Christa Phillips plays like a girl. And she’s totally okay with that.
Known online as TriXie, Phillips is a goodwill ambassador for Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Live online gaming service. His online group, GamerchiX, functions as a virtual Grand Central Terminal for women and girls entering the testosterone-soaked world of console gaming.
American society has evolved since the advance of women’s rights in the 1960s. But the video game world has largely been stuck in a time warp with its brotherly culture of sexual insults and denigration.
“For some women, the minute they open their mouth, they get talked into or punched or both,” Phillips said.
The hostile climate has kept many women away from online games, 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 female. 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 business: Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is trying to grow its audience and expand its market reach.
“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 gamers. Many of them compete internationally for prize money.
“I heard it all,” said Amber Dalton, who founded PMS Clan. “They tell you to go to the kitchen and bring them a sandwich. Or they ask you if you’re hot. You can also be targeted just because you are a girl. They all start shooting at you the second they find out you’re a girl.
Phillips said the group was “awesome for female empowerment,” but she thought Xbox Live needed a group that made life easier online for pros and newcomers alike.
“I wanted to create a safe place for all female players,” she said. “It’s a place where you can go socialize and not have to worry about being harassed or hit.”
Phillips didn’t come to the video game 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 a full-time writing job, Phillips left community college to write for the company’s marketing department, penning lines such as “CyberGladiators: Warriors Reborn as Hardware from Hell!”
Microsoft hired her in 2002 to write Xbox product manuals. She also wrote articles for the Xbox website and began raising community awareness, writing a blog, and posting interviews with Xbox gamers. After Xbox Live launched, she came up with the idea of creating an online character named TriXie.
“The name is a bit naughty, but playful,” Phillips said. “We knew our audience.
TriXie became the female face of Microsoft in the gaming world. She reported on in-game events, answered gamer questions, and chatted with gamers online.
Thanks to GamerchiX, the sassy mother of two has become part camp counselor, part sorority sister, and part den mother.
While playing on Xbox Live on Wednesday night, Phillips sent a message from a GamerchiX member who had been harassed with derogatory email messages. TriXie gave the order to remove the male assailant from the service.
“You can’t harass my daughters,” she said.
It’s not just male aggression that Phillips is monitoring. Sometimes badness comes from other women. GamerchiX members must agree to a code of conduct it calls a “manifesto.”
“You can never talk trash about other women,” Phillips said. “Some girls make your eyes bleed, they are so mean. Cat-fighting girl stuff brings us all down. But these girls are the exception. Most of them are incredibly supportive and cool.
The players have formed several all-female organizations. UbiSoft Entertainment sponsors Frag Dolls, a group of nine women between the ages of 20 and 32 who perform professionally. PMS Clan has 750 members.
Those who come together say they need the support of a larger entity. “When you’re a minority, it can be intimidating and frustrating,” Dalton said. “Having a unit there that you can network with is a rewarding 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 one 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 protected place where they can go to exchange information.
“It’s the only place the boys can’t follow them,” she said. “Microsoft creates the Xbox version of the girls’ bathroom.”
That’s not to say women aren’t competitive. Dalton quit a finance job in San Antonio that paid $150,000 a year to launch her career as a competitive game player. 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 Frag Dolls captain Morgan Romine. “But there are subtle differences. We tend to communicate strategy better, which is essential when playing as a team. Male players have a bit more ego. Girls are more willing to cooperate.
Romine, who is beginning a doctoral program in anthropology in video game culture this fall at UC Irvine, posits that girls are alienated from video games at an early age.
“Games aren’t considered very cool among girls,” she said. “They just prefer to hang out with their friends. I know I did. But I also liked to play games. So when online games came along, 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 equal, the tone of online gaming will become more civilized.
“That’s 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 Publisher, Microsoft Corp.
Role: A goodwill ambassador for Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming platform. Phillips, who goes by online handle TriXie, started GamerchiX, an online group for female gamers that has more than 3,100 members.
Education: Two years at Bellevue Community College
Hobbies: Riding mechanical bulls, drinking tequila, and supporting a local female gamer foundation.
Personal: Has a 15 year old son, Scott, and an 11 year old daughter, Callahan.
Hero: F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I named my son after him,” she said.
Favorite game: Zuma, a puzzle game
Favorite movie: “Goodfellas”