Enough with the booth babes, please

Continuing in the spirit of my last blog post, in which I tackled issues probably just a little bit too heavy for this kind of column, I'm making a push to engender more intelligent consumerism on the part of gamers and, indeed, entertainment consumers in general. Specifically the male ones.

A couple years ago, another site I write for gave me the opportunity to cover the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Funnily enough, I normally live in the bay area but was staying in San Diego for school and had to be flown out. Being able to cover an event for a publication was actually pretty exciting for me. The time I spent in San Francisco radically changed my formerly poor opinion of the city, too, and I now visit regularly. (Folks in the bay area, by the way, owe it to themselves to check out the Hypnodrome, which is currently putting on the most unspeakably insane play I've ever seen.) While I was covering GDC, however, I had the privilege—or rather, the misfortune—of experiencing a convention stalwart in person. I witnessed the booth babe in her native habitat.

For the uninitiated (all four of them), booth babes are, generally speaking, beautiful, scantily-clad women whose sole purpose is to draw attention to the individual booths at most trade shows. They may engage you in conversation about whatever product is being shilled at their booth, but for all intents and purposes, they exist to look pretty and pull the mostly male convention-goers from the crowd.

Those of you who've always wanted to be at a convention and mingle with the booth babes will just have to take my word for it: these are the most depressing creatures I've ever seen—and I've been in my share of crappy pet stores. Meth-addled hookers cause me less psychological distress than these ladies. There's something authentically unsavory about this practice, and while I'm not going to sit here in my ivory tower and preach about how bad I feel for these girls—I hope they're making good money, at least—I will say I'm pretty disgusted with the institution that produces them.

Consider a commercial for Axe products, something rife with beautiful women who are so incredibly turned on by a man using an Axe product that, well... frankly, if you haven't raced out and bought it by now, you're an idiot doomed to a horrible, sexless existence. Now consider what this commercial is actually talking about. It suggests women are sex objects, nothing more, whose panties get in a tizzy whenever someone wearing a body spray is wandering around. It suggests you like watching beautiful, nubile women in this tizzy. And it suggests you, the male viewer in the target demographic, are stupid enough to buy this crap. How much of the commercial has anything to do with the quality of the product? And how much of it has to do with just flaunting female flesh in front of you under the assumption that you'll be dumb enough to both marginalize the more numerous half of the species and buy something because it'll make you look cool with girls? Noodle it out for yourself, because we're circling back to my initial point.

How much do you think the booth babe really has to do with the products on display? At least Axe is somehow tied to the scent of the male body, which women do key off of sometimes, just as males will key off of how a woman smells. The booth babe often has nothing whatsoever to do with the product at hand; her job is to look pretty and make whoever's around interested in whatever's available. The really hilarious thing is that if you're a regular male reader of The Tech Report, odds are good that just getting a look at the hardware or games floating around would've been enough. This stuff is like porn to me, at least. On Friday mornings I thumb through the Fry's ad like a sex addict through a Hustler Barely Legal magazine.

What's really depressing is the way the electronics and gaming industries go hand-in-hand in revealing themselves to be profoundly misogynistic through this kind of practice. Those of you who've been paying attention may have noted the hit E3 took when it banned booth babes from the show floor in 2006, though admittedly, some awful restructuring decisions would come on the heels of that ban and nearly fatally wound the expo in 2007. Attendance in 2006 was actually down 14% from the previous year, even though all three next-generation gaming systems were on the floor. And sadly, in a bid to resurrect E3 this year, booth babes were reinstated.

Of course, if you want to get your fix of booth babes, there's always Computex, among other trade shows.

I just honestly find the practice depressing and dehumanizing. I feel dumber for being part of the demographic—an owner of a functional penis—that these women are trotted out for. And you have to wonder if the female attendees and journalists, the rarefied female gamers and tech enthusiasts, don't feel at least a little disenfranchised or objectified by crap like this. There's no reason these fields have to be male-dominated, except that they've been a boys' club for so long that most of the incumbents would sooner just shrug it off and forget about it.

That's an easy thing to do, too. I'm sure someone in the comments will cry foul, saying I'm taking this too seriously or being oversensitive or just trolling for brownie points with the ladies. Yet as a writer and producer of content, it's my job to produce something of intelligence and value, and booth babes actually do merit some discussion here since they're a symptom of a greater issue (which I will cheerfully explore in future blogs). I don't cry myself to sleep at night thinking of those poor girls in the tiny clothes being fawned over by the unwashed masses, but I definitely got uncomfortable around them at GDC 2007. (Side note: S3's babes, much like the booth, were the epitome of depressing.)

Still, I feel obligated to ask: is stuff like this really doing anyone any favors?

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