DALLAS (CNN/Money) -
It wasn't too long ago that women were a rare sight at QuakeCon. The typical attendee pretty much matched the stereotype of an action gaming fan: Male and in his late-teens or early 20s.
Women who did attend the fan convention for developer id Software's games (such as "Quake" and "Doom") were mostly patient girlfriends, often encouraged to come along so their lesser halves would have demonstrative proof of their smooth social skills.
"Some of these guys would say 'Hey I've got a hot girlfriend! I'm taking her to QuakeCon!'," recalls Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software. "Bad idea, dude. You just brought her into the biggest buyers' market in the nation!"
The demographics of QuakeCon have changed over the last few years, though. Women are still in the minority, but they're showing up to play now – and they're getting more respect.
You really needn't look much further than the Ms. QuakeCon tournament for proof. The first holder of this title, it's safe to say, probably wasn't too thrilled about it. Hormone-fueled teens snapped pictures of every woman they saw at the show (and several in the vicinity who just caught their eye) and held an involuntary beauty contest online.
Last year, a collection of female gamers decided to do something about it. Amongst themselves, they organized an ad hoc women's-only tournament, allowing girls and women to compete for minimal cash and prizes. To emphasize their point that shooters aren't just for boys, they commandeered the Ms. QuakeCon name. Roughly 30 women showed up to play.
The number was slightly higher this year – and the prizes were a little better. A 14-year old cheerleader who uses the nickname "Suga" walked away with $150, a top-of-the-line nVidia graphics card and AMD processor and a copy of "Doom 3" autographed by the id Software team.
|Some of the 2004 Ms QuakeCon contestants are interviewed by Inside the Game (Internet) radio
Next year's winner will likely collect several thousand dollars – as id has decided to make Ms. QuakeCon an official part of the event.
"The ultimate goal of the sponsors and the QuakeCon staff is to grow the things that our fans enjoy," said Marty Stratton, id's director of business development. "And it has become very apparent this year that they enjoy the Ms. QuakeCon tournament."
Watching women play a competitive game of Quake is a bit different than watching men. The action is just as fierce, but losses aren't taken personally. And instead of insults being hurled through the in-game messaging system, you see a lot of smiley faces.
"We know what it's like to be in the minority, so we don't snub each other," said Kira Diehl, who competes under the nickname Kata_Jade. "We realize it's just a game. A lot of guys don't."
Guys lose their edge
While women have long been welcome to compete in the official QuakeCon tournaments, where winners receive up to $50,000, male players tend to have the advantage there, as they've been playing competitively for years. And while more and more women are joining online deathmatches, killing – or "fragging" to use the enthusiast term – their opponents, they still encounter resentment and occasionally harassment from some male players.
More gaming news and commentary? Click Mario Morris.
There's no immunity to that here either. When playing recreational games in QuakeCon's bring-your-own-computer area, female players who begin winning sometimes find themselves booted off the server by their male competitors with fragile egos.
It's those sort of sexist reactions that led organizers to allow only women in their tournament.
"You don't have to worry about someone getting upset because they got beat by a girl," said third-place finisher Keri Collier, aka "beta".
Thirty-nine percent of the people playing games in the United States are women, according to the Entertainment Software Association, making them significant contributors to the $10 billion industry. Most tend to gravitate towards online card and puzzle games or relatively passive games, such as Electronic Arts' (ERTS: Research, Estimates) "The Sims" or PopCap Games' "Bookworm". (My wife, for instance - who enjoys an occasional game of "Quake III" - easily logs eight hours of "Bookworm" in any given week.)
Generally, though, the violent nature of titles like "Quake" and "Doom" tend to lessen those games' appeal among the demographic.
Most of the Ms. QuakeCon contestants I spoke with said brothers or boyfriends initially introduced them to the first person shooter genre. Now, though, they find themselves encouraging girlfriends to play.
"It's like they're afraid of the games, but once they pick them up, they love 'em," said Jody "CaliGirl" Robinson, event director for this year's tournament.
The appeal in competitive gaming, say the Ms. QuakeCon entrants, lies in the ability to play on a completely even field.
"We do it for the competition," said Diehl. "We've finally found a venue where we can play and don't have to be bigger, stronger or taller."
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.