Video Games: When Girl Gamers Go Pro

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David Zaugh

Katherine Gunn plays a video game on the reality TV show WCG Ultimate Gamer

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The Gunns were always a gaming family. Where most bicker over who has to do the chores, Gunn says that growing up her family played video games like Mario Kart instead. The winner got bragging rights — and absolution from doing dishes. Her mother was always ready to challenge her daughter in a game of Bejeweled to see who would take out the trash. Her father Patrick Gunn, a 55-year-old entrepreneur, played arcade games in his younger days and still competes on the pro circuit in racing games like Forza Motorsport 3. Her brother and sister have both competed professionally in the past. "My mom's probably at home playing Call of Duty right now," Katherine says. Gunn started her career as a teenager handing out beatdowns in Halo, playing under the tag "Mystik Weasel" on her father's Xbox Live account. Whenever her father would jump on to play, he'd be inundated with love messages from guys who thought they were talking to his daughter (and who were then surprised when a gruff male voice answered them back). It wasn't the online boys Patrick Gunn minded so much as the ones who knocked on the door. Many of the gamers that Katherine would play with were from their neighborhood and oftentimes they wanted to meet up. "That's where I have to step in as a dad," he says.

Katherine, who kept the Mystik name, started a homeschooling program at age 16 so she could train full-time, playing up to 30 hours a week. In 2007, she was recruited by the Carolina Core, a professional team in the now defunct Championship Gaming Series league. That year, she became the national Dead or Alive 4 champion; for her "work," she said she earned a salary of $30,000 a year, plus a bonus of $13,500 — not bad for a 19-year-old.

But the life of a female professional video gamer isn't easy; in many ways video games are still a guy's world, if a virtual one. Gunn says that on some days, as soon as she speaks up online through her headset, she gets a barrage of insults from male players that only stop when she starts beating them in the game. Women handle the unwanted attention in different ways. Some professional female gamers get too defensive, Gunn says, and end up acting like unmannered stereotypical rude jocks. When guys would diss her online, "my parents had to remind me not to be so aggressive and crude," Gunn says. "They would tell me, ‘Don't stoop to their level.'"

Other female gamers say their profession can create issues in their personal life. Professional Gears of War and Halo player Nicole Cullop, who created the all-girl squad Team Foxy, said she's had several relationships end because of boyfriends who didn't understand her dedication to her career. At the beginning, they thought it was great they had a girlfriend who played video games, but when they figured out how much time she devoted to training they demanded that she paid more attention to them. "When you play a lot of the time, guys will put you down," she says. For Katherine, who intends to invest the WCG Ultimate Gamer 2 prize money in an entertainment gaming company she's started with her father, the demands of her sport leave little time for boyfriends. "Plus, I always told myself they have to be better than me at video games," she says. "And I have yet to find that guy."

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