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August 9, 2012

Geek girls unite around games, comics and a ‘Buffy’ sing-along

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Thu Aug 9, 2012 9:12pm IST

Aug 9 (Reuters) – Erica McGillivray grew tired of being
asked by comic book store employees if she was buying the latest
issue of “Batwoman” or “Birds of Prey” for her boyfriend.

So McGillivray, a 28-year-old “Star Trek” and comics fan,
joined a group that believed women like her needed a geeky
celebration to call their own.

McGillivray is now president of GeekGirlCon, the female
answer to the male-dominated Comic-Con pop culture conference.
The organization will hold its second convention this weekend.

The first GeekGirlCon in October 2011 drew numbers so large
that organizers had to turn people away. So for its second
convention the group found a bigger venue, trading seven rooms
of meeting space for a downtown Seattle conference center.

Some 7,000 attendees are expected over Saturday and Sunday
from throughout the United States and from as far away as
Australia — some dressed as Princess Leia, Wonder Woman or
other geek heroes and heroines.

Big companies are taking notice of women’s interest in all
things geek. Video game maker Electronic Arts signed up
to sponsor GeekGirlCon and will bring some of its titles,
including an NHL game with a female hockey player.

“Women have always been a part of geek culture,” said
McGillivray, who started watching “Star Trek: The Next
Generation” at age 3 with her mother. “We’ve just been in such
small numbers, or kind of pushed to the fringes, that we haven’t
really been seen before.”

BRING ON GIRL GAMERS

GeekGirlCon has emerged as the ranks of females among video
game players has risen to 47 percent, according to the
Entertainment Software Association.

Much of the female gaming increase comes from casual and
social games played on mobile phones and Facebook, said Jesse
Divnich, an analyst at video game research firm EEDAR. Female
buyers will help push the $50 billion worldwide market up 3
percent to 5 percent a year through 2015, Divnich estimates.

“The myth that video games are for teenage boys has been
proven wrong,” Divnich said. Manufacturers are taking steps to
understand women’s gaming habits and preferences, in some cases
adding female protagonists.

“It’s something all the major players in this industry are
striving for,” he said.

In the past two years, Geeknet’s online retailer
ThinkGeek, which generates $18 million in quarterly revenue, has
seen an upswing in purchases of items such as geek-themed
jewelry and women’s-sized T-shirts, according to PR manager
Steve Zimmerman.

Women buy more than men from the company’s website, although
it is unclear how many are purchasing for themselves or for
gifts. Sales of “Doctor Who” merchandise are about evenly split
between men and women, Zimmerman said.

COMICS TO CODING

Still, women and girls are often overlooked in geekdom, one
reason behind the creation of GeekGirlCon. Run by a 40-person,
all-volunteer staff, the organization and convention celebrates
and supports female geeks of all types.

The movement came together after the 2010 Comic-Con, when a
panel discussion called “Geek Girls Exist” attracted a
standing-room-only crowd.

The packed room inspired a group of women to start their own
conference for females who enjoy everything from The Hulk and
“Dungeons Dragons” to computer coding or rocket science.

The first GeekGirlCon drew 4,000 people over two days. This
year, guests will move among discussions on topics from robotics
to computer programming, and comic-book fashions to female
characters in “Star Wars”.

Jane Espenson, a writer and producer for sci-fi TV shows
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Once Upon a Time,” will speak
about her new Web series, “Husbands.” Comic book writer Gail
Simone will appear with the “Batgirl of San Diego,” a woman who
spoke out at last year’s Comic-Com – dressed as Batgirl – about
the lack of female representation in comics. Female scientists
from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory also will speak.

One panel, titled “Go Make Me a Sandwich,” will tackle a hot
topic: the hostility and harassment women face from some male
geeks. Anita Sarkeesian, who campaigned to raise money for a
project to explore female stereotypes in video games, will talk
about hateful comments and threats leveled at her online, and
how women rallied to her support.

On the lighter side, women at an evening entertainment
program will sing along to a musical episode of “Buffy the
Vampire Slayer.” A gaming floor will provide a chance to enter
tournaments or try out new titles.

WANTED: EVEN MORE INCLUSION

Electronic Arts is bringing its NHL game, which last year
added a female avatar option after a 14-year-old girl wrote a
letter complaining that it was “unfair” and “not fun” to be
represented by a male player on screen.

To help attract more women, EA acquired PopCap Games, maker
of social and casual games such as “Bejeweled” and “Plants vs.
Zombies” in a deal worth up to $1.3 billion.

Ginger Maseda works as EA’s diversity and inclusion manager,
a job created to help recruit women to the company and increase
the female appeal of games. Maseda, a gamer most of her life,
said sponsoring GeekGirlCon “makes sense for us, so we have a
chance to really relate and understand what (females) want to
see and what they want to play.”

McGillivray said that although progress has been slow, she
has seen more products geared toward women, an increase in
female protagonists and women creators behind the scenes.

One goal of the conference, McGillivray said, is to raise
awareness of how many passionate female geeks exist. S he hopes
that companies will start thinking: “Oops, we are missing half
our market or more. How can we capitalize on that?”

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