Christa Phillips plays like a girl. And she totally agrees with that.
Known online as TriXie, Phillips serves as a goodwill ambassador for Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Live online gaming service. Her online group, GamerchiX, functions as a virtual Grand Central terminal for women and girls entering the testosterone-rich world of console gaming.
American society has evolved since the advancement of women’s rights in the 1960s. But the video game world is largely stuck in a time lag with its frat house culture of sexual abuse and reprimand.
“For some women, the minute they open their mouths, they’re getting insulted or hit or both,” Phillips said.
The hostile climate has kept many women away from online gaming, she said. Microsoft says it doesn’t track the gender of its players, but Phillips estimates that 10-20% of Xbox Live’s 7 million gamers are women. The service allows players to connect to a network of players via the Internet to find opponents and teammates, and to chat using instant messaging or headsets.
Making women feel more comfortable is good for business: Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., Is trying to grow its audience and expand its reach in the market.
“Microsoft wants to have the mass market console,” said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities. “To get there, they need women.
Phillips, 38, has been running GamerchiX since June 2006. She was inspired by PMS Clan, an online group of competitive female players. Many of them compete internationally for cash prizes.
“I’ve heard it all,” said Amber Dalton, who founded PMS Clan. “They tell you to go to the kitchen and get them a sandwich. Or they ask you if you are hot. You can also be targeted just for being a girl. They all start shooting at you the second they find out you’re a girl.
Phillips said the group was “great for empowering women,” but she felt Xbox Live needed a group that made life online for pros and newcomers alike.
“I wanted to create a safe place for all the players,” she said. “It’s a place you can go to socialize and not have to worry about being harassed or hit. “
Phillips did not come to the gaming industry to start a feminist revolution.
She began her career in 1995 as a part-time editor for game developer Sierra Entertainment’s in-house magazine. When offered her a full-time writing job, Phillips left community college to write for the company’s marketing department, writing lines such as “CyberGladiators: Warriors Reborn as Hardware from Hell!”
Microsoft hired her in 2002 to write manuals for Xbox products. She also wrote articles for the Xbox website and began to raise awareness in the community, writing a blog and posting interviews with Xbox gamers. After the launch of Xbox Live, she came up with the idea of creating an online character named TriXie.
“The name is a bit mean, but playful,” Phillips said. “We knew our audience.
TriXie has become the female face of Microsoft in the video game world. She reported on the events of the game, answered player questions and chatted with players online.
Thanks to GamerchiX, the sassy mother of two has become part camp counselor, part sorority sister, and part den mother.
On Wednesday night, while playing on Xbox Live, Phillips messaged a GamerchiX member who had been harassed by derogatory emails. TriXie gave an order for the male abuser to be kicked out of the ward.
“You can’t harass my daughters,” she said.
It’s not just male aggression that Phillips is watching out for. Sometimes the meanness comes from other women. GamerchiX members must agree to a code of conduct which it calls a “manifesto”.
“You can never talk about bashing other women,” Phillips said. “Some girls make their eyes bleed, they’re so mean. Girl cat fighting stuff makes us all fall apart. But these girls are the exception. Most of them are incredibly encouraging and cool.
The players have formed several all-female organizations. UbiSoft Entertainment sponsors Frag Dolls, a group of nine women aged 20 to 32 who play professionally. PMS Clan has 750 members.
Those who band together say they are looking for the support of a larger entity. “When you’re a minority it can be intimidating and frustrating,” Dalton said. “Having a unit that you can network with is a stimulating experience. “
This desire to bond is natural, said Louann Brizendine, director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at UC San Francisco and author of “The Female Brain.”
“The only question I always get from boys is why girls always go to the bathroom together,” Brizendine said. “They do it because it’s a safe and secure place where they can exchange information.
“It’s the only place the boys can’t follow them,” she says. “Microsoft is making the Xbox version of the girls’ bathroom.”
This does not mean that women are not competitive. Dalton quit a finance job in San Antonio that was paying $ 150,000 a year to launch her competitive gaming career. She is ranked among the top 10 players in a boxing game called “Fight Night”. She also plays “Gears of War”, a brutal shooter.
“Girls can play just as well as guys,” said Morgan Romine, captain of the Frag Dolls. “But there are subtle differences. We tend to communicate better on strategy, which is essential when playing as a team. Male players have a little more ego. Girls are more willing to cooperate.
Romine, who is starting a doctoral program in anthropology in video game culture this fall at UC Irvine, postulates that girls are estranged from video games from a young age.
“Games are not considered very cool for girls,” she said. “They just prefer to go out with their friends. I know I did. But I also liked to play games. So when online games first appeared, it was like having the best of both worlds. I could play games and be social.
Phillips hopes more women will make this discovery. And she expects that as the ratio becomes more even, the tone of online gaming will become more civilized.
“This is going to change as more and more women start playing,” Phillips said. “But it’s going to be slow.”
(START OF INFOBOX TEXT)
Who: Christa Phillips, aka TriXie
TITLE: Community Editor, Microsoft Corp.
Role: Goodwill Ambassador for Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming platform. Phillips, called TriXie, started GamerchiX, an online group for female gamers with over 3,100 members.
Education: Two years at Bellevue Community College
Hobbies: Riding a mechanical bull, drinking tequila and supporting a popular foundation of female players.
Personal: Has a 15 year old son, Scott, and an 11 year old daughter, Callahan.
Hero: F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I named my son in his honor,” she said.
Favorite game: Zuma, a puzzle game
Favorite movie: “Goodfellas”