Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

The Dreaded Booth Babe Discussion

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.)


3 responses to “The Dreaded Booth Babe Discussion

  1. Pingback: The Dreaded Booth Babe Discussion « Zee’s Blog [ AZEROTH. ME. ]

  2. Old Schooler April 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I think that as a consumer, you can choose to support a product line or not. I personally enjoy some of the artwork that has the iconic fantasy females. The fact is that until about the mid-90s, gaming and sword and sorcery fiction was primarily a young man’s market. Men and young men especially are going to be interesting in this kind of marketing. The booth babe is a proven technique to generate traffic at a booth. I have seen it work time and time again. If it doesn’t appeal to you or offends you don’t support that product line. No offense intended to the author- but it comes off as a bit of jealousy.

    • Zaewen April 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      The fact is, as you readily mention, the gaming market and fiction/fantasy market is no longer the domain of men and hasn’t been for quite some time. Women are fast approaching 50% of gaming demographics and yet the old ‘sex sells’ mantra has yet to be abandoned or modified by the industry. It would be one thing if half of our game art featured busty babes in bikinis and the other half featured lithe hunks in speedos, but the only sex the industry seems interested in selling is female sex, and even more specifically female sex to male gamers. This is big part of feminist critique of the practice: male gamers are catered and pandered to with the vast majority of games and female gamers are left in the cold with no such favored treatment and with the implicit message that they are not considered to be ‘real gamers’ or a part of the ‘real target audience’.

      There’s also the whole fact that having such fantastically attired and, often times, impossibly proportioned women held up as ideals of femininity and women that sends another truck load of messages about what women *should* look and act like. It’s the same critique as the one behind feminist criticism of photoshopping models and celebrities in magazines to be thinner, whiter, and bigger breasted. They both contribute to the deluge women have to wade through every day of their lives that prescribes and proscribes their experiences with their bodies, their looks, and their personalities. The only difference with gaming is that it sends out the message that even in their fantasy worlds, their escapism entertainment where women get to do and be whatever and whomever they want, they still have to live up this impossible ideal. Even if they’re facing down dragons and demons, they still need to be skinny, buxom, wearing as little as possible, in heels, with their backs arched and mouths pursed ever so seductively.

      A naive person (or purposefully derailing one such as yourself) would say “Oh but you can just not buy their games, vote with your dollars!”. A cynical person would reply that gets us nowhere, that there are only two outcomes when female gamers vote with their dollars: A) They don’t buy the games and the game publisher just pulls the old canard that “Well, obviously no women buy our games cause women don’t play games” or B) Women buy the games anyways, because hey it’ll be a fun game despite the insipid representation of women and if they never bought games with bad representations of women they’d never get to play that many games, and then game companies get to go “Hey look, female sex sells even to women!” and continue doing more of the same old shit.

      All of which would be why I do avoid game that have the absolute worst representations of women in them (or are notorious for gratuitous sex sells bull shit) and, in addition to that, write and participate in feminist critiques of the representation of women (and other minorities) in games. It has and does affect game developers willing to listen. For instance I know for a fact that game developers on Kingdoms of Amalur, Guild Wars 2, and Mass Effect have read and taken into consideration these critiques when they made and advertised their games and dealt with their communities.So this way, the discussions of booth babes and female representation in games, DOES work, and it does so far more effectively than individual, silent boycotts of games or booths with booth babes which is exactly what people mean when they say “why not just vote with your dollars”.

      To insist otherwise to people participating in feminist critiques, to suggest that they just shup up already and just don’t buy or play the game, is to try to get them to use that less effective method. Which such trolls probably realize is the less effective method and thus their preferred one for feminists to take. They really don’t want feminists changing the gaming world away from the old boys club they remember it being. The fact of the matter is, though, that it has changed and is changing still, and moving toward a more progressive and inclusive end. Sometimes that progress is baby steps, but it’s still progress nonetheless.

      Oh, and if you don’t want to flag yourself immediately as a derailing troll out to silence feminist critique of gaming, you might not want to break out the old “feminists are just ugly women that are jealous of pretty ladies” trope. Because no amount of ‘no offense intended’ will mask the offense you intended and it actually doesn’t work as any form of argumentative tactic. All it does is show your true colors.

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