Girls got game, too

It’s no glass ceiling, but female gamers are working to shatter the stereotypes weighing them down as “girl gamers” in the competitive gaming industry.

Recent statistics show females make up almost half of the gaming population.

Despite this, women playing say they’re still defined by their gender before their gaming abilities.

According to a study published this year by the Entertainment Software Association, 38 percent of gamers are female, making the once rare “girl gamer” a valuable market for software companies.

Nintendo players make up 80 percent of that 38 percent, largely because of their Wii and handheld DS consoles.

Girls also make up a majority of the casual gaming market, which consists of computer games such as “The Sims 3” released earlier this year.

“World of Warcraft” (WOW), one of the most popular games in the industry, had an estimated 428,621 female players as of 2008, according to “The State of the Video Gamer,” a report on PC game and video game console usage published by The Nielsen Company.

WOW has a large social aspect because of the players’ ability to chat with other gamers, said Alison Atchison, a senior majoring in English literature and three-year veteran of the game. She said she believes this feature contributes to the game’s popularity with females.

Atchison began playing WOW with her husband when they were dating. At first, she said the guys she played with were more reserved around her because of her gender. Now, she plays with more girls in her guild, a group that plays WOW together online.

“I think there are more girls (gaming) than people believe there are,” Atchison said. “(But) it’s still kind of a nerdy thing to do.”

Despite this, she said females are still stereotyped.

“The stereotype, largely, is that (girl gamers) don’t exist,” Atchison said. “It’s some kind of bigfoot phenomenon.”

Atchison said this may be why girls are so hesitant to get into more hardcore gaming. They hear about girls who play, but don’t know any. This can be intimidating.

And gaming companies are taking notice.

Females are popping up in gaming commercials. For instance, country singer Carrie Underwood is shown playing video games on a pink Nintendo DS on her tour bus in a recent promotion.

Last month, Verizon launched a new gaming community for their Internet subscribers called “She’s got Verizon games.” It features games and contests targeted at female customers.

In 2004, gaming software giant Ubisoft – which has released best-selling games like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Assassin’s Creed 2” – created a team of hardcore female gamers called Frag Dolls to operate under their marketing and promotions department.

Amy “Valkyrie” Brady, has been with Frag Dolls since 2004. In 2002, she founded the PMS Clan – one of the largest groups of female gamers online – with her twin sister.

Now, she works with both groups and plays video games for a living visiting tournaments and gaming events with the Dolls.

Brady said she’s heard many comments from male gamers after she reveals she is a woman. Some of these include: “You must be fat and ugly,” and “Go make me a chicken pot pie.”

For Brady, the harassment pushed her to play harder and participate more in competitive gaming, but she said for other girls, it can be discouraging and push them away. That frustrates her.

“I want to see not only more female gamers but more females in the industry overall – (females) being the developers and the tech people,” she said. “We’re still a long way from being the norm.”

Kim DuChene, a sophomore majoring in accounting, is one of the few women who have broken into competitive gaming and both at home online and in video game tournaments. In her world, women gamers are scarce. She knows no women that play.

“It’s still a man’s world,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s socially acceptable right now.”

But for DuChene, that’s OK. She enjoys playing against the guys and being underestimated, especially when she starts to win. She’s had many stereotypes cast on her as well.

“When you start beating them, they usually stop messing around … because they don’t want to look bad,” DuChene said. “It’s always fun in the end to (say), ‘You just got killed by a girl.'”

No studies have been conducted about what pushes women into more hard-core gaming.

DuChene was brought into gaming by her older brother, who she idolized as a child. So was Joelle Abbott, a junior nursing major.

Abbott played with Barbies like most little girls, but she wanted to share something, a common interest with her brother. That something became the Super Nintendo.

Now, Abbott’s friends know her as the “girl gamer” and her boss calls her a “trendy geek,” but she said she wouldn’t call herself that.

“I don’t really care so much about what others think of me,” she said. “I enjoy it for playing the game.”

Abbott knows other women who play video games, but they usually stick to a certain genre or series. Like Atchison and DuChene, she mostly plays with men.

Hardcore and console gaming are still male-oriented and casts a stereotype that female players are finding hard to shed.

When DuChene shared her love of the fashion show “What Not To Wear” with a friend, the latter was surprised. DuChene said people assume that female gamers can’t have interests that resonate with most other females.

“I’m still a girl,” she said. “I still like clothes and going shopping.”

Despite the typecasting, the women still love the gaming community and the games themselves. Atchison believes most girls would, too, if they gave it a shot. She said many of her male friends wished their girlfriends would play with them.

“It’s a cool thing to be a minority and to be doing something a lot of other people aren’t,” Brady said. “I’ve always been a gamer.”

She said that until more girls focus on the competition, there will always be a stereotype.

While DuChene said she prefers playing with guys, women should be willing to get down and dirty in the industry.

“If you’re going to do it, you just have to put yourself out there and say, ‘OK, I’m going to be as good as the guys,” she said.

Most importantly, female gamers should remember they’re not alone and shouldn’t let stereotypes define them.

“I didn’t want to be the ‘girl gamer,'” DuChene said. “I just wanted to be the gamer.”