As heard last week on Episode 51 of the PALGN Podcast PALGN recently spoke to Ashley Jenkins, the Digital Site Manager for Xbox in Australia and New Zealand, and formerly 'Jinx' from the Frag Dolls.
We talked about the beginnings of the Frag Dolls and what it was like being a member, stereotypes in gaming and what it's like being a female gaming journalist in a male dominated industry.
Unfortunately though, we didn't have a chance to find out if she had any connection to Leeroy Jenkins ...
In case you couldn't listen to Episode 51 of the PALGN Podcast, here is a full transcript of the interview.
PALGN: Joining us this week is Ashley Jenkins, Digital Site Manager for Xbox in the ANZ region and ex-Frag Doll. Now Ashley, the Frag Dolls, I find them really fascinating - first of all, thanks for actually joining us this week - do you want to give us a quick overview of exactly who the Frag Dolls are and I guess what you're doing now, now that you moved over to Australia?
Ashley Jenkins: Yeah, yeah sure. So what the Frag Dolls are is a team of ... it's an all-female team of gamers who compete on the professional circuits - on Xbox 360 - and also do a lot of education about women and gaming. I travel to a lot of events and try and get the word about female gamers out there to those who think that girls don't game.
PALGN: It's a fascinating one because girls I think, from memory the statistics, it's a pretty even fifty-fifty split depending on how you define gaming. I think there's a lot of focus on trying to get girls into the more ... I guess to try and make more of an acknowledgement that there are more hardcore girl gamers, is that a fair comment? Is that why the Frag Dolls were set up?
AJ: Yeah, absolutely. There's a study that just recently came out that showed that forty-six percent of gamers in Australia are female and of course if you're talking about the really hardcore games, a lot of the more violent shooters, the really complex stuff, you're going to see that percentage go down because not all women play the same kinds of games like guys do. But for sure if you're talking about simple things, Tetris, Solitaire - which by the way even I'm an addict of [laughs] - then there's a lot of women who play games, they just don't necessarily identify themselves as gamers.
PALGN: Yeah well at the end of the day I think everyone's a gamer. You know, I remember as a kid, I remember spending hours and hours playing solitaire with cards and it's just something you do but you don't necessarily think of yourself as being a gamer when you do it, it's just something that's kind of fun.
AJ: Right, similar to not everybody who listens to music identifies themselves as an audiophile.
PALGN: Hmm [laughs], that's a separate pet topic of mine but we should probably stay away from that one.
AJ: [Laughs] Okay ...
PALGN: So you've moved over to Australia now, what are you doing over here?
AJ: Yes, so I actually just moved over in September. I got a really fantastic job with Xbox here. I'm the Digital Site Manager and what that means is I manage Xbox.com for Australia and New Zealand and I'm also in charge of the programming for the new Xbox experience which is coming out later this month.
PALGN: Yeah I'm waiting with bated breath, I hate to say it but I've already had Fable 2 crash on me twice because my drive is dying so ...
AJ: Ah-oh ...
PALGN: I am hanging out [laughs] to being able to install it. So let's take a step back. Why were the Frag Dolls originally set-up because there's been, from my perspective there was quite a bit of ... I don't know if I'd go so far as saying controversy, but quite a bit of disagreement about whether it was a good thing or a bad thing overall, and we'll probably come back to that, but what was Ubisoft trying to do when they set-up the Frag Dolls?
AJ: I guess you could say the original Frag Doll - her name is Morgan Romine, she goes by Rhoulette - she was working for Ubisoft as an Online Marketing Manager. Part of what she did was getting feedback from gamers, going around in the game talking to people about what they liked, didn't like, about some of the games that they were playing and found that there were a lot of guys were sort of shocked in awe that girls would play games. Turns out that there were quite a few of us who felt the same, we were a little bit bothered when we would go into EB Games and pick up a game and everyone would assume it was for our boyfriend and decided to do something about that ...
PALGN: [Laughs] Stereotyping's great isn't it?
PALGN: Stereotyping's great, isn't it?
AJ: Oh yeah, it's fabulous, I can't tell you how much I enjoy it [laughs]. So a lot of what this team did is to sort of teach the people who didn't think girls played games, that actually there are a lot of us out there and we're very good and we're very passionate and then of course one of the side aims as well was - because the team was put together by Ubisoft - we competed on a lot of Ubisoft titles.
PALGN: Hmm. So Nintendo took everybody by storm pretty much with their whole Blue Ocean Strategy coming out of left field and I would almost argue that the perfect example of the casual game - apart from The Sims as an example - but Nintendogs. Do you think, now that you've left, do you think the Frag Dolls was as successful as Ubisoft had hoped it would have been, in terms of raising the profile of girl gamers?
AJ: I actually think that the team has been a lot more successful than any of us expected. As someone who was there in the beginning - we had a lot of fun with the team, we had our website and we played some games - but over time it's become a lot higher profile and a lot more serious than I think we saw it going in the beginning. I think that's because a lot of other people got onto that, supported us, wanted to get that out there as well and so it sort of grew into this much larger thing rather than a novelty, which it could have been.
PALGN: Well the community you guys built is phenomenal, the level of - I mean I looked through after you announced that you were leaving and the level of support - it's actually pretty awe-inspiring ...
AJ: Oh yeah, I teared up a little bit [laughs].
PALGN: Well reason why I ask, I mentioned the semi-controversy at the beginning. I mean some people were pointing to the Frag Dolls, when Ubisoft announced it, that it was a great example of drawing attention to gender imbalances and discrimination in gaming. Other people were saying it was a highly exploitive marketing exercise, taking something that was really non-representative in gaming circles and trying to cash in on sex appeal and everything else. What's your take?
AJ: Well, what is representative of a gamer then?
PALGN: Yeah, that's an extremely good question.
AJ: [Laughs] If you're talking about the completely outdated stereotype of young, skinny guys who have very few social skills sitting in a basement playing games, then yeah, it's definitely not representative. But gaming has moved so far beyond that, that I don't think there is any one stereotype anymore. I don't know that there is a single representation or how any gamer can represent everyone or be unrepresentative at the same time.
PALGN: Yeah, I find it really funny because I know the core market - for lack of a better term - which is probably your most stereotypical guy gamer, it's almost like guardians of the Holy Grail, you know they're absolutely rabid in their defence but you look at other forms of media like music - as you say, there is no stereotypical audiophile - you have many different genres with many different levels of involvement from the indie scene, to the punk, to turntable, to you name it and it's almost like the gaming industry is trying to, or gamers, are trying to deal with the fact that what they used to do is bigger than what they're used to. Does that kind of make sense?
AJ: Yeah exactly. So I imagine that potentially that's what people are sort of hanging onto, is that old stereotype and that the Frag Dolls weren't representative of that but I don't see how being unrepresentative of that particular stereotype would be a bad thing.
PALGN: It's funny because you say that ... okay you were involved in the professional gaming circuit and a big focus of the Frag Dolls - correct me if I'm wrong - but a big focus of the Frag Dolls was on the professional gaming circuit ...
PALGN: A lot of women who play games - I'm deliberately not using the word gamer - but a lot of women who play games tend to focus, or the stats suggest they focus, on more casual type games. The whole core-casual debate's been running on forever, do you think this is even more relevant for female gamers, or do you think it's just a case of you were representing the professional gaming segment?
AJ: Well I think that it matters to everyone really. Some of the key people that we were reaching are in that much more hardcore area where they're, I don't want to say that their heads are in the sand, but they're very, very focussed, and they've got their experiences and that's it. Whereas a lot of people who don't necessarily identify themselves as gamers don't ... they don't really make up what gaming should or shouldn't be, what gamers should or shouldn't be, they just enjoy it, they play it and they don't over-think it, whereas a lot of the more hardcore gamers do. And as gamers that have been in that competitive scene, all the girls on the team, we've seen people who don't want girls on their team because they think that for whatever reason they can't play well because ... I don't know, something about the matching chromosomes just totally screws up our ability to move ... [laughs].
PALGN: It's really sad, it's like something you kind of did in fourth grade. It's that level of ... sorry anyway, keep going.
AJ: Yeah, so at the very beginning I don't know that the team's focus was intended to be on professional gaming quite that much but ... we saw how there weren't a lot of women in competitive gaming and a lot of those gamers had reservations against professional female gamers. That was sort of something that we didn't really like and so we kind of wanted to teach them a lesson and have done so [laughs].
PALGN: [Laughs] Fair enough. One of the other focuses of the Frag Dolls was, I know you did quite a bit of coverage at PAX and various events and part of it I'm sure was promotional, but part of it was more journalism coverage, is that a fair comment?
AJ: Yeah. That's something that the team started up. When we did get this higher profile than what we had originally expected, we thought well what can we do with this, what value can we bring to people, what kind of perks can we give them because we're in a very fortunate position? And one of those things was doing a little bit of gaming journalism because it turns out that we made a lot of friends in the industry, we had a lot of contacts and we also had a lot of opportunity to visit events and studios and sort of bring the word back. So through the course of it, I visited a lot of studios, met a lot of the people that were making games, was lucky enough to get to play some of the games before they were out, which I was very sure to tell everyone about, because that was just my own little braggery ... so we did a lot of videos and interviews of high-profile industry professionals, both at events and in the studio, it was so much fun.
PALGN: Excellent. Now how did you find being a - and I'll be really blunt, I'm obviously not a woman [laughs] or I have a very deep voice for one - how did you find providing journalistic coverage in a very heavily male dominated industry?
AJ: I didn't really think about it because I don't figure that the gender has anything to do with the ability to report on those things. I think that people can speak equally well no matter their gender, and so I don't think that being a girl gave us really that many perks in terms of how we were able interview.
PALGN: That's funny actually, it's funny you say that because I didn't actually mean it that way ...
PALGN: ... I was coming at it from ...
PALGN: I'll look at G4tv as an example and the way that they treat Adam Sessler and the way they market Adam Sessler is completely different to the way they market Morgan Webb and it seems to be a fairly consistent approach where ... okay, no one is ever going to, no one is ever concerned about what N'Gai Croal is wearing, as an example, whereas people will comment regularly on what the women are wearing on G4tv or anything else. Did you ever feel any of that, or did you ever get an impression of that?
AJ: Well I think what you're talking about is not really restricted to just the gaming industry. It's if you're on a camera screen, the standards and I guess grooming and presentation are different for women then they are for men. Women are always expected to wear make-up and be pretty and wear clothes that fit and that kind of thing where I think that, especially if it's guys watching, they don't care so much about appearance. They want a cool, funny, awkward dude preferably next to a hot chick.
PALGN: [Laughs]. See I think this is really tragic. This is seriously ... I think there's a fundamental issue here. My perspective, I've had a bit of experience with cross media, my feeling is - and feel free to disagree with me - I think the gaming industry is probably on more of one of the more extreme trends, extreme sides, up there with probably the automotive press, which is not a good thing ...
AJ: Oh I think the automotive press commits far worse crimes.
PALGN: [Laughs] Actually that's probably true. Xbox Magazine isn't quite at the same level ... why do you think this is? And do you think there is anything that is going to change?
AJ: Well if you flip through a women's magazine and you're looking at products that are targeted towards women you see women in the ads. If you are looking through a men's magazine and you're looking at things that are targeted toward men, there's women in those ads. I think that just generally in media, both men and women prefer to receive their marketing from women and so the same would I guess go for journalism, TV, anything like that because it's all very wrapped up and tied together with a big pretty bow. So for sure there was pressure, there was a lot of criticism based on our appearances, or lack thereof and vice versa. Whereas there wouldn't have been for guys necessarily ...
PALGN: Team Immunity may be good players but they definitely aren't exactly poster boys ...
AJ: But one of the fortunate things about the team was that when we were put together we received some media training on how not to melt-down when people ask us tough questions, that kind of thing, which really helped so we had some expectation for that pressure and sort of rose to the challenge and we learnt how to speak and represent a lot better in terms of public speaking, which I don't think a lot of other professional gamers have received. So who knows, there might be amazing journalists underneath there, they just haven't been trained for it.
PALGN: Do you think it acts as a discouragement for women to get into the industry, the knowledge that it is like this?
AJ: I think that there is definitely a little bit of a barrier, but it mostly comes from guys who don't actually want the women there. For whatever reason there is still a little bit of an attitude among the guys that it's their club and they put out a sign that says there's 'no girls allowed' and if one of the girls invades they get a little bit upset about it because it means they're not allowed to fart at their desk as much [laughs]. But at the same time that also isn't something that's restricted to gaming. If you look anywhere in the IT industry you'll see that the entire industry is really much more male dominated but a lot more women are entering and it's going to be a snowball effect where the more women you have there the more comfortable other women will be with the idea of going into that industry because it won't be seen like a step outside the norm.
PALGN: Cool, well that's about all the time we've got. Thanks so much for making the time Ashley, it's been a really interesting conversation.
AJ: Definitely, thank you for having me.
PALGN would like to again thank Ashley for giving her time for this interview.