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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ladies new face of video gamers

By Sandy Cohen
Associated Press

Felicia Williams, a member of the women gamers group PMS Clan, helps a girlfriend play the Xbox game "Splinter Cell" at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition (E3) in Los Angeles.

REED SAXON | Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES Traditionally, the only women in video games were digital.

Think busty, pistol-packing Lara Croft of "Tomb Raider," or the scantily clad walking pinups in "Grand Theft Auto."

Beyond these stereotypical male fantasies, women were all but absent from the billion-dollar gaming industry.

But that's changing, thanks to a core of 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 just that 13- to 35-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." "Having a support group out there that loves what you love, and seeing such a diverse group of successful, wonderful women is just hugely beneficial."

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). Our group has a strict code of conduct. It takes someone showing the 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 public-relations pros or "booth babes" to demonstrate its new games at May's E3 electronics expo, Xbox gave the duties to Clan members.

"They set great examples, not just for the female gamers, but for everybody," said Xbox Live spokesman Aaron Greenberg.