The women challenging the stereotype that professional online gaming is the realm of geeky men alone.
Anja Maller lives a double life. By day she is a 26-year-old single mother studying to be a journalist.
But when she gets in front of her computer, she becomes Vildkatten, the scourge of the online world of Counter-Strike.
Ms Maller is part of a growing breed of professional female gamers who are shaking up the traditional image of a gamer as a male geek who spends hours in a darkened bedroom, shooting anything in sight.
"I have played computer games since I was a kid," says Ms Maller, a member of the Danish clan, DoMe.
"It was inevitable that at some time I would run into Counter-Strike. I ran into it three-and-a-half years ago and I just got hooked straight away. It is just so much fun."
Tactics and concentration
Since its release in March 1999, Counter-Strike has become the most popular online shoot-'em-up of all time.
Its simple premise pits counter-terrorists vs terrorists, and it is played by tens of thousands of gamers across the world.
It is widely seen as something of a boy's game due to its violent nature. But Ms Maller says it's about much more than just running around with all guns blazing.
"At a professional level, you have a lot more aspects in the game than just shooting, like tactics, team spirit, concentration. There is a lot you have to focus on when you are playing at a competitive level."
Her clan was one of a handful of professional female teams talking part in last month's Cyber X Games in Las Vegas, competing for a slice of the $600,000 on offer in cash and prizes.
The imbalance between men and women was clear to see, with almost 50 male teams taking part, compared with just seven female squads. And as in the world of sport, there were separate competitions for each gender.
"It is good that we are having female competitions," says 24-year-old Louise Thomsen, another member of the DoMe clan, known online as Aurora.
"But it is two steps up and one step down as we are segregating males and females. It's saying that the girls aren't as good as the males."
Ms Thomsen was also introduced to computers at an early age. When she first came across Counter-Strike, she thought the game looked boring. After giving it a try, she was hooked.
"It's like reading a book," she says. "You can sit by yourself and entertain yourself. You are in a world of your own, in your own little world."
Gaming over the internet has proved so popular that there are professional teams, backed by corporate sponsors, who compete in international competitions for big prize pots.
But it's hard for female teams like DoMe to be taken seriously and attract the kind of backing that top male clans enjoy.
"The prize money is not the same," says Ms Maller of the Cyber X Games. "The guys look at our competition as a side event. But we take it seriously, hoping that it will become just as big as the event for the guys."
What women want
Part of the blame can be laid at the door of the games industry.
Traditionally, video games have been made by men for men, with many believing that women are only interested in role-playing, puzzles or adventure games.
Female gamers dispute this, saying that what makes a great game and what appeals to women is subjective.
"It is stupid to put female labels on games, it is better to appeal to the individual," says Ms Thomsen.
"But there are stereotypes. Counter-Strike is 99% male so females that do come into this world feel overpowered or that they are not welcomed. If people just opened their minds and didn't see us as being male or female, it would be much better."
Are you a female gamer? Do you feel a lack of respect because of your sex? Should women have separate competitions from the men? Here are a selection of your comments:
I have been playing counter strike for years, and one day my girlfriend decided that one way to battle me was online. I have to say after a while she was getting very good and even challenged some of the best experienced players of Counter Strike. I don't agree with splitting into sexes, there's no need. Females tend to have the upper edge to males in that they are willing to think it through more than us male natives. The only other problem is that only about 5% of the players are female.
Stig, Manchester, UK
I can't see why anyone would care of the sex an opponent has when playing online, I play my girlfriend in some games on the game cube and she loves it, she isn't as good because she doesn't play as often as me but given practice she would be just as good as me, cause really what difference does it make that she's female?
Ben, Belfast, NI
Don't know what's the big deal about this. I have been surprised many times in the past by very capable women playing Counter Strike and other games that I never assume anyone I am playing with is male.
Siju Van, Los Angeles, USA
If girls/women wish to play games then I'm all for it. I welcome the extra competition! It is a shame that some male gamers give them a hard time, but i would like to think most of us gamers would give them a positive reception!
I think it is brilliant that women are joining the gaming males masses and would like to see even more. All you need is good hand, eye co-ordination and a brain which all women possess. I have a teenage daughter and my friends and I often have to call on her for help when figuring things out. When it comes to gaming there are no gender barriers, size doesn't matter, skill does. So women if you want to buy your computer, or console to go gaming do so, we men don't rule everything techo. (ask a man to figure out a washing machine, that's a challenge, I still haven't myself)
Colin Allison , London
I have been playing CS for about 18 months - the only girl in a mixed clan. I have to say I find it very hard to compete against the lads. For them it seems to be second nature - perhaps us girls lack that killer instinct gene? What I find hard to accept is that there are no female skins available for Ts or CTs - you have to play as a man even if you aren't.
Chike aka [vod]Chef, Berkshire, UK
I have been a female computer gamer and a role player for many years now. In fact I started playing RPG's when I was 8 with my dad. I have always found that once people know you are a girl you will be shot!! Boys can't help themselves, they have to shoot you. Only IF they find out though, if you dress like a boy and mask your voice you can get away with it and be treated like one of the lads. If you are a kid you will be shot too, I find my daughters suffer exactly the same fate as me once they are found out. Come on lads why do you do it ??
Sharon Craft, Peterborough UK
The very idea that woman "aren't welcome" in on-line gaming contests is just total madness, it really is. It's my belief that non-contact sports should allow men to compete against woman. Tennis being an example along with snooker / pool, computer gaming, any automotive sport .. there's quite a list once you start to think about it. I have to wonder why guys wouldn't want to play against a woman. Is it the fear of loosing to a woman? If I was a woman, I wouldn't know whether to take that as an insult or a compliment...
Wayne Smallman, England (UK)
It's because they're girls. Boy love computer games. Boys read about computer games (the majority), boys are also interested in girls. Girls sell the game. They get sponsorship easily. They get the media attention. That's just the way that it is. That's fine. Segregation in computer games, i.e. separate male and female leagues, affirms sexism. It's pathetic to think that they'd rather be the biggest fish in a smaller pond, then try to go for the real glory.... why is this newsworthy? I've been a gamer for many years, and it's only recently I've seen the new generation of girl gamers being sexist in not wishing to compete with the men/boys, while at the same time shouting bigot and other such words at anyone who utters contempt that they won't compete against proper teams and players.
Ep1taph, London, UK
Umm.. Forgive me if I'm wrong but wasn't it the women's teams who requested to separate the different sexes in competition. I believe the reason they quoted was that they couldn't compete with their male counterparts, who had a larger base to select players and faced more intense competition on a day to day basis. I believe the prize money should reflect the level of competition in the event, which is much greater in the men's competition. Ideally it shouldn't be segregated as there is no reason why women can't compete with men. It only requires practice after all...
I think it is good that we are finally being accepted in a male orientated world of gaming. We can compete against the boys and often beat them as well! As a women gamer it can be quite hostel some times but the beauty of online games is the attraction of no one knows what sex we are. Go girls......
Ms Chirag Valand, London
I'm 31 and I've been gaming since I was 10. I enjoy racing games, sports sims and strategy games. I think the biggest problem I've encountered is from "boys" and mainly young men who don't seem to be aware that gaming is universal and not for their consumption alone. I usually encounter some disbelief when I walk into my local games store that I actually know what I'm talking about when discussing the latest releases. I can't see a reason why men and women need to have separate competitions - gaming is about intelligence and hand-eye co-ordination as opposed to brute strength.
Catherine H, Letchworth, UK
The most fundamental advantage of technology is it's ability to put everyone on a level playing field where no matter what nationality, build, sex, religion or ability you are all equal. To then have segregation put back in, especially to gaming, defeats the whole point. It reeks of cowardice and sexism.
Michael Randall, Burgess Hill, West Sussex
I'm not a female gamer... but I can't see why there should be separate games for different sexes in this arena. Where there is a physical element: eg. running, javelin, weight-lifting, we make a sexual distinction, but we would not expect such distinction for "The Weakest Link", Mastermind or the world Scrabble championship. Is there a distinction in Chess? Why is there a distinction in Snooker and Darts? Computer games should be an area where the sex of a player makes no difference.
Rod Main, Newhaven UK
It's daft to suggest that online gaming tournaments are segregated between the sexes. When you play online you've normally got no idea of the sex or race of the people you're playing against so I don't see why there should be division when in a tournament. In my time playing CS I didn't see much in the way of disrespect towards female gamers - only newbs of any sex who didn't know what they were doing!
Darren Wadland, Chelmsford, UK
Most of the guys I know don't have a problem with girls playing games, but as ever, it's the ones you don't know who cause problems. The most off-putting thing I've experienced on XBox Live is the number of men who say "Oh... you're a girl" when they hear me talk, because I know the person who said that no longer sees me as a competent opponent or team-mate. Whatever I do from then on is either because I'm a girl, or in spite of me being a girl. Grow up boys!
Once again we see the females moaning about something that men enjoy, and because men enjoy it the girls have to now try and say they are better. Men are generally more interested in computer games hence they play them from quite an early age and get quite good at them. Why in this equal world we live can the female gamers not just for once accept that men are actually good at something. You will always have individual females who are good at playing games but the huge number of very skilful and tactical males are often overlooked for a quick routine feminist jab at something that they are doing no harm enjoying. If females want to play games its striking at the men - girl power and all that. If males want to play games then they are nerds and they are inferior in some way. The magazines that print how good the females are doing against the men rarely print how good the men are against the women.
I think it's wonderful that these women are able to find time to devote to becoming so proficient at this game & I am encouraged to see women being represented in this field. Personally, by the time I have been to work, done some housework, eaten dinner with and spent some quality time with my husband & spent time on my other interests/caught up with friends I've only got time for a quick game of patience. I did play The Sims for a whole day once but spent the rest of the week trying to catch up on my own life.
Ellen, Surrey, UK
Most of us don't give two hoots what sex you are, we play to win and being female doesn't give you a better chance of winning or losing. The beauty of playing games online is that you do it in the comfort of your own home while playing people half way round the globe. Just because a large percentage of gamers are male doesn't mean the females can't take part. Most of the female gamers I know are a really good laugh but please don't throw it in our faces.
Tim Robertson, Lincolnshire
I don't feel any lack of respect by being female in the MMORPGs I play, but I have been treated like a dumb girl in some of the first person shooter games. Most men don't like to think a girl has beaten them. Normally when playing I don't enter a game and say hi I'm a girl, I just play letting my style and ability speak for me it isn't important that I'm either male or female. The games industry has to remember that not all their players are blokes and some of us women also play RPG pen and paper games, eat pizza, drink beer and like to play violent and exciting computer games. We are no different from the men when it comes to gaming we can play as hard and as long as any man. We shouldn't be separated but integrated.
Vanella Mead, Southampton UK
There is NO good reason to segregate women gamers from the men...I've played many women gamers, and find them as deadly, dedicated as any other gender.. :)))
Filekutter, Murfreesboro, TN, USA
I've been a girl gamer for many years now and think that one of the great things about gaming is the loss of gender barriers. In playing multiplayer games online, or tournament games such as CounterStrike or UT, it doesn't matter whether you're female or male as long as you can play. Obviously when your opponents realise they've been beaten by "a girl" things can get nasty and I've had a few comments thrown my way that I wouldn't want my mother to hear. Should women have separate competitions? Of course not. Is it right that they receive less prize money? Well, following on from the idea of mixed tournaments - which do exist! - then the prize money is the same. It's just the best players that win. Let's not put in artificial gender barriers where there are none. Once gaming in general receives more respect from the world at large, then more girls will be attracted to it as a hobby and profession, and it'll be a self-perpetuating upward spiral.
Jennifer, Cambridge, UK
Why do they bother having women only events for internet gaming? Within sport, I can see the reasoning for sexual segregation - women simply are not as big, fast or strong as men. Thus there needs to be a separate contest for men and women in order to keep a level playing field. Last time I checked the x and y chromosomes were not linked to reflexes, hand - eye coordination, and visual acuity. Men are not going to be able to use any of these physical attributes to gain an advantage. As their advantages are thrown out of the window, so too goes the reasoning for segregated gaming. As for women feeling that men make them feel unwelcome in the world of CounterStrike - history is just full of instances where the dominant group in a field has made it perfectly clear what they think of any 'New Kids on the Block'. You just have to try that little bit harder.
Sithu Thein, UK
As a female gamer myself, I have to say I disagree strongly with the idea of male and female competitions. The fact that people feel they should be categorised by gender obviously shows that somewhere along the line they feel that they can't compete at the same level. Of course I'm pleased that female gaming is becoming as popular as it is. It is a sport we can compete fairly on, as it all comes down to mental agility rather than physical strength. But unfortunately the standard of most female players still isn't quite up to the same standard as their male counterparts.
Because of this, being the top clan of a female league is often seen as being the best of a bad bunch, rather than a fair fight. That's not to say that there isn't some brilliant girl gamers out there, gamers who could win any match regardless of who they were playing, male or female but then again, there aren't many male players about who are gracious after being beaten at a game by a female.
As director of the national gaming team I find it odd that no female gamers compete at that level in the UK. The team is entirely male in both Counter-Strike and Warcraft III. The Cyber X Games as mentioned were very keen to have a female tournament which they received sponsorship from Microsoft for and this is great as it helps to raise the level of female play. Sadly the tournament as with many others at CXG did not go ahead.
I do feel however that this is one sport where females are able to compete with males on level terms and it's frustrating to see female only squads. There are some notable exceptions such as Queen who plays for world renowned CS team A-Laget and i hope there will be more in future.
Phillip Midwinter, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
I know a few female gamers and on the whole they range from competent to "damn I wish I was that good", just like any male gamer I'd play against. There is a stigma some men still feel about being beaten by a 'girl', regardless of whether the girl is a 12 year-old starting secondary school or a 32 year-old wife and mother of two.
Because of the levelling of the playing field in a computer game, no weight, height, reach, or conditioning advantages, it's a field where men and women can play together as equals. Women don't exactly have lesser abilities to control a computer mouse do they. The only problem I've seen in years of gaming online is simply male attitudes towards the women they encounter. That's the only hindering factor here.
Dave from Kidderminster is a out of line in the way that no one ever said that females were doing this as a stunt against men's repression or anything. It's does not deserve such strong words as it is a non-issue in my opinion. Gender segregation should not be tolerated in competitions and indeed it should be aimed at the individual, not the gender.
Caz aka irreveRANT, Melbourne, Australia
I have been playing CS for about three years and nobody has disrespected me of my sex ever. Women shouldn't have separate competitions from men because with a little practice, women can be better than men at certain games. Both sexes should receive the same amount of money as the male and if a women wins first prize in a game, that woman should be known for her courage.
Triga H Veedee, USA
I think computing is one of the most sexist areas of recreation. This is weird, since in a virtual world, there really is no gender bias. Why should male gamers give female gamers a hard time. If I met a girl who played CS, I'd think it was really cool. Bring em on! :)
Mahangu Weerasinghe, Colombo, Sri Lanka
To think we are still in this age where we are even talking about separating men and women and girls and boys is foolish. Women can compete with the guys. My friend sits across from me every night on my home LAN playing Quake World with me and she holds her own well. I see no reason to divide sexes when some women have more intelligence and hand-eye co-ordination than some men. I say bring it on females, I am always up for a good challenge! And what a challenge some are.
darkfool, Florence, AL
I am competent enough in my skills to take on any type of challenge that is awaiting me. If I lose, well I have much to learn. If I win, well good I am getting somewhere. I must admit though that I still get constant ridicule on how I am either a cheater or that I am a man. I guess that is what happens when a person can't believe that they have just been beaten by a "chick". I can't even believe that the suggestion that game play should be separated between the sexes even exists. As far as prize money, well I never knew that women received less money then men. Every game that I have ever competed in, I have always received the same type of compensation as the men. Well there you have it. I'll cya in Halo you computer nerds! I am always awaiting new victims.
Erica S aka Goddess, Chicago, Illinois USA