2010 PAX Booth Babe Survey

The Penny Arcade Expo Logo

The Penny Arcade Expo Logo

Here’s a chance for your voice to be heard within the gaming convention community. The Penny Arcade Expo, one of the largest and most fan-friendly videogame events in the United States, has just released a survey asking attendees their opinions on PAX’s “no booth babe” policy.

Rachel Edidin at Sequential Tart notes that PAX is generally a woman-friendly gaming convention, and one where the responsibility for good behaviour is placed upon the convention attendee. They have a short, sweet, and common sense rules of conduct posted clearly on each badge and in the convention materials.

The survey asks respondents about how they feel about the current “No Booth Babe” policy, whether they should be more lenient, and what sorts of attire should be included in the policy. It’s not often that any fandom convention actually asks attendees for their opinion about booth staff attire, particularly in a culture that tends to be very male-dominated.

Let’s boost the signal on this survey, and get the word out. Tweet about it, Facebook it, post on your blog, tell your friends, and let people know any way you can. With this survey you have the chance to have a real impact on any changes made to this policy.

[2010 PAX Booth Babe Survey]

About Brinstar

Brinstar is an Editor (on hiatus) at The Border House blog. She is a cisgender, temporarily able-bodied, Asian, culturally-mixed woman from the United States. She is a longtime gamer and works in the videogame industry as a community manager. You can find her blogging about games at Acid for Blood and on Twitter at @Brinstar.
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17 Responses to 2010 PAX Booth Babe Survey

  1. Jayle Enn says:

    Retweeted, and answered the poll. Hopefully they stick with their current policy.

  2. Alex says:


    I went to PAX East this year, and although I didn’t know they had an official ban on “booth babes”, I did notice that there weren’t any, and it definitely contributed to the inclusive atmosphere of the convention. Overall I was very comfortable being there. I think allowing booth babes* would be a detriment to the friendly atmosphere.

    One thing I’m curious about–what do y’all think about the (potential?) requirement that the booth staff know about the game they’re there to promote? It seems like common-sense but at the same time there is something off about it, and I’m not sure what that is…

    * I know it says they don’t allow skimpily-dressed men, either, but we all know that if booth babes were allowed it would be almost all women dressed up.

    • I think it’s fine the requirement of booth staff to know the game they’re promoting is fine. If it sounds “off”, it may be because it kind of makes the booth babes sound dumb, since they don’t normally know the product they’re standing there marketing.

      I like the way the text before the poll describes it:
      If that person knows the product inside and out then it’s less of an issue. A company representative that can interact with attendees in a way that provides value as opposed to “hey stare at my body” is something that we encourage.”

      Women get enough “Hey stare at my body” in our lives. It’s time for a more cerebral representation.

    • Brinstar says:

      Re: the requirement that booth staff know about the game they’re there to promote. I think the thing that may be off about this is that it opens the policy to allowing booth staff (“babes”) to wear skimpy clothing, as long as it is “in-character” while being able to flout the No Booth Babe policy’s rules about attire.

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, I think you are both right. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for the article, Borderhouse! I signal boosted to 4 women gamer communities on LiveJournal.

    Going to PAX Prime (west coast) for the first time this year, so we’ll see how it goes…

  4. Alex says:

    Here are the results: http://www.penny-arcade.com/paxbbresults/

    A whopping 34% love the ban, and 60% love or like it. This is really great.

    What is not so great is this line, under “Things we’re going to formally message in our ‘booth babe’ policy:”

    “However, cosplayed characters are allowed to wear revealing outfits, assuming it is true to the source game (68%)”

    Apparently 78% of the respondents were male and 22% were female. I think the results reflect this skew because they show a concern for the disadvantages *to men* of having “booth babes”. I think that many men don’t like being condescended to by having women in randomly skimpy outfits who don’t know about the game they’re representing try and get their attention, hence the strong preference that game reps know about their game and only dress skimpily if it fits with the game.

    But whether the outfit is related to the game is irrelevant to the effects of “booth babes” on *women* at the convention. Either way, it is still creating an unwelcoming and even potentially unsafe environment for women because of the objectification, etc. It simply doesn’t matter whether the outfits are cosplays or randomly skimpy outfits: they’re still there, they’re still showing that the game and the convention as a whole is the domain of straight men only.

    In addition, “booth babe” outfits generally DO have to do with the game in question, except in the most egregious cases, so in my opinion, the rule that skimpy outfits must fit with the game is a big enough loophole to render the ban completely ineffective.

    • Alex says:

      Robert Khoo from Penny Arcade replied to me on Twitter: “Your post made me wonder, so I went ahead & isolated the girl-set & 61% agreed with that policy (cosplay ok even if revealing)”

      ETA: So, there isn’t really a significant gap between the % overall that favor the policy and the % of women that favor it. Any thoughts?

      ETA2: I still think this greatly reduces the effectiveness of the ban, however.

      • oliemoon says:

        I wonder if part of the reason the results came out like that is because they used the term “cosplay?” When I think of cosplay, I think of fans who attend conventions in costume, not professionals hired to dress up like characters to rep a game (and I personally would be more lenient about a policy that dealt with fans in costumes than I would be about policies for companies pushing their products via reps in character).

        • Deirdra says:

          That’s what I thought, too! While booth babes make me uncomfortable, the thought of telling female fans what they can and can’t wear also makes me uncomfortable. What I’d really like to see would be stricter policies on con harassment in general.

      • Blake says:

        Hmm. I suspect it has more to do with community than anything else. Non-fans standing around in mundane revealing clothing take away from the game-related atmosphere. Those dressed like characters in a game perhaps don’t have the same effect.

        There is the rather significant problem that, because of character design, cosplay is frequently skewed towards heterosexual male fantasy and white, skinny, able-bodied characters (even if they did have male cosplayers). This exception to the policy might exacerbate or entrench the existing lack of diversity.

    • Brinstar says:

      I’m not sure that this clarification of the policy will have a good effect. The policy change isn’t aimed at taking some sort of higher ground against sexual objectification of women or zero tolerance towards gratuitous sexism, rather the policy change appears to be aimed at allowing scantily-clad, sexist costumes within certain boundaries: must be relevant to the game, and representative must know enough about the game to “sell” it to attendees. As you said, the change is not aimed at protecting women from a culture of convention sexual harassment, but at not having companies condescend to men.

      Secondly, to address the survey results of just the women respondents: obviously the results are going to be generally in line with the boys. This is gaming culture we’re dealing with. Only the most hardcore of the hardcore Penny Arcade Expo attendees are going to be taking this survey. It’s likely many women simply don’t see a problem. Internalized sexism and all. (However, when I published this post, I was, of course, trying to be optimistic about the results. :))

      I think surveys like this are potentially problematic, because when you ask an already generally sexist culture (gamer culture) for their opinions about sexism (re: whether booth models should be scantily dressed if they are in character–and let’s face it, this will mostly affect women models), the result will be to uphold some semblance of the status quo. Even if the results are going to be less sexist than other conventions (e.g. E3), the results are still problematic, in that the policy change provides a loophole to companies: they can dress their models in almost whatever they want, provided their staff are trained with knowledge of the game and they are wearing costumes that are in-character. And let’s face it, a huge amount of female game characters have really sexist and objectifying costumes. I think PAX will see even more female booth models dressed in objectifying clothing from now on; but they’ll be wearing in-character costumes, rather than random skimpy clothing.

  5. kateri says:

    Ditto, I wasn’t sure if they meant ALL cosplayers would be restricted, which I wasn’t really down with, so I voted not to restrict in-character outfits.

  6. Twyst says:

    Short note, when i replied, using the term “cosplay” i thought they meant con-goers too, and didnt think that fans should be told what to wear. and that coloured my answered.

    • Brinstar says:

      Maybe owing to the fact that I work at a company that will be exhibiting at PAX, I assumed that “cosplay” referred only to company reps, and not to general con-goers. The survey was called “2010 PAX Booth Babe Survey” and booth babes are usually models hired to work at company booths… Which is why I didn’t think that the survey referred to con-goers, despite the use of the term “cosplay”. I think the term’s inclusion resulted in an unfortunate confusion, leading to potentially invalid survey results. If Penny Arcade’s goal was to measure how attendees feel about booth models, I don’t think these are the results they got, given the confusion even here, amongst a few commenters on this blog.

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