On Saturday, Damien and I attended this year’s EB Expo in Sydney. We’ll have our thoughts on all the games, as well as opinions on the next gen consoles that we got our sweaty, pox covered hands on later in the week, but today I want to talk about something I saw at the event. It’s not a new issue – it’s one that has been talked about and written about and yelled about at great length after seemingly every trade and community event in the games industry. Every single time. And yet, every year, every event, it happens again. Someone, somewhere, is not getting the message.
I am, of course, referring to the issue of booth babes.
I don’t care if it’s been written about a gazillion times before. I want to write about it too, right now, because damnit, rage.
Several booths at EB Expo this year employed beautiful women, supplied them with a gaudy handful of hemlines, and sent them forth with pamphlets to gather a crowd to the booth. Covered (I use the word incredibly generously) in technicolour expectorations of brand names and logos, these women are walking billboards and pamphlet dispensers; a collection of breasts and buttocks whose sole purpose is to attract men.
It’s tacky. It’s pathetic. It’s sickening. And it’s still too common.
I hold no enmity to those women. They’ve got a relatively sweet gig. Getting paid to stand around for 12 hours in uncomfortable clothes and uncomfortable heels, getting stared at and photographed and sneakily groped by thousands of strangers all day. Well, maybe it’s not that great a job. I don’t know. But either way, all the women themselves did was accept money for time and services, just like every other employee anywhere. No, the booth babes themselves hold no blame for the practice.
The ones to blame are those who employ them.
The sad thing is, someone, somewhere, thinks that booth babes work. PR companies splash out money every year on booth babes. Set aside the pay for having people help at the booth (someone would have to be employed to help anyway), they still have to justify the expenditure on “uniforms” for the booth babes, and the various themed set pieces and trinkets that serve as further window dressing. In a business where margins matter (ie any business), any wasted cash is bad. So someone, somewhere, is saying that spending the extra cash on having booth babes brings in extra revenue.
I don’t have adequate vocabulary for what I think of those people.
About 40% of EB Expo’s Saturday attendees were women, based on absolutely no concrete data at all other than my observation and guesses. I talked to a woman or two while I was there, and the topic of booth babes came up. They felt awkward about it. If booth babes target men and push away women, then spending money on a practice that targets only 60% of the potential audience while alienating potentially 40% of the audience is not good value. Even if my estimates, assumptions, and mathematics are completely unrepresentative, it still isn’t worth the damage the practice does to, well, everyone.
Booth babes degrade women, reducing women to objects, decorations to act as honey pots for ogling men and reinforcing institutionalised misogyny. Booth babes degrade men, saying that they are expected to be a collection of base sexual urges with no control over themselves. Booth babes degrade the products they are employed to promote, stating that their product is so rubbish that marketers need to attract men with scantily clad women to even be interesting. And booth babes degrade every person who plays video games, reinforcing the stereotype of gamers as the ugly loner boy virgin desperate for any female contact at all, rather than reflecting the true diversity of the demographic.
The practice of employing booth babes (and I know that gaming conventions aren’t the only places where the practice occurs) should die a swift death so we can move the entire narrative on. Games and hardware can sell themselves, and those who attend these conventions deserve to be treated that way.
Booth babes? Stop doing it.