-female gaming groups that compete against guys for cash and corporate sponsorships. And experts say the industry stands to benefit.
“For this industry to mature and move on, it has to grow beyond that 13-to35-year-old male demographic,” said Anthony Borquez, a professor who teaches video game production at the University of Southern California. “From a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense to engage women more.”
Besides, sisters are doing it for themselves!
Amber Dalton and twin sister Amy Brady created the PMS Clan in 2002. Boasting international membership of nearly 500 women and girls, PMS – which stands for Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers – is a competitive group that plays Xbox, PlayStation2 and PC games. Its members range in age from 9 to 58, Dalton said, but most are adults. Learning about the Clan was “an epiphany” for game designer and devotee Felicia Williams. “Finding a community where you can say that you play games was kind of like a confessional,” said the 24-year-old New Yorker, who owns “...every system ever released.”
Clan members compete with each other and band together in professional tournaments. They also challenge the online harassment doled out by male gamers. PMS Clan rules prohibit “...belittling or attacking others in any way, even in retaliation,” according to its 30-page member manual. Guys can be “vicious,” said Dalton, 30.
“They say, ‘You must be 300 pounds with a mustache,’” she said. “They hide behind the anonymity (of the game). We have a strict code of conduct. Someone has to set an example.” The Clan’s classy manners and tournament-worthy skills caught the attention of Microsoft. The company hired the PMS Clan in April to represent Xbox Live – rather than relying on professionals or “booth babes” –at May’s E3 electronics expo. Borquez, the USC professor, agreed. “They’re creating unique ways of being able to communicate in games,” he said. “Before it was all trash-talking.”
Even Ubisoft, which produces games, assembled its own seven-member women-only gaming group, the Frag Dolls, nearly two years ago. This team touts new titles and competes in tournaments for the company.
Most members play about three hours a day. Halo 2 and Ghost Recon, both war games with male soldiers as main characters, are the top choices. Role-playing games are also popular, said game designer Williams, adding some may have been turned away by games that have women “...portrayed as whores.” She expects to see more positive female characters.
Borquez has already seen creative contributions from the handful of female students in his video game classes. Their designs include sophisticated story lines, female characters and “...shopping games, of course!”
• Most members play about three hours a day. Halo 2 and Ghost Recon, both war games with male soldiers as main characters, are the top choices
• “Finding a community where you can say that you play games was kind of like a confessional,” – Game designer and PMS devotee Felicia Williams