Frag Doll on Frag Dolls

The Frag Dolls, Ubisoft’s team of sexy girl gamers, have engendered controversy since their inception. Originally promoted as a sponsored clan, the latest “About Us” page on the official Frag Dolls site reads, “The Frag Dolls are a team of gamers recruited by Ubisoft to represent their video games and promote the presence of women in the gaming industry.” Sure, that’s Ubisoft’s line on the group, but I wanted to hear about the Frag Dolls from, well, a real Frag Doll.

I spoke to Jade “Siren” Eaglemeare, an ex-Frag Doll from the U.K. branch, and Whitney Butts, who underwent the application process here in the States, to determine exactly what the Frag Dolls are, what being a part of the team was like and why someone would leave.

I was interested in the application process, first and foremost. How, exactly, did Ubisoft go about assembling an international group of young, attractive women who look more at home on the cover of Vogue than PC Gamer, and also happen to play videogames well enough to win professional tournaments?

Butts said she found an ad on classified ad site Craigslist, which read, “Female Gamers Wanted.” When she replied to the ad, she was asked to fax Ubisoft a non-disclosure agreement because “they wouldn’t release the details of the program.” She was then asked to submit 15 pictures of herself from a “wide variety” of angles.

Afterward, during her second phone interview, Ubisoft filled her in on what they were looking for: “Basically, they wanted to [assemble] a group of girl gamers who not only were good looking, but knew how to play games, in order to get other girls interested in games. Their goal was to use us to get other girls to play [their games].” The position was part time and paid $500 per month. The girls would appear on webcam, message boards and blogs and talk about their gaming lifestyles. During webcam appearances, the webcam was to be focused on the girl, not the game she was playing.

Ubisoft was interested in girls with “stability,” Butts said. “They wanted people who either had another steady job or had a ‘husband to fall back on to support them,’ were the exact words.” At the time, Butts was an unmarried student, which was partially why she wasn’t asked to join the team.

Eaglemeare’s series of interviews were less clandestine in nature. Rather than signing NDAs and answering cryptic messages on websites, she sent Ubisoft a photo and spoke to three Ubisoft employees, as well as journalist Aleks Krotoski. What struck her during the interview process was how “little focus seemed to be paid on how extensive my gaming knowledge was or how good I was at actually playing games.” Despite that reservation, when Ubisoft extended the offer, she took the job.

As I talked to both women, they both referred to being a Frag Doll as a job, rather than being a member of a guild or a clan. Butts said she got the impression early on that the mission to put an all-female clan in the spotlight to draw more women into gaming was nothing more than a façade. I asked Eaglemeare what she thought about her role as a Frag Doll.

“The Frag Doll ethos claims to be centered around trying to attract more girls into gaming, but during my time in Frag Dolls, I didn’t see any evidence of this,” she said. “First and foremost, the Frag Dolls are employed by Ubisoft to promote their games. Every part of their job revolves around this fact; be it playing certain games, doing interviews or posting on forums.”

And when she says they’re playing “certain games,” Eaglemeare means Ubisoft games – at least publicly. Half of all of their official blog posts are to be Ubisoft-related, and they’re not allowed to speak about certain games if those games are deemed to be competitors to an Ubisoft game. “We were told not to talk about EA’s Battlefield II, as it was a direct competitor to Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter,” she said. Of course, it isn’t too surprising to have to toe the corporate line every now and then, and Eaglemeare agrees, but she still takes issue to the way the Frag Dolls are portrayed in press releases and on the internet: “[They’re] presented with the appearance of being an independent group … but this isn’t really the case.”

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Ubisoft has pretty much abandoned the notion of the Frag Dolls as a girl-gaming clan; the U.K. branch hasn’t attended a gaming competition in the year it’s existed (the American branch competes sporadically, usually playing Ubisoft titles), and according to Eaglemere, “the [U.K.] Frag Dolls themselves would agree that they are not a clan.” However, in that year, they’ve made it out to numerous conventions to promote new Ubisoft games, where Eaglemeare recalls one particular incident at a King Kong launch party: “[We] were told to stand in front of the demo pods in the hall and try to lure drunk guests into playing. I felt more like a booth babe than a gamer.”

The U.S. branch operates in a similar manner. Go to a convention where the Frag Dolls are in attendance and you’ll find beautiful, painted faces throwing T-shirts to crowds of young men; few women flock to them as gaming idols.

Working in such a way – talking only about games sanctioned by the company, enticing drunken gamers to play games on kiosks – finally got to Eaglemeare. She decided to leave the Frag Dolls because “I just felt increasingly dishonest to myself. I have a true love for games, and in the end, I’d had enough of being made a marketing tool.”

Since then, she’s formed a community of her own, WeAreVersus. There, she blogs about the games she chooses in the way she chooses with her friend, “Vixen.” She’s obviously affected by the time she spent as a Frag Doll; on their “About Us” page, they say: “We’re not here to endorse any product or sell you anything. If we say it, it’s because we mean it, not because it pays our wage.

“In our experience ‘promoting girl gamers’ can often be used as the cover story of big business trying to widen its market whilst still getting some pretty faces in the magazines. In other words: Free advertising.”

Eaglemeare and Vixen want to keep their new endeavor gender-neutral, but in such a sexually-charged industry, the very fact they have pictures and videos of themselves playing games is going to make that difficult for a lot of gamers. To their credit, they don’t play up to their femininity; in fact, Eaglemeare thinks doing so damages the industry’s credibility: “We don’t see [gender] as a factor that needs to be labored upon. More and more girls are becoming interested in gaming, which is great, but I really don’t think there is any need for some big crusade to attract more women to the field. Constantly drawing attention to the fact that ‘girl gamers’ are [a] minority, you only encourage segregation between the genders.”

Butts agrees. “Knowing what the Frag Dolls have to do [every day] makes them look dirty.”

Do operations like the Frag Dolls cause a rift between genders? If anything, they’re drawing them together, but not in the healthiest of ways. On message boards spanning the internet, people of both genders seem more than happy to unite together in distaste for this particular blend of sex and advertising. And to their credit, the Frag Dolls have done a heck of a job of bringing girl gamers out in droves. Unfortunately for Ubisoft – and for the women like Jade Eaglemeare, who just wanted to talk about games – they’re not buying into the vision.

(Editor’s note: We attempted to contact Ubisoft for their side of the Frag Dolls story, but they were unavailable for comment.)

The Escapist, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Joe Blancato, a young Associate Editor on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the powerless, the helpless in a world of criminals who operate above the law.

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