Hey E3, It’s Time to Have a “No Booth Babes” Policy

Two women wearing short shorts and tight shirts pose in front of a red sports car, advertising the new Forza Horizons game at E3 2012.

 

E3 might be a wonderful conference to attend if you’re a straight, white, privileged male interested in getting your photo taken by scantily-clad women at video game booths.  But the women (and their allies) in and around the game industry are getting fed up with it.  This year, a lot of focus of conversation on Twitter is surrounding the fact that you can’t look in any direction on the show floor without running into the cheap marketing method of having barely-clothed women acting as eye candy to entice one particular segment of the video gaming audience.  It’s offensive, exhausting, and gamers are starting to get fed up with it.

Brenda Garno Brathwaite, longtime game industry veteran and co-founder at Loot Drop, had the following to say on Twitter:

 

A tweet from Brenda stating "I dread heading off to work at E3 today. The show is a constant assault on the female self esteem no matter which direction I look."

 

Another tweet from brenda: "I am in good shape, yet it is impossible not to compare. I feel uncomfortable. It is as if I walked into a strip club w/o intending to."

 

A final tweet from Brenda: "These are the policies of @e3expo and @RichatESA. I feel uncomfortable in an industry I helped found."

 

She’s certainly not alone.  Many people have replied to her, newcomers to the industry who say that they no longer feel welcome.  Gamers wondering how it got this far, saying it’s a “dinosaur that should be extinct”.  Women saying that they’re embarrassed to love video games because of how the industry portrays them.  There are many reasons to disagree with the shallow marketing tactic: discomfort about how it makes a woman feel about her own body, disgust at using women’s bodies as sex objects to sell products, making women feel as if they’re not the target demographic for games, and so on.  Whatever your personal reason for disagreeing with this antiquated and offensive marketing method, it’s time to speak up.  We’re tired of seeing news sites running stories where they ask people to “get their scorecards out” and rate booth babes at E3.

Guest contributor and longtime friend of  The Border House, Kate Cox, wrote up an honest article on this subject over at Kotaku.

I’ve been walking through the halls, observing the beckons of a legion of carefully-coiffed young women wearing the same t-shirts or polo shirts as their male peers, but with booty shorts or miniskirts and six-inch heels. (Their male counterparts are generally in baggy jeans and ancient sneakers.) They’re not beckoning to me, of course. I am not their target audience or demographic. And a booth that wants to attract my attention by waving the promise of women at me is, in fact, saying loud and clear that they don’t want my attention at all.

 

At one demo, I had to fight my way through a mob to get to the booth’s front desk, only to find that actually, there was no line at reception — the throng around me had assembled to snap photos of the two women in ill-fitting, barely-there elf costumes as they posed provocatively by the booth’s entrance.

 

For all of the vitriol we have thrown at Penny Arcade over the years, at least they have made strides to improve the culture at PAX by instantiating and enforcing a “no booth babes” policy.  I don’t want to attend game conventions if it means that it will feel like I’m walking into the misogynistic Spike Video Game Awards.  I want women to feel comfortable and part of the industry, both in consuming and creating content for it.  It’s crucial that the very industry that cultivates games should not perpetuate what has been an escalating problem.

[Edit: Here is a list of publishers and developers who brought booth babes to E3 this year, thanks to @SimoRoth.]

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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30 Responses to Hey E3, It’s Time to Have a “No Booth Babes” Policy

  1. Alex says:

    So much this. PAX’s enforcement of their rule is wildly inconsistent, and there’s that “cosplay” loophole (cosplay is by and large a fan thing, not a paid gig!), but just having the rule means that most companies don’t bother having “booth babes.” It’s not perfect but it’s a start. (ETA: I should note this is based on going to PAX East since it started; I’ve never been to Prime.)

    I’m just glad that so many people are speaking out about it… a few years ago you’d never hear game journalists talking about this in a critical way, much less publishing something like Kate Cox’s piece on Kotaku. Here’s a piece on gamesindustry.biz by Rachel Weber: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-06-07-booth-babes-op-ed

  2. Korva says:

    Kudos to that lady, Brenda. She’s brave to make such statements publicly, I rather dread what shit she may catch for it. :( We need that sort of bravery. We also need support from her male colleagues or the usual assholes will just blow it off because women aren’t worth listening to, even (or especially) when we speak of issues that affect us directly and negatively.

    I’ve been extremely pissed off by T&A advertising in the industry ever since I was a kid and first realized what was going on there. Booth babes, booth babe galleries and “rating” threads are among the reasons why I don’t bother with print mags and most big websites anymore, it’s just too damn sickening and erasing.

    When will those companies start broadening their advertising instead of myopically chasing the worst of the sexist straight cis teenage boys?

  3. prezzey says:

    I’m quite surprised that EA is missing from the list! It’d be interesting to see a list of companies who did not bring booth babes, because this way I’m wondering if it was an accidental omission…

  4. Adam Lipkin says:

    Sigh. As always, I need to remember that no matter how wonderful Kate’s articles at Kotaku are, one should never dip into the comments. Thy contain pretty much the exact same arguments the folks defending the Hitman trailer were making.

    • Mireille says:

      Kotaku has actually had some very interesting and well written articles lately (Patricia Hernandez has had a couple really good articles), but their comments section is still a cesspool.

  5. Eric says:

    I’m curious, what is everyone’s take on things like D20 Girls? (http://d20girls.com/) Their services include what I assume is being Booth Babes for various products.

    I ask this because while I whole hardheartedly agree that the Booth Babe concept is a dinosaur, what of women that both willingly and _want_ to do it?

    • Eric says:

      Upon further realization, my question may be nonsensical and stupid, but I am curious on peoples thoughts on the issue at large as I like being educated. Thanks!

    • feministgamer says:

      I looked at that site, and I see them trying to represent and encourage women gamers. From what I can tell, they don’t want to be eye-candy only, they want to be participants.

      I’m sure that most, if not every booth babe wanted to have their job. I believe sometimes they’re just company employees that also look good in costumes.

      There’s still the matter of SHOULD companies do this, if it alienates over half the population and furthers problematic behavior?

      • Jonathan says:

        No, no. It’s a good talk but it’s not so great.

        Ran into them at Origins, the people who run it start right into the, “For the price of $$$ you can rent on of our girls by de hours, if you want to pay $$$$$ den youse can have ‘em for da day.”*

        *not their real accent.

        It’s a booth that claims to talk about being participants but in the end is selling booth babes. More than one dealer was unhappy with the sales pitch.

        • feministgamer says:

          I am very disappointed. :(

          • Amanda Lange says:

            I too talked to these ladies at Origins, and I got a lightly different impression. This is probably because I am a woman, and approached them as such, so there was no need for them to sell the idea of women to me.

            At first they did seem a little confused about a woman coming up to ask them, “what is your deal?” One girl started talking about how “we send real live women to gaming events… this, um, is obviously not such a big deal, for you.”

            So I picked up their newsletter. I was pleasantly surprised by one thing: the cosplay galleries and photo galleries in the newsletter included women of all shapes and sizes, not just rail-thin supermodel types like you would find in a typical booth babe situation. These are in fact women, and a diverse variety of them, interested in gaming and discussing gaming. But, they’re also selling “girls as product” in a sense. It’s sort of a step in the right direction but could be better.

        • Curses says:

          Maybe it’s grown up since I looked into joining. A few years ago, when I heard about an organization offering actual female gamers for product/company rep contracting, I couldn’t wait to apply. Then I saw that all of them (at the time) were cute, quasi-dressed cosplayers in their late teens and early twenties. They may be actual geeks, but they were/are still catering to the same privileged gaze. Looking over their current site, I’m still confronted by photos of a corset-clad raver-esque girl bent over a chair with cleavage on display… but their member gallery is much more diverse in terms of age, body type, and degree of clothedness. Of course, members and models are different groups. Perhaps they’re falling into the Suicide Girls conundrum, in which they mistake objectifying all sorts of women for actual gender equity.

  6. Violetta says:

    On a related anecdote, in my modelling days I once made a mistake doing “promotional” work at an automotive expo. It was not a particularly memorable experience – the patrons were either lecherous dudes making a huge deal about a girl in not much clothing (seriously, you have google for that?!) or women who were uncomfortable and furthermore some showing clear resentment towards our presence there. Of course there were some fellow models who loved the attention, but I felt kind of awkward and silly. Fair enough if girls are choosing to do it but I don’t know how I feel about using human beings as a prop to promote your product. (plus I think kittens or puppies would get you way more attention! XD)

    I’ve always wondered how people would react if a company decided to use male models to market it’s products. I’m pretty sure most of the scorn and outrage would come from the same guys defending booth babes.
    Judging from the amount of yaoi and fanart catering to the straight female/gay male gaze, there is quite clearly a large section of the gaming community that isn’t straight males. Aren’t manufacturers doing themselves a disservice by ignoring a significant section of their market?

    The whole concept of booth babes really does cheapen the culture of gaming. And anyway, if you want to see some T&A ferchrissake go to a strip-club or look at some porn already.

    • Eric says:

      I’d love to see male models cosplaying it up with their female counterparts. Like a Mass Effect booth with both male and female shepherds running around. That’d be cool… I guess I just wish Booth Models made me feel like I was going to Disney World more. “Oh hey, there’s Nathan Drake! LETS GET A PICTURE WITH NATHAN DRAKE!”

      • Jonathan says:

        I’d never thought of it from that angle, but now I totally want to get my photo taken with loads of my favourite characters. “Dude, I just totally high-fived Solid Snake!”

      • Alex says:

        Haha, gamer Disney World, yes! That would be cool. I know Nintendo employs a cosplayer who goes by Pikmin Link for events. She got the job by being an incredibly good Link cosplayer. She dressed as Pit for PAX East this year to promote the Kid Icarus 3DS game. That sort of thing is neat. But that’s where you get into the issue of games where the female characters all wear skimpy clothes…

      • Violetta says:

        Yes! I would stand in line to get my picture taken with Ezio, and I think I’d definitely be smiling in a photo with Adam Jensen! ;)

        And even if it was a scantily dressed heroines such as Bayonetta and Ivy, at least there’d be some effort put into the costumes, and not that godawful Hooters waitress style too-tight cut-off singlet with miniskirt and ugly go-go boots combo that companies seem to like inflicting on the models.

        • Negative Kat says:

          That’s true. Hell, I’d get my picture taken with a Lara Croft. As troublesome as her new game looks, she was my hero when I was thirteen.

  7. Kimiko says:

    It’s sad to see how long the list of perpetrators is. It seems I can’t avoid buying games from companies who use booth babes.

    • Ari says:

      Is that an omission, or did Activision really not use booth babes?

      If not, that’s freaking rad. Right on.

      (I am so, so disappointed in you, Atlus.)

  8. kourtbard says:

    Brenda’s twitter comments ended up on reddit’s gaming community, and reading the responses there made me gnash my teeth. Overall ‘opinion’ was that Brenda (and other women who had issues with boothbabes) were just butthurt because no men were giving them attention. :| (Because yes, women are just DYING to for attention from unwashed neckbeards)

  9. Doug S. says:

    E3 might be a wonderful conference to attend if you’re a straight, white, privileged male interested in getting your photo taken by scantily-clad women at video game booths.

    I read that as saying that the scantily-clad women are the ones taking the pictures.

  10. Sunny says:

    I’m embarrassed my company’s on the list – none of us knew it would be the case, that we’d have BBs for our game’s release. It’s been the topic of the internal mailing list for a few days now because our company is 20% women, and 50% of leadership roles are filled by women… yet we still hire booth babes? Talk about conflicting statements. Even our marketing head (a woman) was pretty horrified when she found out.

    The decision we made for next year was that we’d fill the booth positions internally by developers, because goodness knows we’d rather go talk about the really cool features of our games than have someone be more interested in taking pictures of the people we hired to demo it, than the demo itself.

    Also, the “Missed Connections” on craigslist LA targeting our booth babes (and those of other companies) are absolutely terrifying and those have made the mailing list rounds, too — and after the third or fourth nobody was even trying to defend them anymore and were turning green like the rest of us.

  11. Oestrus says:

    The thing I find really interesting about this subject is the sort of hypocrisy behind it – in that male gamers support the women dressing this way and presenting themselves in a very sexually overt fashion, but then they will make endless statements about how women use their sexual wiles in a video game to get ahead and how unfair or inappropriate that is.

    It does kind of feel like a smack in the face. I want to say “It’s okay if she dresses provocatively or seems to enjoy being flirty, but the minute that *we* do it it invalidates everything we have worked for or everything we have done before or that we will do after the fact.” They can’t have it both ways. They just can’t.

    • Deviija says:

      Yeah, it smacks of “it’s okay so long as the woman is titillating me and putting on an objectified show for me, but we all know these characters are just getting by with their unfair feminine wiles and sexuality in games.” Because, you know, a lady character can never just be a powerhouse and skilled and badass on her own merit.

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  13. Alan Bell says:

    This is achievable, but probably not by making (valid) complaints on the internet as an attendee directed at the stands that use greeters or at the show itself. This won’t work. What you need to do is forget about lists of the stands that use booth babes (I prefer the “greeter” term myself as it conveys the lack of usefulness of the person and is ungendered) they won’t help you. Compile a list of the booths that *don’t* use greeters. Contact these individually and congratulate them on their stand that consists entirely of people who know what they are talking about. Ask those stands to complain to the show about the use of greeters. They are highly likely to be up for doing this – sad but true, greeters *work* and stands that can’t afford them get traffic pulled away to the stands that do.
    People spend a lot of money to have a stand at a show and shows have lots of rules about keeping your stuff within the confines of the space you have paid for etc. This is so that stands don’t unfairly trample each other. Complaints from stand holders have a lot more weight than complaints from attendees.
    One thing to avoid accidentally doing is penalising women who are working on stands who are not greeters and do know what they are doing. If companies going to shows leave the women behind for fear of breaching this policy this would be a bad thing!

    • Alan Bell says:

      sorry if that sounded a bit ‘splainy and “you must do this”ish. I re-read it and it sounds quite a bit harsher than intended. It is just a problem I have been wanting someone to solve for some time but I am not the person to do it. I don’t know much about games conferences, never been to one, but other industries have been through the same thing and I have been involved in putting on stands at different places. You tend to get an exhibitor pack of about 30 pages of rules on what you can and can’t do and this is the place to put the policy.

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