the artistry and psychology of gaming

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The Booth Babe

The Booth Babe

The ubiquitous booth babe; the beautiful women marketed as geeks in order to promote a game or franchise to the men on the convention floor. They are individuals with their own loves, fears, hopes and dreams but they are there for one function and one function only; to attract men to their stalls. In a room the size of a small continent, filled to the brim with technology and new games from every part of the world spanning every genre, developers have to do everything they can to make their product stand out. This is achieved with the most basal psychological additions; pretty scenery that looks inviting and pretty, attentive women.

They are quite rightly controversial; many see them as further examples of female objectification within the games industry, whereas many others see them as merely an amusing tradition.

Many would argue that it is demeaning for women to be placed in a role that subjugates them to mere ‘eye candy’, but to counter that, we have to talk about the age old debate of: Empowered or Exploited? These women are consenting adults who have chosen to earn money using their bodies (plus, they do have to be knowledgeable about their product) and who are we to say that it’s exploitation? It’s their choice; no-one has forced them. However, at this point, I would invoke the phenomenon of ‘patriarchal bargaining’; the willingness of a woman to accept a gender role that disadvantages her in order to gain whatever power she can from the system. Although it is a manipulation of the system to their own individual advantage, it leaves the system very much intact and nothing changes. This applies very much to strippers, porn stars or prostitutes. They flaunt their bodies because they know there is a market for it and that it can further them financially, but it does nothing to rectify – in fact it worsens – the ways in which some men see and desire women; unequally and subserviently.

Many others would say that, claims of objectification aside, the booth babes are just another tradition of gaming conventions; like cold, over-priced hotdogs or wild developer parties. And this is true; they’re like crackers on the Christmas lunch table. They’re considered a staple of the convention; brand new games aside, they’re what make E3, E3 in many ways because they’re such an integral and recognisable addition, with special care taken to make each year crazier and more eye-opening than the last.

However, citing tradition as a reason to retain an idea can be dangerous; argumentum ad populum: ‘A belief held by many people is no more truthful’. There are many traditions that have been scrapped over the years, like women being disenfranchised for example. In the 1700s, the idea of a women voting was absurd, and it was accepted that women shouldn’t be able to; this was an idea with totally no basis in fact yet it was a belief widely held. Fast forward to the present day and anyone who believes women shouldn’t be able to vote is considered a raging misogynist or an idiot, or more likely, both. Traditions change and are lost and it isn’t always a bad thing. When a tradition is held to the detriment of a particular group, it should not be preserved. So, arguably just because booth babes have become a permanent fixture to gaming convention line ups, doesn’t mean they should be immune from removal should their presence be considered injurious to a particular group, in this case, women.

I’m almost of the mind that this whole issue could be solved if topless male models were also added. Then at least we could claim that the sexism wasn’t specific to one gender. It would level the playing field and keep both sexes far more equal, giving us all something to look at. As it is, it does seem a rather sexist venture that could be seen to propagate the sexualised ideal of the girl gamer and results in the sort of sexualised abuse you hear about women getting on Xbox live, the kind of abuse that I myself have received.

But I do think that the men of the convention floor deserve more credit than perhaps I sound like I’m giving them. It goes without saying that the vast majority of men are easily able to laugh about the booth babes and enjoy their company without mentally degrading them to merely tight tops and high heels or walking away from the event still believing that women should be as beautiful and attentive as the booth babes; they can distinguish reality from fantasy. They know how to treat people and they’re respectful and see the booth babes as a fun addition to the event, and it is an event; E3 especially is decidedly theatrical, you could consider the booth babes to be actresses and we never complain about actresses being degraded because theatre is art and they’re playing a role. The booth babes are also playing a role and acting is never considered demeaning; it’s considered to be a highly prized talent and an art form.

In light of the above points, what are booth babes? Are they harmless marketing devices, whose function has transcended their status as ‘human’ so to speak (as in the men do not see them as subjugated, or see women in a poorer light because of their presence, because they know they’re there to sell a product and only to sell a product), or do they really just demean women and intensify the issues surrounding women in the industry? Everyone’s response is personal and I’d be interested to see how you see it.

11 Comments

  1. This is definitely quite a controversial topic. As one who has been on the E3 floor, I know I would fall into that category near the end of just “okay, that’s nice you look good and are in a skimpy outfit but I am here for the games’ info and I want to know more about the games that are here.” In fact, I’ve noticed the companies that care least about “sexual allure” (such as Nintendo and it’s family image) treats their booth babes with the most respectable outfits and on the opposite end (like Team Ninja) where they are just trying to test the limits of what they are allowed to get away with for their booth babes. Sure you’ve got a few guys drooling on the showfloor (that feels like an inevitability and it’s usually visitors instead of the press and industry developers/retailers that the show really is for) but overall it doesn’t occur as much of an attention grabber as something like G4 makes it sound like. I do agree that it should be evened out more and I think Epic should have at least a few bulky, muscular “booth hunk” dressed up in GoW outfits. As for topless guys though, I guess it should come in as relevant as it is for the women in the equivalent outfit. Such as if the women for the booth are walking in basically a bikini when the women in the game have nothing to do with being so “not dressed” then the “booth hunk” should be walking around in a speedo. Whereas, back to the GoW example, women aren’t represented enough in the game whereas the men have their uniform and design to reference. Sure it is still slightly sexist in the fact of referencing the game they are representing but it does at least remain relevant to the game (which should always be the main goal first and foremost).

    It is great that you challenge the “tradition” of it and I do find it more silly and a nuisance personally because it’s that taunting of “one more thing you can see but not have”(especially since I’ve heard most of them have a contractual agreement not to hook-up with anyone on the show floor or have a b/f or husband be there as it will detract from their allure), the games being the other “see but can’t have”. It also is nice that they are supposed to know a good bit about their product they are representing but from my experience that is a “1/3rd at best” know anything useful beyond what is displayed on the floor (through demo videos or gameplay). Most can summarize what the one sentence summary of the game is but not nearly that many can tell you what you can’t already figure out by looking around. I find it a big waste.

    As for the harm factor, I have to say the points you made of “they have a choice” and they get paid pretty well for it. Most of the booth babes are dressed professionally, relevant, and are not “too revealing”. I think it is a matter of a “select few” that gather all of the attention that make it sound much more detrimental than it really is. Such as the picture you’re using for this article shows them in a fairly respectable way (and is pretty normal amount of clothing even for E3 and most women would not be ashamed to go out in public wearing on a casual day).

    Overall, thinking of my response, I would say “not as bad of an issue as it sounds but I think we should have some booth hunks for the ladies” (afterall, E3 is about increasing our potential audience and that would be “doubling your audience” in theory to appeal to both genders instead of just men)

    • First off; I’m very jealous :D I’ve always joked that, despite some of my feelings towards the notion of the booth babes, I will get to E3 any way I can, even if I have to lose a stone and get a boob job! I WILL MAKE IT!

      Speedos….speedos aren’t good for anyone…just….just no. I don’t want to see everything. And the same for the girls, I don’t want a face full of boobage. I have as much of a problem as men in trying not to look. I’m not gay, I just can’t help it when they’re all up in my business! Legs are cool for ladies and torsos good for men. That is all :P

      But it’s exactly as you say, if these girls know everything about what you want to know, then great but it would suck for them to be chosen purely on their butt and not on their enthusiasm or product knowledge. I’d much rather a bearded, overweight lady who knew everything and loved gaming than a beautiful slim blonde who didn’t know as much and didn’t care.

      To be fair, you’re right, the clothes aren’t so bad, although god forbid I ever exit the house like that for anything but a fancy dress party of indeterminate theme (but that’s just me, I love me some trousers). And yeah, I didn’t talk about it, it ended up getting so late I cut it out but I was going to mention about how it’s always the most shocking cases that get remembered and subsequently make you tar every incidence with the same brush. Some outfits are outrageous but most are just mildly sexy. It’s always the loudest ones that form the stereotypes, especially amongst people. So yes, thank you for mentioning that :)

      Haha, I agree. Conclusion is: Booth babes are okay, but only if you get some totally topless men on board. Yours faithfully, NinRac and Minnie.

      • Yeah…I’ve heard that a lot, especially for mentioning that “gone twice” detail, since I went before it died and was revived in it’s gimped rebirth. At least you’re building up your journalist status so you might be able to go in a more dignified way and get to see all sorts of secrets before others (they do have secret rooms for journalists that they can’t write about but can preview).

        Yeah…Speedos are probably a little too extreme of a reference but it does get the point across. Maybe it is that they don’t know which sections women enjoy and are just too lazy/cheap to do their research =P If only they would take the time to reach out and ask you, right? ;D At least Ubisoft does some fan service just for you coming up REALLY SOON ~_^

        Yeah, that it EXACTLY. Besides, internet is VERY common now so if we want to look at a bunch of beautiful women, the internet makes that very easily (and to even “see one step further if one wants to”). Not even all of them have that pep/enthusiasm/excitement either unless there is a camera around. I remember the ones from Namco being particularly bad about that.

        Yeah, that is just a matter of personal style but in terms of wearing in public and not counting personal style it would fit. You’re welcome and I know that time crunch all too well, especially right now as I have to accept/reject team ideas and most have to fall into the reject pile as the end is approaching. It’s always hard to reject a good idea but time waits for no one. Also, on that comment part of the blame lies on the “fans” who are going wild and are uncontrolled about it that encourages this line to be pushed further and further. We know it wouldn’t get this bad if it wasn’t for the people who get all excited about it.

        Yeah…I’ll admit I still easily would want to see the booth babes over booth hunks anyday (just like any other straight guy) but I’d still support the topless men for the sake of equality (and for the guys who object, maybe a few will learn and understand what it’s like for the women). Not only that but there are gay men who play video games and would enjoy seein topless men (and like any other small minority community, they are very vocal amongst themselves so BIG, easy, free advertisement when done well…thus another incentive :D ).

  2. Heh, it’s funny NinRac should mention Team Ninja in contrast to Nintendo, considering what they did to Samus in Metroid: Other M. I agree, though, on everything that has been said. Gender roles have gotten so incredibly tangled in our world, that nothing’s “black and white” or even “shades of gray” anymore. There are so many angles to everything that you can’t tell what’s really going on most of the time. I can’t speak about the booth babes directly, since I’ve never been to a convention (I don’t really do social), but where I live, even the women seem misogynistic. Most of all, I agree that “tradition” is a hollow excuse for repeating the same mistakes. Burning people at the stake for not following a certain religion to the very letter was once tradition, too. Preserve virtues, not tradition.

    As far as getting shirtless men to work the booths, I can get behind that. Think of how great a tie-in it would be for a new game in the Daiku no Gen San (Hammerin’ Harry) franchise to have a big, shirtless construction worker at the booth! I think they need a snappy alliterative name, though, like “booth beefcakes” or “booth bricks”… well, maybe it needs a little work. Equal strokes for equal folks, I say.

  3. I love booth babes. I disagree that using sexuality as a marketing scheme is misogyny. It’s human nature. And sex is good, and not all women are Harvard scholars. Some women are scientists, but some are also sexy models, and some are prostitutes. And that’s fine.

    • A fair point indeed :) You might be interested in this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Honey-Money-Catherine-Hakim/dp/1846144531

      It’s called Honey Money and it’s all about women’s erotic capital and how we must rely on beauty to further ourselves in the world, and the reasons behind why. I’m about to buy it because it will be interesting to see how she justifies what many would say were pretty sexist attitudes. She is right though, there is no way that anyone can deny that being beautiful won’t get you places. It just will, no question about it. And I find that fascinating, albeit it a little tragic!

      I personally agree and I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a stripper or something if you need more cash. Although, another part of me still feels that it’s not furthering our interests. I fully accept that if you want to be a stripper, it is your own choice and no one can say you’re exploiting yourself, but in some way, you are still being exploited. I’m not sure, it’s hard for me to decide which side of the fence I sit on…I just want everyone to view everyone else with respect :P

      • Point is, you must realize that no “our interest” exists. Women are not a unified whole. They share no interest.

  4. I didn’t really read it, it was quite long, but from a glance I can get the gist of what you’re saying, and from the rest of your shorter articles I gather they’re all about the same thing: the victimization of woman and the tragedy of how you believe they are exploited somewhat in the world and specifically the gaming industry.
    To be honest I have little respect for your opinions, because they are basically wrong opinions, and yes they can be wrong. You rant and rave about your feminist beliefs and you look far too deep into the problem. They use of booth babes is simply economics, it isn’t because the employers are all sexist, booth babes bring sales, simple as that, and I realise that in turn that’s because the potential buyers ‘appreciate’ the booth babes.
    I enjoy a good rage, but I think, with respect, you should shift your articles away from feminism and instead just look at how female’s have contributed to gaming as a whole or…something else except feminism…please…

    /ragequit

    • It might be worth reading it before you comment, but my intention is to play devil’s advocate, because to some people this is an important issue and can have a wide and lasting impact. I do frequently state that these are not necessarily my views, I’m merely offering up views on how something can be construed. Because this is quite a contentious topic and they have been banned in many conventions because people see them as demeaning to women and insulting to men. That’s not necessarily how I view it but that is how others view it so it warrants talking about.

      I don’t know if you’ve read my previous articles but I’m not a feminist, not the way I think you see it. With all due respect, how can you say that the booth babes are merely economic? Of course it’s about economy but the brining in of sales is hinging on these women and their physical attributes. That would be seen by many to be a sexist venture and one that demeans men as well. And I too don’t want people to jump on bandwagons and seek to be offended by anything and everything, that’s not they way we want to live as a society but, some things are still worthy of discussion, regardless of how much of a non-issue many of us view it as.

      This is anything but a rage, and I apologise if you feel it has come across as such, that was definitely not my intention. I seek to discuss topics with as much fairness and reason as I can. I don’t want anyone to sit here thinking all I do in life is bemoan a woman’s place in the world because I don’t and I wouldn’t want to. But there are undeniably still issues surrounding women (and men too as I wrote in a previous article you may not have read) in all sectors of society and just because I too am a women doesn’t mean talking about them indicates I’m a raging misandrist with a victim complex; I just want to explore different ideas. I apologise for the borked coding, I’ll try to get that sorted out.

      • trololololol

  5. Also, you seem to have some coding problems with your front page, some overlapping words, and the color of the words makes it rather hard to read against the background pictures.

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