Blergh! I wanted to write a post about booth babes and boobtastic game art at PAX’11. I even had it half-written, but ya know what? It’s the same damn post that’s been written dozens of times by dozens of gamers, feminists, and people just generally pissed off at being treated like crap by the marketing teams of the games industry. It’s the same damn post, the same damn ideas, and the same damn words that have been said hundreds of times since women first started participating in the gaming community and faced the ugly sexism this medium offers up as counter-cultural, nerdy coolness. It’s been said time and time again, in flowery academic prose and angry blogosphere rants. I had nothing new to add to the topic, no new insights or revelations, at least none that I haven’t already stated on this blog half a dozen times. So, I didn’t write that post because I didn’t feel like repeating myself or the myriads of others who find this trend to be such a disappointing and alienating aspect of our favorite hobby.
And I shouldn’t have to, none of us should. We are a part of this community just as much as the mythical, coveted 12-25 white male gamer demographic and we deserve the same respect and accommodation that the gaming industry gives to them on a silver platter. It shouldn’t take years and years of push back for the games industry to get these messages through their heads. It’s 20freaking11 and we’re still having to have the ‘booth babe discussion’ after every major gaming convention, from card and board games all the way up to the biggest expo’s for the biggest game publishers. It’s pathetic, and disappointing, and disillusioning, and disheartening, and about a hundred other dis-words that can never quite convey the utter sense of unwelcomeness that I, and other gamers, can feel when they enter into gaming spaces like PAX. Spaces that they have been told are expressly for people who love to nerd out at Skyrim’s dragons or the latest and greatest FPS or JRPG or whatever game it is that floats your particular boat, who genuinely love to play games and be a part of the sense of community that can come from sharing an intense passion for a fantasy world. But these spaces aren’t open to us in the same way they are to others, they are filled with messages and images that tell us we are inherently less than, that we are not welcomed there just as we are, that we have to be someone else to join those spaces. Perhaps someone sexier, or someone whose willing to overlook the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the insidious bigotry of a thousand different missed opportunities and ignorant mistakes.
PAX wants itself to be a welcoming place to all gamers, but right now its not. In fact, its getting worse. The dickwolves fiasco and the proliferation of booth babes in the last year have made it a place that not only treats women as second-class gamers, but a place that can be genuinely threatening and unsafe for some of us. It’s time that they actually put their foot down and made the convention the kind of place they say they want it to be. As unpopular an idea as it might be, that definitely includes telling their exhibitors NO when it comes to booth babes or using heavy doses of ‘sex sells’ in their advertisements. And really, its not that hard to both have women in your artwork and ads or hanging out at your booth and treat them like full human beings or real gamers. For quick examples from this year’s PAX, take a look at Resident Evil’s cosplaying Umberella Corp reps walking around in business suits and gas masks male and female alike; or Secret World’s advertisements that strike a great balance between attractive characters and sensible designs; or even World of Tanks’ use of the PMS gaming clan to draw attention to their booth by having them play against and help PAX attendees (seriously, that game doesn’t even have women in it, and it beat all of the other booths with babes in its representation of women by simply letting the PMS’ers be themselves instead of some hyperrealistic concept of a ‘gamer girl’. That’s saying something, and not a particularly nice something). It’s not that hard to do, but first the gaming industry, from devs to publishers to convention makers, and the community at large, needs to get their collective heads out of their collective asses and purge the sexism and bigotry out of the gaming culture. (And no, this is not the route to take.)