Dianne Bonfiglio walks in late for practice. The pretty 30-something settles at an Xbox 360 in the rear and extracts a pink-rhinestone-encrusted controller from a sports bag. Her toenails are painted a matching pink. She dons her headset and pops in the disc for Halo 2.
Standing nearly 6 feet tall with an athletic figure and sporting a tight, attractive T-shirt with a pink logo across her chest, Bonfiglio is the only female gamer here.
"Hi, girls," she says facing the screen, which is lit up with the names of nine teammates.
"Hi, Hot Chief," they reply.
Halo 2 is one of Xbox's most beloved games. It's a futuristic, first-person shoot-'em-up that can be played with others over a network; there are currently more than 2 million users worldwide.
The girls warm up with a few practice rounds. The atmosphere inside the bleak, post-Apocalyptic virtual world is surprisingly cozy. The girls ranging in age from teens to late 40s hunt one another down with rifles, congratulating one another on a good kill, yelping happily when they screw up.
After the game, Bonfiglio decides to do some "matchmaking," in which an online service matches players against teams of strangers with a similar skill ranking.
The girls appear in pink, their opponents in blue. Otherwise, all characters are identical. The match is barely under way when the trash talk begins: "What up, bitches?" says a male opponent in his late teens or early 20s named Trav. "You gonna get raped now."
"Fucking bitches," he jeers to a teammate a few seconds later. "Hey, you get that ugly-ass bitch over there?"
After the match, Bonfiglio smiles. "You deal with shit-talking every day," she says. "You learn to ignore it, but it makes you want to kill them more."
By day, Bonfiglio is a lawyer and forensic accountant who lives in Boca Raton and works between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. But at night, she's Hot Chief, overlord of the Halo 2 Delta Division of the PMS Clan, a girl gaming group that claims to be the largest in the world. She's on a mission today to spread the word about the clan in Miami, where the girl gaming scene, she says, is sparse.
About a third of videogame players are female, according to the Entertainment Software Association, a national trade group, but only a sliver of them plays violent games like Halo 2. Partially because of harassment and real-world stalking by male players, some of these women band together in groups like PMS, the War Sisters Clan, the Girlz Clan, and the Frag Dolls.
PMS is both accomplished the girls have placed in the top eight in six recent tournaments across the nation and marketing-savvy. (They changed the name from Psychotic Men Slayerz to the tamer Pandora's Mighty Army.) Visit their website and it's impossible to overlook how astoundingly gorgeous many of the ladies are. It doesn't exactly hurt that the clan's founders and most visible members San Antonio, Texas, twins Amber Dalton and Amy Brady are a couple of buxom, blond, 30-year-old babes-and-a-half.
The twins started the clan in 2002. Dalton AKA "Athena Twin" is their mother superior, their Pachamama. She refers to her legion as "my girls," and they speak of her with reverence. She is a dedicated visionary. "It's my entire life," she says. "I quit a full-time position as a manager for a multimillion-dollar company. It was a six-figure job."
Until recently, she sponsored PMS pro teams out of her own pocket. She has spent some $38,000 on plane tickets and hotels. Now the group has more than 500 members worldwide. Recently, she received sponsorship from Verizon, and with her twin, Brady, who's less active, she's incorporating. The two are even buying a place in Dallas to use as "a pro-gaming training house," Dalton says. "We'll be bringing top teams of girls from around the world to do boot camp."
Sex appeal is not central to their plans. "We are not ashamed of our gorgeous girls; we are not ashamed of our not-so-gorgeous girls," Dalton says. In fact, PMS Clan imposes strict rules on its members, detailed in a 28-page recruit handbook. "We don't allow vulgar talk, offensive talk," she says. The clan even forbids members to post the PMS tag on overly racy MySpace pages.
Still, it's difficult to deny that the PMS girls have gotten traction from showing skin. Their images abound on the web often showing them wearing tight T's, striking hot poses, and pointing their fingers like pistols at the camera. Although Dalton adamantly denies rumors that Playboy approached PMS (the magazine approached her once, she says, but not the clan), she confirms that Maxim has made overtures. She says the girls won't be donning any bikinis or underwear, but says, "Would we do a hot racer-girl outfit or a football outfit or army girl? Yes, that would be possible."