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Title: Fighting like a girl
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like a girl
Leah Bender is a gaming geek. And she doesn't care who knows it.
“I was the girl in middle school who was reading ‘Star Wars' novels,” the 21-year-old Atlantic City resident said. “I don't spend all of my time fighting dragons, but it's a major hobby.”
Bender is a member of the small, yet growing, group of females that is infiltrating the male-dominated world of gaming.
Role-playing games are steeped in fantasy and science fiction, and let players transform themselves into mythical characters and go on quests through alternate universes — both online and on a tangible game board. They are traditionally favored by guys for the competition, the strategy and — let's be honest — the chance to hit things with swords.
“In the past a lot of games that have been successful have a combination of things that appeal to the male psyche. It's all about me beating you up,” said Elaine Chase, senior brand manager of Magic: The Gathering, a division of Wizards of the Coast, the company that markets “Dungeons and Dragons.” “I find it's true that girls like more cooperative game play than competitive game play.”
Chase, who has been working with Wizards of the Coast for eight years, has seen an increase in the number of girls attending gaming tournaments and conventions and purchasing the games. The shift has even prompted Wizards of the Coast associate brand manager Shelly Mazzanoble to write a gaming handbook titled “Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D & D Game.” The book will be released in September.
“I think it has a lot to do with gaming being a lot more accessible, whether you're male or female,” Chase said. “There are things like Nintendo Wii that are more about social interaction than beat 'em down, shoot 'em up games.”
Bender never really got into what she calls “pen and paper” gaming — otherwise known as table games — but about two years ago she decided to logon and check out her boyfriend's new computer role-playing game, “World of Warcraft.” She was instantly hooked.
“I ended up playing for seven hours that day,” Bender said. “Now I'll logon to “World of Warcraft” and, if I had a rough day, I'll go out and kill trolls or something.”
Bender's favorite character is Lanza, a Level 62 dwarf hunter. While her character is female, Bender says most of her opponents think that she's a guy.
“There are a lot of guys who will (create) a female character,” Bender said. “Because they realize that they'll be looking at the backside of a character for the next 70 levels, so they want to look at one that's pretty.”
Bender attributes her love of fantasy and gaming to her personality and a need to sometimes live in an alternate universe.
“The fantasy world engrossed me all the time (when I was younger),” Bender said. “I was socially awkward, I was a weird kid. It provided an escape and still does to this day.”
But it's not just the awkward girls that choose to get lost in gaming. Sometimes, it's the cheerleaders.
“I was probably the only girl I knew who was captain of the cheerleading squad and president of the chess club,” Chase said. “I went to a chess tournament once wearing my cheerleading varsity jacket and a guy actually said ‘Oh a cheerleader, that should be easy.'” She beat him easily.
“That was really satisfying,” Chase said.
Chase began playing the Magic card game in 1994 and soon was playing on a pro tour circuit. She was good, and she was accepted by the group, but there were still days where she felt like just another cheerleader in her varsity jacket.
“I beat a guy once and he was like ‘Oh, does she do dishes too?',” Chase recalled. “Now it really isn't a surprise to see girls out there. Young girls are growing up playing and it's part of who they are and what they do when they hang out with their friends.”
Many girl gamers say they're attracted to the creativity and the strategy involved in gaming.
Natalie Niziolek, 22, of Little Egg Harbor Township, is attracted to the creativity and strategy of gaming. When she's running her weekly “Dungeons and Dragons” game at Jester's Playhouse in Northfield, she prefers to see the players think and be creative instead of just trying to kill each other.
“I try to be a little more forgiving,” Niziolek said. “I'm not just going to kill their characters. I want them to think strategically.”
Niziolek's fiancee, Will Schneller — another Jester's employee — got her involved with gaming six years ago. As first, she sat in on the games and watched as Schneller and his friends created characters and battled each other in fantasy worlds. Eventually, she got tired of just watching.
“One day Will asked me if I wanted to make a character, and I said sure,” Niziolek said. “By that time I was just one of the guys, so it wasn't weird at all.”
Niziolek, who now works in a law library, spent the summer of 2005 working at Jester's and has been running a weekly “Dungeons and Dragons” game for about six months.
“I think it took a while for guys to get used to me, especially the guys who came in the store all the time,” Niziolek said. “But I just tried to be as friendly as I could and eventually they got used to me.”
Niziolek is content to be just one of the group when she's gaming. And while she knows that she's rare in the gaming world, she doesn't like to draw attention to it.
“I don't want people to be like, ‘Oh what's that girl doing here?',” Niziolek said. “I want them to be just like ‘Oh, Natalie's here.'“
To e-mail Courtney McCann at The Press:
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