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PINDA Rika Dorji, better known as pindaPanda, is a girl, and a gamer. But she is, in no way, a “girl gamer”.

“I don’t like that term,” said the 22-year-old host for regional eSports channel eGG Network. “What does gaming have to do with whether you’re a boy or girl? We don’t say ‘boy gamer’.”

She should know what she’s talking about – she has been gaming pretty much her entire life.

Dorji had an unusual childhood in her homeland of Bhutan. It was her grandmother who introduced her to gaming, challenging her when she was three on their eight-bit video game console. She bashed away at her controllers while her cousins played with toys and dolls.

But it was only when Dorji left Bhutan at 18 to study construction management in Kuala Lumpur, that her gaming life changed forever.

She could, for the first time, play a game of DotA without it lagging. “We’re mountain people! Our Internet is very slow!” she said with a laugh.

It was, in her words, “toxic”. But not in a bad way, she hurried to explain. “It just gets to you, you know?”

While she’s what the gaming industry would consider a late-bloomer, having only started playing DotA 2 about three years ago, she’s incredibly serious about the game, which is probably why the condescending “girl gamer” tag rubs her the wrong way.

Female gamers have to face a lot of sexism, and Dorji has faced her fair share of condescending comments from other gamers. — LIM MAY LEE/R.AGE

Female gamers have to face a lot of sexism, and Dorji has faced her fair share of condescending comments from other gamers. — LIM MAY LEE/R.AGE

“It proves people don’t take female gamers seriously,” she said. “Gaming is about skill, not strength. There’s no reason why girls can’t play as well as guys, but we still get comments like ‘Hey girl, go play in the kitchen’.”

While anybody who has gone online can probably tell you the Internet is no picnic, female gamers frequently get bashed more brutally than their characters do in-game, she said.

What’s worse is the inherent skepticism people have towards any high-performing female gamer.

“It’s like this: if someone says, ‘Hey, look at this gamer with 5K MMR (Matchmaking Rating, a value that determines the skill level of a particular player),’ other gamers would say ‘Oh cool, what a good player!’” she said.

“But if it’s a girl with high MMR, people would say, ‘Oh, I bet some guy boosted (played) her account.’ They just don’t give girls any credit for their skills.”

Dorji is doing her best to change gamers’ minds, one game at a time. That’s why she started streaming her games and creating YouTube videos – to prove that it’s a girl behind the 4.373K MMR (which is pretty darn high).

While that’s the main reason she creates videos, she also does it to entertain people.

“I love making my viewers laugh!” she said. “They seem to really get a kick out of watching me game, curse and eat my instant noodles, so that’s what I’ll keep doing for now.”

Her videos are refreshingly candid and non-judgmental. While some gaming videos seem to consist mostly of pointing out other players’ “noob” mistakes, her videos are simply about a dedicated gamer having a good time.

Now, the tiny tot who played games with her grandma is slowly becoming a Facebook gaming phenomenon. Her videos can amass up to 100,000 views in one day, and some have more than a million hits.

Dorji’s quirky sense of humour belies a very serious goal – to encourage more women to participate in the traditionally male-dominated eSports industry. — MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI/ The Star

Dorji’s quirky sense of humour belies a very serious goal – to encourage more women to participate in the traditionally male-dominated eSports industry. — MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI/ The Star

She thinks it’s partly down to her skills as a gamer, but it’s often because of her hilarious reactions when she’s playing.

It might seem like she’s launching a one-woman crusade to help women gain more acceptance in this testosterone-dominated field, but that’s not the case, she said. It’s an industry-wide focus these days.

Many gaming organisations are pushing for higher female participation, leading to a lot more females both on the competitive stage and in the audience.

“There are plans to have all-female competitions. I still think that it shouldn’t be segregated by gender, but this is a great first step towards encouraging girls into having the confidence to step forward.

“Things are changing slowly, but they’re changing.” she said with a smile.

For now, life is good for Dorji. She’s using her videos to spread a message of hope to girls out there still too afraid to sign up for a Steam account.

It was her videos that got her the hosting gig with eGG Network. She had started working for a construction company right after her graduation when she heard of a casting call for a gaming channel host, and jumped at the chance.

“It was terrifying!” she said. “I had never gone for an audition before, and I messed up big time.”

Sure that she had blown her chance, she packed up to leave. But at the door, she suddenly remembered her videos.

“So as I was on the way out, I just said ‘Hey, I also do videos! Please watch them!’” she said.

Luckily for her, the panel did watch them. Clearly, they liked what they saw because she got a call after a few days, telling her she had gotten the job.

Now, she’s a regular host on the 24/7 eSports channel commenting on eSports tournaments, and streams her games on Twitch.tv, a video streaming platform, once or twice a week.

Most recently, she was interviewed on Bhutan’s national cable TV channel, Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS), which was a huge deal in her country.

“Most people in Bhutan dream of even getting a few seconds on BBS,” she said excitedly. “I got a whole interview!”

Thanks to that interview, she has received messages from Bhutanese parents saying they will now be more accepting of their children’s dreams of being full-time gamers.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that in a few years, there could be a whole generation of gamers – both guys and girls – from my country,” she said proudly. “We’re not known for gaming yet, but that could all change very soon.”

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