It's late afternoon in a Kansas City video arcade and groups of boys are playing Primal Rage and Mortal Kombat with all the simulated blood, guts and gore that the games can deliver.

But a little farther back, standing with her mother, is 8-year-old Ashley Phillips. She's finishing a decidedly more sedate game of Lite-A-Line. At home she has Nintendo and Sega machines and often entertains girlfriends with them."I like video games," she said.

That's music to the ears of an industry that can stand some good news. After a year of disappointing sales, the video game industry is taking some cheer from the increasing number of girls who are playing.

Indeed, more girls than ever are playing the games as manufacturers are beginning to take them seriously and pledging to make more games that they like.

"We are correcting gender bias," said Ryuichi Hirata, president of Capcom, earlier this month. Capcom is a major producer of video games such as Street Fighter.

More female characters are appearing in video games - and not as victims, but as protagonists. In addition, more games are being sold that don't rely on violence and fisticuffs, a traditional lure for boys, industry executives say.

The interest in girls comes at a crucial time for gamemakers. Industry sales and profits have plummeted.

An abundance of games and competition is one reason for the downturn. Consumers also are waiting for new game hardware.

In addition, many games featuring violence are not doing as well as they did in past years. A new version of Street Fighter is struggling this year.

In fact, the only really big video game seller this holiday season is the nonviolent Donkey Kong Country.

At the same time, video-game makers have noted that girls are a growing percentage of players, increasing 25 percent in a year.

Nintendo of America, for example, says girls now make up 46 percent of players on Game Boy, a hand-held game machine.