May 9, 2006 10:00 AM PDT

Meet the new Frag Dolls

SAN RAFAEL, Calif.--It was early afternoon on Sunday, April 2, and eight women were competing fiercely for what could only be described as a female gamer's dream: a spot on Ubisoft's all-women professional video game team, the Frag Dolls.

It was the final stage of the competition. For a day and a half, the women pitted their skills as hard-core gamers against one another in a no-holds-barred tournament and interview process.

The intensely focused yet collegial competitors looked like they could have been stars in the cast of the teen television hit "The OC." For skeptics, it raised the question: Are they top-flight gamers or charismatic faces recruited by Ubisoft's marketing team?

In the final stages of the competition, the Frag Doll wannabes confronted that question in an interview with the judges who were to name a new team member. Gus Sorola, of Rooster Teeth Productions, asked how they felt about people who say the Frag Dolls are little more than glorified "booth babes," or sexy models promoting games.

"I'm definitely not built like a booth babe," said Marcella Fernandez, 21, from Dallas. "I don't play like a booth babe. I play like a pro."

Added Alyson Craghead, 21, from Mesa, Ariz, "Frag Dolls are not booth babes. They're hard-core gamers. They're definitely sexy--confident, intelligent and skillful, but not booth babes."

For their part, Ubisoft execs said people who believe the company is using the Frag Dolls for their sex appeal are missing the point.

"We know some judge the Frag Dolls on how they look," said Melanie Desliens, a Ubisoft spokeswoman, "but the fact is that they are dedicated hard-core gamers. The Frag Dolls are actually helping dispel the myth that video games are for 'guys only' and they encourage both men and women to pick up a controller and join in."

"The Frag Dolls are actually helping dispel the myth that video games are for 'guys only,' and they encourage both men and women to pick up a controller and join in."
--Melanie Desliens, Ubisoft spokeswoman

It was perhaps the toughest question the finalists had to deal with. As the hours dwindled to the conclusion of the all-weekend audition process and the final selection of a winner, the people who seemed to lose their composure weren't the competitors, they were the current Frag Dolls.

"I'm very excited but very upset because a lot of people's feelings are going to be hurt," Valkyrie, a longtime Frag Doll who has played the dual roles of taskmaster and den mother during the weekend, told me a little later. "It's hard because we want the best for the team, but we have personal relationships with all these girls. Because we're all women too. Many of our friends are going to be hurt."

Valkyrie said this with eyes bloodshot from several minutes of crying.

After the tournament, in which each woman faced off with all the others over several hours of playing "Halo 2" and "Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighting," the candidates were calm and unwilling to say just how much they wanted to beat out the other Frag Doll hopefuls.

"We were all a bit competitive," said Renelly Morel, at 19 the youngest candidate. "But we weren't rude about it, because at the end of the day, we're all still friends. We felt so comfortable around each other."

Indeed, the eight women were almost cheering one another on.

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