Not Playing Around

Gender equality in cyberspace is serious business for Laura Groppe’s Girl Games.

Girl Material: Madonna influenced Groppe�s multimedia career.

LAURA GROPPE, THE FOUNDER of Austin’s Girl Games, has made a business of confounding expectations. For one thing, she looks nothing like the pasty-faced nerds who run most multimedia shops; she’s a slender, athletic 32-year-old who clearly catches as many sun rays as cathode rays. For another, she’s not a lifelong techie; in fact, she was “terrified” of computers until she bought her first one on a lark in 1992, while having her car’s oil changed. Then there’s her software company, whose principal focus is self-esteem and career building for adolescent girls—notions almost unheard of in an industry that produces bland educational products and blood-and-guts fests like Mortal Kombat.

Yet swimming against the tide is nothing new for Groppe. Born in Houston, she graduated from Memorial High School but instead of going to a traditional co-ed university chose Virginia’s Sweet Briar College, one of the nation’s few remaining single-sex colleges. “There were other women there with the same sensibility and drive,” she says. After a quick series of post-grad odd jobs around the world (would you believe teaching aerobics in Japan?), she landed in Los Angeles and plunged into the film business; she began co-producing short films, including the Oscar-winning Session Man , and music videos for groups like R.E.M. (“Everybody Hurts,” which was shot in San Antonio, won four MTV music video awards.)

It was during this time that Groppe conceived her first multimedia project. Watching the clip for Madonna’s “I Remember,” in which the singer plays three different roles, Groppe wondered, “What if you could do something interactive, where you could play those roles, see what they’re seeing?” That idea never came to fruition, but the seed was planted, and in May 1994, when she began to tire of filmmaking, she left Hollywood, returned to Houston, and started Girl Games.

Ever since, she and her small, mostly female staff have been busy. They’ve launched a successful Internet newsletter (accessed at http://www.sccsi. com/girlgames) that is read by girls around the world. They’ve worked on Let’s Talk About ME, their first CD-ROM series for girls, which will be distributed by Simon and Schuster Interactive; the debut issue, due out in August, will include nutrition tips, audio-video profiles of successful working women, an interactive diary, and a scrapbook. After relying on her savings for a year and a half, Groppe has raised capital from private investors and landed a grant from the National Science Foundation for a joint project with Rice University that’s designed to get girls interested in computers, math, and science. Capping it off, Girl Games recently moved from Houston to cybercapital Austin, which is home to several of its freelancers, including artist Layne Jackson.

Looking ahead to the release of Let’s Talk About ME, Groppe feels sure that the software market is ready for a company like hers. But something else is driving her too. “When it comes to technology, women are getting left behind,” she says. “We’re still in the Dark Ages of media.”

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