Game Conventions & Booth Babes
Now, this post isn’t what you might think it is about. Okay, maybe a little bit. In my PAX POX fevered dreams, I kept thinking about why Booth Babes bother me /now/ when they used to not. As always, a little history and context is probably great to help myself sort out what I want to say.
I moved to Texas in the 1976, the last month of 5th grade year. It wasn’t so bad (ZOMG HEAT AAAAGH) because I was looking forward to starting Middle School. The great part about that was there would be a whole new group of people who didn’t know each other; not just /me/ standing out as the “new girl”. I had been equally bullied and ignored for as long as I could remember, due to our moving around a lot (and being dirt poor, sometimes not having food & shelter). As an aside, you who are judgmental towards others, making snide comments about people who are different? It’s YOUR children who treated me this way. They didn’t learn it on their own.
Anyway, living in the Dallas, Texas in the 70s/80s, one of my favourite things was attending the Texas State Fair. We were all given free tickets at school. They would bus us out or we’d all get rides to Dallas so we could spend the day wandering around. Being poor and hungry, I loved all the free samples and saved scads of recipe cards. In my dreams, I’d some day have enough money to make them all and feed my family. My second favorite place at the faire was the Auto Show. The building was air-conditioned (yay!) and was so flashy and fancy. There were all kinds of shiny cars and equally shiny women showing them off. They were so glamorous with their long dresses, studded with sequins and big hair.
Those glamorous women? I wanted to be them. I was short skinny runty thing. The women were curvy and seemed to have their shit together. They were always nice to me, even though I wasn’t a target audience or anything. I also looked up to the Kilgore Rangerettes. I wanted to be one so badly, along with being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader & a Rockette. On the other hand, I also looked up on them as “bimbos”, who were too stupid and pretty to have a Real Job(TM). My desire for dance & performing was at odds with my inferiority complex. I mean, the women showing these cars weren’t smart. They were just to lure men into looking at the cars. None of them could possibly even figure out how to check the oil on a car, lest they break a nail. The women who were in the cheerleaders and drill team members were just Pretty Faces(TM). I assumed that none of them had a brain. In my silly Middle School mentality, I thought, “I will be the one who breaks the mold.”. Of course, I had no idea that I would stay short, skinny & runty.
Eventually, I auditioned for and became a member of my high school drill team. I was totally ready to take on the world, becoming a Smart Girl Who Did Amazing Things.
I loved it. I loved dancing and performing. I loved so many things about it. What I did love, however, was how all of a sudden, people treated me as I had lost my brain. I was no longer a Smart Girl, but was now a Pretty Girl. It was encouraged to become /more/ feminine and demure (which was already stretching things, just so I could dance). I was encouraged to ONLY be friends with certain people. All of a sudden, I was visible to a whole new set of boys, who had previously ignored me. Most of my geek friends didn’t care, but many of them wouldn’t talk to me any more. I was all of a sudden “One of THEM”; the people who looked down on the poor, the weird, the geeky and misfits. But really, I wasn’t! Nothing changed for me, except that /I/ became more open minded. I found that many who I had judged as being like this, I had judged them unfairly. I learned that people are going to be jerks, no matter where the come from. SOME of the “socials” as they were called, were jerks and bullies. But then, so were many of the “jocks”, “stoners” “drama fags”, “nerds”.
I chafed under all these expectations of my new status and didn’t like it. I didn’t like being treated like a pretty thing, without any other value as to sell something. I realized that the women who I thought had it easy, didn’t. I learned that PEOPLE TOUCH PRETTY THINGS THEY SHOULD NOT. And by pretty things, I mean, girls and women. Eventually, I was burned out by it all and quit. I couldn’t afford the jackets, the “sister gifts” and all the things that go into being a part of the drill team. I loved performing, I loved dancing and even became friends with girls I never thought I would like. However, as a poor person, I just couldn’t do this to my mom. I never got the letter jacket I wanted or a bunch of other things. I just couldn’t keep expecting my mom to fund it. Food & bills was the priority.
How does this relate to Games Conventions & Booth Babes? Well, through the years, I didn’t attend any large conventions. I went to smaller ones because I was so caught up in the renfaire scene (I love you and hate you, alt.fairs.renaissance. *kisses*). My first “big” gaming convention was PAX 2006. No booth babes and it was so very small and intimate. Once I hit Gen Con Anaheim, I ran into my first booth babes. There weren’t many, as there wasn’t that much focus on video games. Which leads to a whole ‘nother topic about the differences with table top booths & video game booths. For another day, perhaps.
Initially, I’d approach the women, as I love costumes and games. It quickly came apparent that I was talking to models. I felt sorta betrayed, that someone representing a company wouldn’t be able to tell me about the game. Why on earth were they there? (Duh moment came later) I was angry that I “wasted’ my time trying to have a conversation with A) someone who didn’t make or buy the costume B) someone who had no idea what games were. WTF people?
I also found out what is is like to be smart, beautiful and MAKE video games. I attended a few events while working on Pirates. We’d all dress up and YARRR all over the place. There were lots of requests for photos, especially with the younger attractive women on our team. That was okay, I was more interested that we were all having a good time and that plenty of people experienced the game.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the way a lot of men treated my co-workers. The assumption was that pretty + costume = booth babe. Which meant, completely ignorant of video games. That they were only “window dressing” to get people to look at the game. Men would flat out stare at them, ogle, pose for pictures and turn to ME to answer their question. I’d say, “You should ask X, who you just took pictures with. SHE was the one who designed that/created/whatever Y”. It never occurred to these men (and some women) that Pretty Girls Make Games, Too. They would look at X, look at me, and then completely dismiss them.
I went through a similar experience the years I was working in tech support. Invariably, men would always ask to speak to “someone else, I know you have a guy in the back”. They would constantly call me “darling, sweetheart” and tell me to get a “man on the phone”. When someone disagreed with my troubleshooting, they’d get abusive and would report me. Of course, I’d be told that I need to be “gentler” and “woman-like” to make them feel more comfortable. WTF?
Anyway, just call me tangent girl. I will bring it back to Booth Babes. I fell in love with the PAX team continually saying, “No Booth Babes Allowed. We want an inclusive and welcoming event.”. Duke Nukem Booth Babes (who are gamers) aside, there were HEAPS of Booth Babes out and about and a good many of them NOT in game booths, but in game hardware booths. By allowing Booth Babes in the game space, you devalue the models to be nothing but gamer fantasy meat. It makes for an uncomfortable space for the countless women developers and attendees. We’re being told again, “You don’t matter” and that it is perfectly acceptable to continue pretty =/= smart and smart =/= pretty. I’ll quote from this great article from Nerd Appropriate regarding the “One of Us” panel. I’m highlighting the important parts.
I was under the impression that PAX had a strict “no booth babes” philosophy and was surprised to see booth babes everywhere. I have to admit that I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Every “nerd” convention has them, so why all the fuss? Ali Thresher summed it up perfectly when she stated that as a female game developer, the presence of “booth babes” undermines her professionalism as a developer. It clicked for me. Women that work in the male dominated world of gaming want to be respected for their skill and intellect, not their curves. Having T+A readily on display is a step in the wrong direction (I can’t believe I just wrote that). Alli even mentioned that she was once groped by a male attendee who believed she was in fact a “booth babe”, because that’s okay right? I get it now, and so should PAX.
The issue has never really been about the models who work shows. They’re doing what they can to make a living. They are people and we should respect them as such. Agree with a Booth Babe policy or not, RESPECT THEM. As far as having booth babes at PAX? I expect it at a media show, like E3. I expect it in a variety of places. However, I expect that a convention billed as “an event FOR gamers BY gamers”, would actually take the time to respect other gamers. Be the inclusive experience it should want to be. It’s disrespectful to all. All. Of. Us.