Girl gamers

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More women are glued to video games, from developing to playing

Jennifer Mirisciotti – and her custom-painted pink-and-white Xbox – represents the growing number of women who are hard-core gamers.

“I’m not a big fan of the color pink,” said Mirisciotti, 24, of Eastpointe, Mich. “But when I kick some guy’s butt, it hurts their ego even more to get their butt kicked by a chick with a pink Xbox!”

Women make up 43 percent of all video game players, according to the 2005 survey by the Entertainment Software Association. That’s up from 38 percent in a similar survey in 2003. Though women aren’t quite yet the majority among game players, they’re involved in 55 percent of all game-buying decisions, according to the association of the video game makers.

And many gamers say that women have come a long, long way.

“I have found that 90 percent of the women I play against/with are better than average players or downright awesome,” said Lora Day, 40, of Melvindale, Mich., aka “Daygirl.”

You probably wouldn’t want to take on 15-year-old Tanisha Walton of Detroit in football. She commonly cleans the clocks of many guys in “Madden NFL.”

Not too surprising, considering that both her mother and her younger sister also play.

“People are very surprised to hear I’m a gamer. And the reason is because I’m a young lady,” Tanisha said. “I guess people think women are only on this earth to cook, clean, shop, talk on the phone and talk to guys. I’m sorry to say it, but women are taking over some things now.”

There are also a surprising number of women who play after having picked up a controller or mouse later in life when they saw others enjoying it.

“I’ve been playing since my granddaughters got a PlayStation for Christmas one year,” said Gayle Rogers, 63, of Saline, Mich. “They had a bowling game that we all enjoyed, and that hooked me into getting my own system. I play mostly the ‘Everyone’ type of game, like ‘Spyro,’ ‘Ape Escape’ and so on.”

But with hard-core games – titles where you shell out big bucks as opposed to those oh-so-addictive casual games on Web sites or Xbox Live Arcade – the number of female players drops to about 1 in 5.

Industry women

Critics say the men’s club of developers in these games sometimes leads to demeaning portraits of women. Frequently women are portrayed as sex objects, like the buxom babes who crawl all over the heroes in most action games. Or they’re immoral targets of violence, like the prostitutes you can beat up for cash in “Grand Theft Auto.”

Violence specifically portrayed against women, patronizing “pink” video games marketed just for girls and other gaming faux pas tend to drive women away.

Still, the percentage of women in the industry is growing rapidly, with analysts agreeing that gaming companies are working to increase their gender diversity.

The number of women in the industry has risen from 5 percent to 11.5 percent in the last few years, according to the International Game Developers Association. The majority are employed in marketing, operations and human resources, not game development.

“The momentum is really picking up,” said Sheri Graner Ray, industry veteran and author of “Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market.”

“I feel like there’s hope now,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling that way a few years ago.”

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The urge strikes

Many of the female gamers interviewed said they liked the chat, interaction and competition they got from playing games against folks online.

The reception from opponents who find out on voice chat that they’re playing against women is generally good, the female players said, though the guys are often surprised.

“I really don’t notice much of any difference playing with girls or guys online,” said Zack Rovinsky, 17, of Birmingham, Mich. “They play just as hard, talk just as much trash and get just as ticked when they lose. The only difference is that every guy in the game feels the need to ask if she’s really a girl.”

Ruth Songer, 54, of Dryden, Mich., said gaming is her dirty little secret.

“It all started out so harmlessly about eight years ago,” she said. “I saw a young man playing a demo game in a store.” Her husband “thought I was crazy but bought me a PlayStation for Christmas that year.

“Initially, I would go to stores and pretend to be purchasing games for our son. We have no son.”

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