I went to E3 this year. Although much fun was had playing the titles, seeing famous people in the industry, and generally having a nice time, I couldn't help but be intensely unhappy about one thing. This one thing is how as soon as I walked into the world of E3 I was greeted by seeing "booth babes". Although I certainly had known they would be here before, I never really thought about just how pervasive it is. This was the first time I was really forced to spend days at E3 and see that they were everywhere. From Atlus to Nintendo, booth babes were nearly at every booth to help lure people over.
Now, before I really get into this let me say I really hate the term "booth babe" itself. Regardless, I'm going to use it because other terms will probably confuse the issue further, especially for those who have never considered it an issue. Perhaps I'm furthering it just by calling these women booth babes, but that is how this piece is going to be written right now.
I'm not sure why I didn't feel like it would really be this way. Perhaps because year after year I always have ignored sites posting booth babe "photo roundups". I can see women in a great deal of ways and seeing ones who are only tangentially related to gaming isn't particularly interesting. So, while I knew that booth babes would be around I wasn't actually prepared for it. Especially not with how they were literally everywhere I looked. Some were in costumes and some were in uniforms, but either way, they were obviously instructed to show skin.
The vast majority of people sent out to represent each booth's products were women. While there were usually men around too, they were dressed in uniforms free of showing off their body. This year there weren't even men costumed up in any state of undress. Instead, there were maybe a few guys in space armor or military-style attire. As they appeared to be physically fit I'd classify them as booth "hunks" but there was probably only four or five overall. In comparison, the amount of women in costume was higher. The amount of women in skin-showing uniforms was probably in the hundreds. The amount of women in dress which was comparable to their male partners, was probably around three.
Although it should probably have been obvious by looking at how 99% of the booth babes were thin and stereotypically beautiful, not all of these women were employees of the companies they represented. They were hired for this event, taught some facts about their games, then dressed up and unleashed on the convention center. These women were very nice and helpful with simple information sharing, but the vast majority had nothing to actually do with the industry. I can understand why Nintendo (with their massive booth) would need to call extra help, but why did the smaller booths feel it necessary to hire extra help? Atlus, for example, had a very small square booth but still had its share of miniskirt-wearing booth babes.
There is nothing wrong with these women taking the job of booth babe, either, in case someone thinks that's where I'm going with this. If these women enjoy being a helpful spokesperson for gaming and other industries then good for them. They're simply taking work where it is offered so they are no way at fault for the trend of booth babes in this industry (and others). They're obviously also not the ones making the costume or uniform selections. That's all on the people in control of the booths.
Perhaps it is due to me not being on Twitter seriously until this year, but I never noticed such a strong backlash against E3's booth babes before. As such, since the event I've read many things posted about the issue from a great deal of people. I've read some from men, some from women, and overall the critical response is that booth babes shouldn't have a place in E3. I agree.
I can't help but feel like one thing is missing from the critical analysis of why exactly booth babes are bad for E3. Both men and women seem to be focusing on the huge issue of how booth babes effect women in and around the industry. With booth babes left and right, it makes you tune them out. Not only them though, but also other women. It's a horrific thing because no doubt women in game development, publishing, media, or otherwise may be viewed less seriously because of all the booth babes around.
It also may be hurtful to women to see these women on display. There's no nice way to say that. These women are obviously chosen and dressed up to be on display. They are meant to attract someone to the booth. As they're all primarily skinny it also isn't helpful to self image, and in general, is just quite negative. Booth babes no doubt are affecting the perception of women in the industry, as well as women themselves who come to E3.
However, there's one thing that no men (that I have read) speak about. Whenever they write about booth babes and why this is a bad idea they talk about how it harms women or how it harms the view of the industry to outsiders. If not that, they may speak to it not being helpful for expanding the industry in the future (as it's not inviting to the growing audience of women). This is all true but why can no men say that it effects them too?
For me, it was a huge shock and made me feel terrible. Sure, I'm not a woman, but that doesn't mean I'm wholly unfazed by the display of thin flesh left and right. I am a feminist, but the distaste I feel toward booth babes at E3 is not purely because of how it treats women and how women will feel about it. This is a huge deal, and probably the larger side of things overall, but as a man I felt bad too. I felt bad for myself.
Were these women meant to pander to me? They must have. I'm a straight man who loves video games. This is what the developers and publishers believe to be their biggest audience and so they were pandering to it. However, thrusting lots of skimpily-dressed women everywhere makes it seems like their biggest audience is actually young teenage straight males. How does this make any sense? E3 is not simply a fan expo but a business convention for adults only. E3 isn't the only part of gaming culture which attempts to treat me like a teenage boy, but it seems most obvious here.
Are men like me meant to love this? Are we supposed to flock to a booth simply because a pretty girl is smiling in our general direction? Are we meant to be excited to play a game simply because a girl compliments me on a shirt or says the game she's demoing is fun? Apparently so, and I hated it.
It made me feel ashamed. Initially, I didn't even want to enter certain booths because their perimeter was dotted with booth babes. I didn't want to be associated with such a thing. I am not enticed to play a game because a girl is dressed up in the same vicinity. It repelled me, not because I thought the women were ugly, or anything of the sort. It was because I KNEW what this was about. It's about pandering to a specific audience, who I feel isn't even very strongly in attendance.
There are definitely people at E3 who like this showing of booth babes. I saw many people taking pictures of booth babes or even posing with them. On the other hand, with the small amount of booth hunks, people only seemed to take pictures OF them, not with their arms around them. So yes, there are definitely people at E3 the opposite of me and who benefit from booth babes. In turn, the companies that hire these women benefit too. However, I doubt this is the majority of attendees who react this way with booth babes.
For me at least I felt awful. I wanted to purely enjoy my time but it was hampered tremendously by these booth babes. They did nothing to me and I did nothing to them but it just felt awful. Here I was, participating in an industry which thinks this is completely fine. It's not fine for a million reasons and I doubt it really makes much business difference either. The only way we would know is if one year they suddenly banned booth babes at E3, but I doubt this will happen anytime soon. Companies will continue to argue that it's completely helpful as the majority of gamers are still male. And straight. And horny.
This is insulting. Not only is it hugely incorrect, it is completely ridiculous. E3 isn't the only part of the industry which treats us this way, but it certainly is the most obvious with it. Women deserve better treatment in and around the gaming industry than this. The industry deserves to treat itself better too, because this is hardly professional. Men, too, though also deserve to be treated in a respectful fashion instead of this supposed pandering to "our desires". It makes me feel like $@#%. It makes me feel worse that no men who I have read on the subject have ever brought up their own issues with booth babes. Why don't they? Sometimes I worry it's because they are okay with it themselves, and only change their thoughts when thinking about how it must cause women trouble.
Again, I'm not trying to say women shouldn't be a big focus of this. Of course they should! However, we have tons of discourse already about how this affects women, both by women and men on the subject. The issue of how booth babes may be problematic for men though is left un-discussed. So there are my thoughts about it.