Cyber-Amazons in a Death Match Sans Testosterone
by Rebecca Fairley Raney
BURBANK, Calif. — Kornelia Takacs peered past the top of the rocket launcher, speeding through tight tunnels, always staying on top. She had the red armor — the ultimate defense. Her opponent was on the run.
Soon the computer sent the good news: “Match ends in eight minutes. You got the rockets.”
Definitely good news. Kornelia was playing Death Match 4 level for the championship in the first All Female Tournament in the game of Quake, which is played over the Internet by an estimated 70,000 hardcore competitors worldwide.
Ten women from as far away as Canada, Hawaii and New Jersey converged on a high-tech gaming center here on Saturday to participate in a tournament that originated largely because men were acting like jerks.
Clearly, some male Quake players have a problem with women who have a way with rocket launchers. In fact, the organizer of the event, an Internet consultant in Los Angeles, says she has been so harassed that she gives her name only as Anna. Since the tournament started, she says, she’s been threatened and mail-bombed at the rate of 600 e-mails a day. The harassers send her sick pictures. They threaten to track her down.
“There’s a group of male players who want to keep it a boys’ club,” Anna said. “The percentage of women in gaming is so small.”
Anna, who plays under the handle NabeO and strikes a strong image in leather jacket and long black hair past her waist, wanted to encourage more women to play, so she sought sponsors for a female tournament.
She found one in Slam Site, a virtual arcade and comics store in a Burbank mall. A far cry from your stereotypical pinball hall, Slam Site is sleek, its gaming room black lighted, with wall-to-wall PCs, smoked glass and neon. Total Entertainment Network and id software, the maker of Quake, also helped sponsor the event.
Frank Westall, Slam Site’s chief executive, says he likes the style of female players and is more than willing to encourage them.
“When girls play Quake, a lot of them don’t let players know they’re women,” Westall said. “They wanted a community where they could play. For men, it was constant bragging and egos and excuses why they lost. The women just wanted to play the game.”
The tournament drew more than two dozen fans, most of them serious players, all of them, curiously, men. They watched the matches from the walkway of the mall, on Slam Site monitors pointed at passers-by. They cheered and shouted encouragement (“Kill faster!”) as the Saturday mall crowd of skateboarders, the stroller brigade and fashionable women wearing combat boots streamed by.
Even Dennis Fong, a.k.a. Thresh, the champion who took home a Ferrari in a Quake tournament earlier this year, arrived from Northern California to show his support. He and most of the other Quake fans were respectful of the female competitors.
One observer, Charles Armijo (Jarlaxele), said: “Basically, I just wanted to see how the enemy plays. These girls are incredible.”
Others were more skeptical. Dayvid Iannaci (Da5id), insisted that none of the women in the match could compete with the highest level of male players.
The were no Ferraris to be taken home on Saturday; in addition to all-expenses-paid trips to Southern California, winners of this tournament received PCs, trophies and gift baskets. But Westall announced that in next year’s All Female Tournament, the company would give away $100,000 in cash and prizes.
For Lorie Kmiec, who came from Toronto, the trip to California was enough. It was the first time the 23-year-old warehouse administrator had been on a plane, ridden in a limousine or seen palm trees and ocean. Never mind that she lost.
Kmiec was stunned when she saw her competitors unpacking their own keyboards, mouse pads and mice. But the store accommodated her own request: Instead of a stool, she needed to play in a chair with back support.
She likes playing women, she says, because they play the game for different reasons than men do.
“It’s violent, yes, but that’s not the point,” Kmiec said. “The point is to see who knows the map, who knows where the secrets are.” Her boyfriend plays much differently, she said. “He’s out to kill. It’s not that he doesn’t have skill, but that’s his main objective.”
Her game handle is Temperance — drawn from tarot readings in which the card of balance kept coming up — so male players often can’t tell she’s a woman. But if they find out, she says, the game changes.
“Once you kill them and they drop out of the game, they’ll come back and say, ‘Oh, my server disconnected,’ ” Kmiec said. “Women will say, ‘Good shot.’ Men are too busy with their pride. They take the game very seriously. If you beat them, it hurts.”
Of course, some female Quake players are developing an attitude, too. Stevie Case (Killcreek) got hers after playing one of the game’s designers. When she lost, the designer put up a Web site announcing that women weren’t cut out for Death Match. So Case, a 20-year-old University of Kansas student-turned-professional-Quake-player, did something very unladylike: She challenged him. Even worse, she beat him.
She was the favored contestant on Saturday, but Kornelia Takacs beat her in the last round.
Takacs, 20, who uses Kornelia as her game handle, moved to Los Angeles from Hungary, and, like Case, now plays Quake for a living under sponsorship. She plays at least 15 hours a week, and doesn’t think much about the flak from men.
“Normally these guys are nasty to everybody,” she said, “not just girls.”