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The End of the Booth Babe?

January 22nd, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Brenda Brathwaite at the IGDA has noted that the new E3 rules may cramp the style of those game developers and publishers that like to dress up their dross with eye candy. (Hat tip: Utopian Hell.)

“Material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the Show floor, all common areas, and at any access points to the Show. ESA, in its sole discretion, will determine whether material is acceptable.”

There will be one warning, after which a fine will be assessed until models comply with the dress code.

So no bathing suit bottoms and no nudity. That seems pretty clear. I’m not sure that “sexually explicit” has ever been a problem, but some peoples’ definition of explicit is a little broader than mine.

Now “sexually provocative” is another matter altogether. Barring the fact that some of the attendees will get aroused by the PS3, the whole purpose of the booth babe (or spokesmodel) is to be provocative. They dress in skimpy outfits, draw nerds with cameras to their booths and maybe get a little more coverage for whatever they are selling.

It is often pointed out that many trade shows use models to attract attendees and vendors to their product. Game shows are not alone in hiring would-be actresses, low rent models or whoever else doesn’t mind standing around in a vinyl dress while being gawked at by whoever walks by.

It doesn’t really matter.

The gaming industry has an image problem. Even if you disagree with the blue stockings who want to sell games in plain brown wrappers, the public image of the industry is one that seems to be aimed at juvenile men who can’t keep their violent or sexual urges under control. This is clearly an effort to defuse criticism of the industry that it is obsessed with sex. Almost all of the complaints from the NIMF or Jack Thompson join the issues of sex and violence in a single critique. For even serious observers of game content, the union of sexual and thuggery prowess in the GTA series makes one pause, if not uninstall.

Not to mention the much debated gaming gender gap (which, judging by the students I teach, is decreasing rapidly). Young women who might be interested in gaming can’t surf a website in E3 season without being bombarded by “BEST BABEZ OF E3!!!” articles. An effort to tone down the titillation factor at the expo could be yet another attempt to reach out to an audience that has felt excluded or objectified by the industry’s biggest party.

Mind you, the E3 is supposed to be for adults only. Every year, people come back with stories of clearly adolescent youth wandering the floor despite the age requirement. Maybe this was an easier step than telling some Hollywood heavyweight not to bring his kids.

Brathwaite raises the concern that this amounts to ESA censorship of the content on the showroom floor. Does “material…conduct” would include the games themselves? Would a game with sexually provocative material be limited? Is this the kind of measure that the industry guardian of speech rights should be taking?

Of course, all of this could go nowhere. There are lots of ways to look pretty and not cross the ever-so-vague “provocative” line. We won’t see bikini bottoms or thongs, but you can bet that miniskirts or biking shorts will be conveniently ruled OK. The booth babe will be a little more dressed, but I don’t think she’s going anywhere.


One Comment so far ↓

  • GyRo567

    People say that things like this in the media are corrupting the newer generations, but as someone who has grown up in this environment, I can tell you this:

    I am actually better at ignoring it than you are. I’m supposedly part of the target audience (though I am admittedly in more of a niche than the true range) yet I feel neutral towards these advertisement tactics, if not offended by them.