Last year I read an article by Chet Roivas discussing one of the industry’s most controversial subjects, booth babes. The piece in question made several interesting points and led me to one conclusion: We need to discuss this more openly.
To most, this is a fairly obvious statement; of course we need to discuss it. We do need to discuss it, but we aren’t. Instead of a rational discussion, we’re dealing in extremes. “Booth babes should be banned.” “Who are we to tell women what to do?” “Satan himself created booth babes to test Man’s morality.” I’ve heard every argument for and against booth babes, yet Chet Roivas’ editorial was the first that actually discussed it.
So, let’s discuss it, shall we?
I currently reside neutral on the booth babe argument. That may sound like a cop out so please allow me to explain: I am against the practice of over-sexualizing videogames. I am against treating women as eye-candy for gamers to masturbate over. I am, however, not against the practice of having a model to sell a product.
My biggest issue with booth babes is over-sexualization. Here’s the latest Tekken game; here’s an expensive car with some tits on the front. Hey guys, look how quirky and fun we are. We strapped a QR code to a girl’s bum.
I still cannot fathom who at Virgin Gaming came up with the idea of strapping a QR code to girl’s behind and thought this was a good idea.
The mentality of “More boobs. More sales” is so very dated. Yes, it sells; the numbers don’t lie. But as an industry, are we not better than this? Have we not moved away from the knuckle-dragging male stereotype? Here’s the thing: Some games actually sell without having to shove breasts in men’s faces. Minecraft sold in its millions, but when was the last time you saw Notch surrounded by a harem of scantly clad girlies?
So who is responsible for over-sexualizing said babes? Is it the consumer? Yes and no. If you put a girl wearing next to nothing in front of a heterosexual male, he’s going to look, and he’ll enjoy it. You see, not all of us men were raised in seclusion. Some of us may glance at a person of the opposite sex, and – dare I say it – find them attractive.
Where this argument gets twisted is in the belief that looking at an attractive lady makes you a pervert. Sure, if you go out with the intention of staring at women for prolonged periods of time, then you’ll get locked up. Admiring the female form is healthy. If it wasn’t, our species would have died out a long time ago. The problem here though, is that we’re not admiring the natural – and realistic – female form, we’re admiring unobtainable girls who create the illusion of genuine interest.
This ‘perfect’ girl with ‘perfect tits’ and a ‘perfect’ waist says I’m funny. She had a QR code on her ass, so she must be telling the truth, right? RIGHT?!
Yes, the consumer is partially responsible for over-sexualizing the babes. After all, it is the consumer who gets off on semi-naked booth babes. But it’s not all the consumer’s fault. The consumer didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head and say “Booth babes or the bunny gets it!” The publishers are the ones who pay for these girls and the publishers are the ones who signed off on the idea that less is more, when it comes to videogame PR.
If we revisit the idea of extremes, then the publishers who pay for booth babes should just stop paying for them and instead hire fat, ugly people who suffer from sever halitosis to sell their latest gaming product. Of course it doesn’t matter that we’ve just put people out of work and that we’ve shut the door on anyone with more than three teeth, because we’ve solved the problem of the evil booth babes. Hurray?
When dealing with extremes (ban this sick filth!) nothing gets solved. Banning booth babes entirely does nothing but shove the discussion to one side. It’s fixed, we don’t need to discuss it further. Only it’s not really fixed, is it? It’s just been swept aside. Out of sight out of mind, correct? All we’ve done is put a plaster over the cracks. At some point, that dam is going to burst wide-open and flood the world with nerds who don’t like being told what to do and what to look at.
We can’t have booth babes and we can’t not have booth babes. So what’s the alternative?
For a start, we need to address a question: What’s the alternative – Ban ’em or keep ’em? No one offers a solution, only one-sided arguments which condemn those who think differently. Somewhere along the line, we’ll need to find a middle-ground where both sides of the argument are happy.
If I were in charge, I’d propose three areas that need addressing: booth people, context, and less sex.
Booth people would solve a part of the sexism argument, at least. Roughly 53% of gamers are male, 47% female. How exactly does having a QR codes on a girl’s ass appeal to straight women and gay men? If you’re going to use beautiful people to make your product look better than it is, don’t discriminate. It’s not: Men are sex mad rapists who need tits on a pole to enjoy something. And it’s also not: Women are all nuns who have to give penance every time they see a good looking guy; have you ever met the 50 Shades crowd?
What still remains if we were to usher in booth people, is the question of context. Are we seeing these girls and boys in context to what they’re selling?
Virgin Gaming: Buy our shit or we’ll tattoo a QR code on your ass.
Tekken: Now with added cars and boobs.
Neither of these examples are in context to what they’re selling. Imagine this: You go into a videogame store to buy the latest iteration of Pokemon. When you get to the Pokemon display you meet a girl with overly-large breasts in a Pikachu bikini. Is that in context? Not really. It’ll make more people buy it, that’s a given; however, it makes Pokemon appear sleazy as a consequence because the context doesn’t fit what is expected of a game aimed at children.
Now imagine you’re going to a ‘behind closed doors’ Saints Row event. It’s 10 PM and everywhere you look there’s women in bikinis and ripped men in mankinis, waving around purple dildos. This to me makes sense. It’s an 18+ game, at an after hours show, promoting a game that is known for being risqué. In context, the Saints Row imaginary event works.
It’s all about context. Pokemon isn’t sexy, so there’s no need to sexualize it. Saints Row however, is very sexy, so shows with near-naked models makes sense; but is a daytime exhibition the best place for this kind of show? Probably not.
My last point ties in with my previous two: Don’t over-sexualize booth babes. For all the reasons listed, we don’t need sex to sell us a product – unless it’s a sex toy, of course. If you want to hold your own event, for adults, go for it. The issue here is with the over-sexualization of babes who cover booths at gaming conventions not models hired for private PR shows.
With these three propositions in place, what would I put forward as an alternative to booth babes? The answer is booth babes (bear with me, there is a degree of logic here)…
Having attractive people (male and female) on your booth works. It draws the interest of passers by, and it’ll appear more appealing than a overweight, bearded developer who reeks of body odor. We also can’t forget that banning booth babes is putting people out of work.
Who are we to take jobs off people because of the actions of a sex-driven publisher?
What we need is guidelines. A handsome man and an attractive girl in a fitted T-shirt with a product on, with formal trousers, is still hot and has the same effect as ‘next to nothing’ but it fits with context of a gaming convention without over-sexualizing the product.
Here’s another idea: Train the models in what the game is. Instead of having them only jiggle and flirt, have them look good without looking cheap and have them talk about the game they’re selling.
Imagine a booth babe/boy in a fitted Skyrim T-shirt banging on about how it’s 100 hours long or the difference in questlines or that you can become a werewolf. I guarantee that it would shift more copies than a female Dovahkiin in revealing armor who doesn’t know the difference between Morthal and Markarth.
Moving on: If there’s one thing you take from this piece, it’s that we need to discuss the problem not ignore it. Banning booth babes and putting people out of work isn’t a solution, it’s discrimination. How about we ban the publishers who pay for the booth babes? Oh wait. We can’t. That’d screw over conventions and ultimately make them less money. Silly me…
On the flip-side, we can’t ignore the problem. It needs addressing and (you guessing it) discussing. Discuss it openly with your friends. Write a post discussing how people should be discussing the discussion more when discussing things. Talk to the people affected and discuss the issue with them; see how they feel about it. Discuss. Discuss. Discuss.
It’s only with open eyes that we can see what’s in front of us; a problem that is in dire need of – Altogether now: DISCUSSING!