An interview with Melonie Mac – former Frag Doll Cadette on her experiences, women in gaming and working at Razer

Melonie MacElhannon on the misconceptions surrounding women in games, and how she is hopeful that 'e-sports will expand and hopefully be as big as sports like NFL Football someday'

Melonie Mac Girl Gamer

This piece is part of a series of interviews we are running with prominent female role models in the games industry – keep checking back here at the PostDesk Blog for more in the coming days.

Melonie McElhannon is a former Ubisoft Frag Doll, who now works at Razer in public relations. She also runs her my own gaming YouTube channel whilst also writing occasionally for gaming websites. We asked her, as a woman in the games industry about some of the issues ‘girl gamers’ face, about the games industry as a whole, and about her overall experiences.

We started by asking Melonie about what she does in the games industry, and what she feels her greatest success has been so far – she told us how she considers “…many different things to be among my greatest accomplishments” “Getting my foot in the door with Ubisoft and the Frag Dolls as a Frag Doll Cadette was a big leap for me, and after that, creating my own successful gaming blog, youtube channel, and growing a good following on my twitter were also big accomplishments. However, I consider my job at Razer as a Public Relations Specialist to be my biggest success thus far. It definitely doesn’t end there, though. I’ve been growing with Razer and I’m definitely not holding back from constantly making big goals and achieving them.”

We then asked Melonie how she got involved in ‘Frag Dolls’ – described as “…a group of girl gamers recruited and employed by Ubisoft with the aim of promoting women in gaming as well as Ubisoft’s games.” She told us that “…as a long time fan of Splinter Cell, I learned about the Frag Dolls while browsing the Splinter Cell forums in 2006. I admired what they did and kept up with them for years. After applying for the Cadette program in early 2010, I was fortunate enough to get accepted. Lucky for me, my very first order of business was to go to PAX East where I was assigned to demo and oversee the Splinter Cell Conviction demo stations. That was one of the most exciting times of my life, I must say.”

Melonie Mac Girl Gamer

Frag Dolls - 'a group of girl gamers recruited and employed by Ubisoft with the aim of promoting women in gaming as well as Ubisoft's games.'

So – what is the philosophy behind Frag Dolls? Melonie told us that “…from my perspective, the Frag Dolls are excellent at inspiring gamers as a whole, male and female. Though their Cadette program was designed to encourage girls to get out there in the gaming world, I’ve heard from numerous male fans that the Frag Dolls have also inspired them to work hard to achieve their dreams of making it in the gaming industry.”

Melonie spoke highly of the experience she got whilst at FragDolls – first explaining how “The Frag Doll Cadette program is an internship with Ubisoft and the Frag Dolls. It’s designed for girls to get some hands-on experience in the gaming industry. It really is what you make of it, but for me, it helped build my confidence to later work hard toward attaining a solid career in the gaming industry. Before this, I felt as if the gaming industry would be nearly impossible to break into. I learned that if you work hard and diligently, you can achieve any goal your heart desires. Which in my case was to break into the gaming industry.”

“As a Frag Doll Cadette, I received media training, gained marketing experience working at events, and had the opportunity to network with some big names in the industry. It definitely was a growing experience for me.”

Some say that FragDolls is a PR and marketing tool by Ubisoft to bring the attention of male gamers to their products – we asked Melonie what her thoughts were on this view – to which she explained how this is clearly “a misconception for some who simply have not taken the time to discover what the Frag Dolls are really about.” Going on to say that “The Frag Dolls have fans that are male and female alike. They are very female-friendly, and I simply would not have been a part of an organization that exploits females in order to gain more male fans.”

Melonie Mac Razer

Melonie now works at Razer where she is involved in Public Relations – that is everything from “writing press releases, working with the media, attending events, and networking in general.” “It really is an awesome and fun job.”

Naturally, we asked Melonie what her favourite Razer product is – to which she told us that “I love them all of course, but without a doubt, my favorite is the Razer Naga. In fact, I owned one before I ever got my job at Razer. I’m a huge fan of MMOs, and as I rely so heavily on PVP, it goes without saying that I sought after a mouse that would give me the competitive edge. After getting my hands on the Razer Naga, I was hooked.

Razer Naga

We also asked Melonie a few key questions about women in games – here are her responses in their entirety.

Over few years have you noticed gaming becoming more popular amongst women at all?

[Melonie Mac] In all honesty, I haven’t put a lot of focus on gender barriers. I’ve been a gamer all of my life and I grew up with other girl friends who were also gamers. As I got older it seemed like less of my female friends were still into gaming, but there are a lot more out there than people realize.

How can we get more women involved in gaming?

[Melonie Mac] In my opinion, the gaming industry doesn’t really need to do anything different to get women more involved in gaming. Girls like me like the same games that guys like, so in my personal opinion, the industry needs to keep their focus on making awesome games and the fan bases, both male and female, with follow by default.

To answer the latter part of the question, my advice for a girl who wants to be a pro-gamer or work in the gaming industry would be the same advice I’d give to a guy as well. Work hard, and don’t give up. If you want to be a pro, practice, practice, practice, and be smart about it. Practice alone won’t make you pro. Some people play the same game every day and hardly improve, but if you take some time to study, watch replays, and wrap your brain around it, you will find yourself improving much faster. If you want to make it in the gaming industry, get your name out there, network, and do anything you can gaming related to add to your portfolio.

I suppose if I were to give some gender-specific advice to a girl who wants to be a pro-gamer or make it in the gaming industry, I’d simply tell her to not exploit herself to get where she wants to be. I personally don’t think waving around a hypothetical banner that says, “Hello world, I’m a girl gamer, therefore I should be pro or you should hire me!” will get anyone anywhere, and quite frankly, it shouldn’t. I don’t believe a girl should be taken any less serious in the gaming industry because of her gender, but on that same token, I don’t think she should get special treatment for it either.

Melonie Mac Frag Dolls

Melonie Mac at PAX 2010

What is attractive about gaming to ‘girl gamers’?

[Melonie Mac] I think often times girls like gaming together in the same way that girls like having female friends. Of course having guy friends to game with is awesome, but it’s nice to play games with a group of girl friends sometimes too.

What misconceptions do you think there are surrounding ‘girl gamers’?

[Melonie Mac] I personally think the biggest misconception with female gamers is that they are all casual gamers. Sure, a lot of girls only like playing the Sims, Nintendogs, etc, and that is cool and all, but there are also plenty of girls like myself who like playing games like Gears of War, Battlefield, and World of Warcraft as well. Not to say that casual games aren’t fun, though. I think pretty much everyone likes playing them sometimes.

Do you feel that female clans are taken less seriously than male clans?

[Melonie Mac] It depends on the clan and how they represent themselves. Female clans that keep it real and don’t expect special treatment will always garner more respect than other female clans that market themselves based on their gender and looks.

What do you feel about the sexualisation of women who promote games – i.e ‘booth babes’?

[Melonie Mac] It’s certainly not anything I would do myself, but I have no problem with models working at booths. I’ve met some very nice “booth babes” before, and I’m not a fan of judging people. However, I’m definitely against people pretending to be something they’re not. Having that said, if they’re really not gamers, they shouldn’t tell people they are.

Have you ever faced any sexism as a ‘girl gamer’, or any prejudices?

[Melonie Mac] Not really. Some guys get extremely mad when they lose to a girl in a game, but apart from that, I haven’t encountered any noteworthy problems. I’m very laid back, non-confrontational, and easy to get along with, so I suppose that helps.

…and on the games industry as a whole…

Is PC gaming ‘dead’?

[Melonie Mac] PC gaming definitely isn’t dead. I’m a huge fan of PC gaming and I spend most of my gaming time on the PC. I’m interested to see how PC gaming continues to grow in the future. I think that Razer’s announcement of the Razer Blade really added a new level of innovation to the PC realm, and I’m very happy to see that direction take place.

What is the future for e-sports?

[Melonie Mac] That’s difficult for me to call, but it’s definitely growing. With the increased prize winnings for games like DoTA and LoL, I’m very hopeful that e-sports in general will expand and hopefully be as big as sports like NFL Football someday. It’s a big leap, but maybe someday we’ll see that.

WCG Ultimate Gamer

How can e-sports become more accepted and mainstream?

[Melonie Mac] Broadcasting it more would be nice. Shows like, “WCG Ultimate Gamer” seem to be successful. It’s funny, because I watched that with my mom who is not even a gamer, yet she really got into it. Perhaps more shows and tournament broadcasting will help increase the viewer-base for e-sports.

Who do you feel the most influential women in gaming are?

[Melonie Mac] It’s a hard call. There are women in gaming who are influential for different reasons. I’d say Katherine Gunn is a good example, however. She’s very experienced in the pro-gaming scene, and I really admired her for taking the win on WCG Ultimate Gamer. There’s no denying, she’s totally legit, and she doesn’t wave the “girl gamer” banner.

Who is your personal role model in gaming?

[Melonie Mac] Jade Raymond is definitely one of my role models in gaming. Having experience in the gaming industry as a programmer, producer, and managing director, she really has a lot of accomplishments under her belt and used good ol’ fashioned hard work to get to where she’s at today. Not to mention, she’s working on the next Splinter Cell game right now. How awesome is that?!

Jade Raymond

Jade Raymond - currently working as the Managing Director of Ubisoft Toronto

What are your top five all time favourite video games?

[Melonie Mac] Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, Battlefield 2, World of Warcraft, Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy X

What video games are you most looking forward to right now?

Battlefield 3, Guild Wars 2, Uncharted 3, Splinter Cell 6, Diablo 3, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Warhammer 40k: Dark Millennium Online, and Final Fantasy Versus XIII

You can keep up to date with what Melonie Mac is doing over on Twitter where at @meloniemac, and also on her Facebook page. Melonie also creates regular videos for her excellent gaming YouTube Channel, which receives hundreds of thousands of views and likely to continue to grow in popularity over the coming months.

Here’s Melonie’s most recent video – where she presents Diablo III beta gameplay.

So – what are your opinions on what Melonie Mac has to say – specifically about women in the games industry? What are your views?