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E3 Needs to Grow Up

Despite a growing call for change, the organizers of E3 have no plans to address the booth babe issue at the industry's biggest show.

I'm sure these women are well versed in the talking points for Namco Bandai's upcoming fighting game.

There’s been no shortage of discussion about women and video games this past week.

The conversation’s been driven by the gross response to Anita Sarkeesian’s nearly finished Kickstarter about the unfortunate and exclusionary tropes of female video game characters, and the quickly scrutinized comments from a producer on Tomb Raider about a potential rape scene (a description the studio has walked back) in the new game.

These are all good, uncomfortable conversations to have, but if we're talking about the depiction of women in games at such a serious level, how do we still have E3 booth babes? Other than for easy hits in web galleries, anyway.

The commonly referred to booth babe (also known as a "woman") is hired solely to wear skimpy clothing with a game or company’s logo and take photographs with attendees (who does that, by the way?). Typically, they are not well versed in the product they are hired to represent.

It seemed like a good time to check in with the Entertainment Software Association, who manages E3.

Despite some of the recent heated conversation, there are no plans to shift E3 policies.

"Exhibitors determine for themselves what is the best representation for their companies. Models are welcome if companies would like to have them, but that's an individual exhibitor decision,” said ESA VP of media relations and event management Dan Hewitt in an emailed statement to me yesterday.

Ghost Recon Commander designer Brenda Brathwaite sparked a vocal debate on Twitter over booth babes before she headed to the E3 show floor last Thursday.

“I dread heading off to work at E3 today,” she said. “The show is a constant assault on the female self esteem no matter which direction I look. 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. These are the policies of @e3expo and @RichatESA. I feel uncomfortable in an industry I helped found.”

Her comments found plenty of support, such as Inside Network managing editor AJ Glasser.

@br The worst is when I get so good at seeing right through it that I forget they're actually women underneath the barely-there clothes.

— AJ Glasser (@Joygirl007) June 7, 2012

It’s not a new critique, but it was louder this year, and there seems to be a growing desire for change.

There was also the usual “what’s the big deal?” responses, including 3D Realms co-founder George Broussard.

@br I think you/others take it too seriously. It's not some academic event. It's a glitz show full of spectacle. #serious_business

— George Broussard (@georgeb3dr) June 7, 2012

It’s been a few years, but the ESA policy on booth babes has changed from E3's inception. The last major shift came in 2006, as new penalties, fines and policies were introduced regarding women featured in E3 exhibits.

"What's new in 2006 is an update and clarification of the enforcement policies; as we do from time to time, we have taken steps to ensure that exhibitors are familiar with the policy and how it will be enforced," said E3 show director Mary Dolaher to Reuters at the time.

A violation of the clothing policy would result in, at first, a warning, and then a $5,000 fine. Here’s what the handbook from 2006 said to exhibitors considering booth babes--er, sorry, live models:

"Material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the show floor, all common areas, and at any access points to the show."

Hewitt told me there have been no changes to ESA policy since 2006.

Maybe there should be. Consider this anecdote that didn’t even take place on the show floor itself.

This was one of the first results the search term "Devil May Cry strippers" gave me, sorry.

We arrived to our Capcom appointment, I plunked down with Lost Planet 3, and Alex Navarro was ushered over to play Devil May Cry. In a room of kiosks, there were pole dancers. It’s unclear what that has to do with Devil May Cry. The girl hired to skimpily waltz around was sitting on the floor, looking bored. Everyone in the room is focused on playing the game, and Alex wasn't playing Devil May Cry in a see-through bubble. No one on the show floor could see this room. Can someone explain how this helps anyone do their job?

Elsewhere, I refused to play any 3DS games at Nintendo’s booth because the company didn’t have a table with machines, and instead tethered its lineup to attractive women. I let that gimmick slide when Nintendo pulled the same trick at the original 3DS unveiling, but I’ll just wait until those games are out now, thanks.

Nintendo probably thought it was a cute idea. I doubt (and this is my sincere hope) Nintendo meant to undermine the credibility of women at gaming’s biggest show. It's still ignorance. Many of the issues regarding women and E3 aren’t overtly offensive, and can be easily rationalized by those who don’t see a problem.

That’s okay--we should have a debate about it.

And this is all hardly an issue that’s exclusive to games. The same week as E3, the Computex Summit was happening in Taipei, and computer manufacturer ASUS sent out the following tweet:

That tweet has since been deleted and ASUS released an apology, obviously.

I can gripe all I want, but the most effective solution has to come from the ESA itself. Only the ESA can enforce regulations on exhibitors, and let them know this archaic marketing tool needs to go away. If games are growing up, so does the way we go about advertising them in front of, ostensibly, a bunch of professional. This isn’t 1994.

PAX figured this out years ago, even if there have been incidents along the way (i.e. Lollipop Chainsaw at PAX East).

“Our definition of a ‘booth babe’ has been a model (male or female) that has been hired to stand/sit in skimpy clothing to market the product,” said Penny Arcade president of business development in 2010. “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 whether or not that representative is physically attractive or not.”

If E3 is supposed to represent the industry’s best, why can’t it figure out how to respect its own attendees?

Patrick Klepek on Google+
1013 Comments
Posted by unklesam666

i get completely behind the idea that our society NEEDS to treat issues of sexuality and gender with maturity and consideration. but is there really any single slogan-friendly way of promoting that?

one way the process can start is by realizing that the models being "objectified" are agreeing to be hired in those roles. so is it really just an issue of "white man's guilt"? do women who profit from objectifying themselves (admittedly to another person's script or presumption of audience acceptance) have the right to do so?

is the popularity in this country of parroting back a popular slogan/idea to give the impression you're on the "right side" of complex issues without actually expending any deeper thought on the topic a step in the right direction? should you force your half-baked ideas of respect on people who don't "respect" themselves the way you want them to?

in case it's not obvious, most of these questions/statements are rhetorical.

Posted by Leviathan2000

@removesstains: Totally agree, but here we are and talking on a form about it, the irony, ahhh...

Posted by P_Pigly_Hogswine

Ah, George Broussard. A reminder that frat boy behaviour is fine for a time, but 20 years later, it's just puerile.

Posted by AMonkey

This is a bad article and you should feel bad.

Posted by Milkman
@AMonkey

This is a bad article and you should feel bad.

Great bump, idiot.
Online
Posted by DrLove

@Shtinky said:

@toots said:

@jakob187 said:

You know...

I'm sitting here and thinking about it...

Isn't this the same website that talks about stabbing dudes in the face and neck? The same website that makes inate sexual references on a regular basis on their podcast and in video content? The same website that spent a lengthy amount of time talking about Peter Molyneux's balls?

I mean, I get it - it's all in the sense of humor. At the same time, it's that immature sense of humor that people continually latch onto, and in turn, the Giant Bomb crew provides us with more and more of it on a daily basis. While we eat it up and beg for more, they are now posting up an article that is basically saying "hey, E3 needs to grow up because boobies shouldn't be at trade shows".

Yet...you guys can get paid for being immature, podcasting via live-stream under inebriated circumstances while other game developers do the same thing, and Jeff can make creepy jokes about games like Otomedius Excellent...and it's somehow magically better than some half-naked chicks trying to get a paycheck at a trade show?

I mean, it's not like the exhibitors are paying these chicks to blow you while you play the game. They are paid to look pretty, just as models ALL OVER THE WORLD are paid to look pretty. If you don't want to play the DS that is attached to the lady, then don't. That's your right...just as much as it's the right of the exhibitors to use scantily-clad women if they want to.

If it makes someone uncomfortable, well hey...guess what? I was made uncomfortable by the Bombcast talk of eating someone's leg. I mean that - I was literally uncomfortable to the point that I kept trying to skip past it...and it kept going and going and going. So, since I'm uncomfortable about you guys talking about eating someone's leg, can you now not talk about cannibalism again?

No. That's just me being uncomfortable with it. It means I skipped ahead and I avoided it, just the same as how you avoided playing DS games attached to some lady.

So...preaching about immaturity in the games industry when your website features a plethora of immaturity...seems like a bit of a double negative, yeah?

I'm not saying you guys aren't intelligent, that you don't talk about serious stuff, that you guys are jerk-offs or anything. I'm saying that if you want to complain about one thing, then you need to complain about everything else and even point the finger back at yourself when it comes to "immaturity in the gaming industry".\

I mean, for fuck's sake, Patrick... This website almost gave Game of the Year to SAINT'S ROW THE THIRD, A GAME THAT FEATURES MORE IMMATURITY THAN ANYTHING I CAN IMMEDIATELY THINK OF! (an amazing game that I thoroughly fucking loved by the way...not to raise the ire of Ryan like I'm Jason Rubin or something)

This about sums it up.

Yup, pretty much.

yep

Posted by Jinewill

I just... Just don't understand why everyone sees problem where there isn't a single one, these woman are not forced into these jobs, they are not being oppressed due to their gender, they can work any job a man can. If anything you should be upset that there are less jobs for men as booth babes. Sounds silly doesn't it? That's exactly how you sound when you complain about a woman doing a job she signed up to do. Dressing skimpy isn't a crime, their isn't a single thing wrong

it. Infact, i applaud them for having that large amount of self confidence to do it. I know i have confidence when i go out on the town and make myself look pretty. If them being attractive makes you uncomfortable, maybe you should look farther inward, and stop caring what others do or look like. And have some confidence in who you are, and what you like to do.

I'm a woman by the way.

Posted by psylah

@Jinewill said:

I just... Just don't understand why everyone sees problem where there isn't a single one, these woman are not forced into these jobs, they are not being oppressed due to their gender, they can work any job a man can. If anything you should be upset that there are less jobs for men as booth babes. Sounds silly doesn't it? That's exactly how you sound when you complain about a woman doing a job she signed up to do. Dressing skimpy isn't a crime, their isn't a single thing wrong

it. Infact, i applaud them for having that large amount of self confidence to do it. I know i have confidence when i go out on the town and make myself look pretty. If them being attractive makes you uncomfortable, maybe you should look farther inward, and stop caring what others do or look like. And have some confidence in who you are, and what you like to do.

I'm a woman by the way.

Boothstud sounds like a great job.

Posted by Jinewill

@psylah: You bet you're sweet as it would be. I know i enjoy myself when someone asks to take my picture at conventions

Posted by psylah

@Jinewill said:

@psylah: You bet you're sweet as it would be. I know i enjoy myself when someone asks to take my picture at conventions

I'm working on looking like SF3's Urien, it'll be alot of working out though.

Also, I'd need to learn how to wear a cloth diaper.

Posted by Jinewill

@psylah: I'm trying to decide if i want to go as Therese or Janette from Vampire the Masquerade

So far it has been difficult.

Posted by Petiew

Boothstud, huh? I'll see you guys at E3 2013 with my Zyzz Tribute Management game and Zyzz tribute boothstud group.
Still working on the profit estimate.

Edited by QQ

Getting mentally prepared for this year's E3, I was recommended this article as one that highlighted many of the things that made E3 2012 so uncomfortable for me. This is a wonderful read!

Sadly, simply looking through the first page of comments, it seems like many readers missed the point. Some were righteously outraged enough to call the women hired to work these things 'whores' and 'sluts'. Nice.

You idiots

The commenters' ridiculous mentality saturated E3 as well.

Walking through the convention hallways adorned with two-story long objectified Escher-girl posters for a mediocre new DC game, you would often catch a guy openly espousing his hatred, contempt and genuine anger at these women who did nothing but get paid to show off their bodies for money. This is not a crime, and does not permit anyone to call these women derogatory names.

Additionally, many spoke as if it was the 'booth babes' fault for being there, blaming the women rather than the people who hired them.

Idiots

I understand that the ladies make people uncomfortable, but lashing out at the innocent women is a perfect example of the toxic boy's-club atmosphere game culture is rife with. Calling the women names and slut shaming them is unacceptable, and is far worsethen the original problem of having objectified women at the show (or perhaps a disgusting symptom of it). If you are aware and angry these women are being objectified, why would you then proceed to treat them like objects?

It is exactly what is wrong with game culture, and why myself and every woman I know feels alienated by the culture we should be able to identify with.

Thanks for the great article. Here's hoping E3 2013 will not result in the same shameful behavior.