April 8, 2006
BY HEATHER NEWMAN
FREE PRESS GAME WRITER
Jennifer Mirisciotti, 24, of Eastpointe and her pink Xbox. (MANDI WRIGHT/DFP)
How to get started in video gaming
Thinking about jumping into this whole gaming thing? Here are some places to start.
• If you'd like to fool around with some casual games (puzzles, card games and simple games that are easy to pick up and put down), consider http://www.pogo.com/, which has a huge variety and 60% female players.
• If you want to see gameplay videos from games in all genres, check out http://www.gametrailers.com/.
• If you want to chat with other female gamers, check out http://www.womengamers.com/, http://www.gamegoddesses.com/, http://www.gamegirladvance.com/, http://www.grrlgamer.com/, http://www.gamegirlz.com/, the Webring for women who play video games (http://rinoa.nu/gamegirl) and the PMS Clan (http://www.pmsclan.com/).
• If you want to meet women in the biz, try Women in Games International (http://www.womeningamesinternational.org/) or the International Game Developers Association women in game development page (www.igda.org/women) for advice on getting started, information about conferences and scholarships and forums where female game developers gather.
Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel, 36, Detroit (working for six months in Montgomery, Ala.): "My husband and I actually had a fight after we got married because he went out and bought an Xbox before we got our wedding pictures. Well, I came down with a really bad cold and I was stuck on the couch. He stuck an Xbox controller in my hand. I was in the same spot, playing furiously, when he got home five hours later.
Yvonne Cameron, 51, Livonia: "My kids and I engage in puzzle-type games, as well as 'Smash Bros.,' as a way of winding down. I find them more likely to let me know what's on their minds or going on in their lives while we play together."
Patti Hogarty, 41, Center Line: "A couple times a year after a real stressful job is concluded, I hunker down with a good game for a couple weeks as a stress reliever. Then, I play about 6 hours a day or more."
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. "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% of all video game players, according to the 2005 survey by the Entertainment Software Association. That's up from 38% in a similar survey in 2003. Though women aren't quite yet the majority among game players, they're involved in 55% of all game-buying decisions, according to the association of the video game makers.
Local gamers say that women have come a long, long way.
"I have found that 90% of the women I play against/with are better than average players or downright awesome," said Lora Day, 40, of Melvindale, 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. "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.
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% to 11.5% 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."
The urge strikes
Lauren Taube, 15, of Brighton started playing young, and now she's captivated by gaming.
"Last year, I had to give a persuasive speech in my English class," she said. "Can you guess what I did it on? Yeah, that's right: video games."
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. "They play just as hard, talk just as much trash and get just as ticked when they loose. 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 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. Eventually, I just dropped the pretense, and now I complain loudly to the store clerk about how often game release dates are set back