I see some folks chattering about E3 booth babes and the effect they have on attitudes, perceptions, the roles of women in the industry, etc. This is a great conversation, so I’m jumping in by declaring that I presented game demos at E3 2011 and therefore award myself honorary status as a “bearded booth babe.”
Look, the attitude of advertising products by draping them in sex is, well, sexist. This is what I like to call, in technical terms, duh. Having scantily-clad women present in person to advertise products targeted primarily toward testosterone-drenched male audiences is exploitative and makes a number of people uncomfortable, as well as reflecting poorly on the entire industry. I don’t believe that any rational person will actually argue these points.
That said, bitching on your blog and on Twitter is not a solution. (EDIT: What I mean here is, JUST bitching is not a solution. Conversation is only one step…) It’s ranting. It’s emoting. You probably feel great doing it, but you haven’t changed a damned thing. Here’s what I didn’t read based on these conversations:
“Wow, I never thought of these issues in these terms. Your insightful presentation of the issues involved really got me to reconsider my attitudes and enculturated opinions regarding sexism, gender equality, and inclusiveness in the video game industry. I can no longer stand aside, and have formed a coalition of industry insiders who are going to lodge formal protests with the governing bodies of E3 and the industry in general to see if we can change some attitudes and behaviors. Next year’s E3 will be a more inclusive environment!” – No one ever.
No, the quotes I’ve seen have fallen into two categories. “I’m an apologist of some stripe and before you even raised this issue, I had decided that you need to get over boothbabes because it’s how things are” is at war with “I am unhappy with the status quo and before you even raised this issue, I had decided that I totally agree and booth babes have to go.” Note the importance here: Arguing on the Internet is not changing anyone’s mind, much less actually generating action on the issue.
Booth babes are a form of product marketing. Marketing has one primary overriding purpose — to promote awareness of products and cultivate higher sales numbers. I cannot fault a marketing professional for deciding to use a form of marketing that is proven to generate interest and discussion, because at the end of the day, generating chatter and sales is this person’s job. Saying no to booth babes could, in the heat of business life, be a career-limiting move. It’s easy to sit comfortably behind a keyboard and demand that someone put their job on the line in the name of morality and equality, but it’s an awfully difficult action to take when it’s your own mortgage hanging in the balance. Still, I wish we could see exactly this decision being made. So, what should we do?
Gamers, it’s actually up to you. If you rant and cry out about booth babes, then it is your duty to intelligently boycott the advertised products. Step one is do not buy the games. I’m serious. If you actually believe in your cause, then standing up for a non-sexist environment is far more important than playing the latest, hottest game. If the marketing succeeded, then WHY WOULD YOU EXPECT THEM TO EVER STOP? Buying a game advertised in a manner you don’t like is explicitly condoning the conduct. While this makes me feel genuinely bad for the good developers who are hurt by reduced sales, the fact is that if sales aren’t reduced, this conduct will continue. But not buying isn’t enough; who can say why a sale wasn’t made? It’s non-data. Step two is tell them why you did not buy. Politely. In an email. Maybe even coordinate some followers to send many copies of a politely-phrased note, or a few multi-signed letters. Post them as open letters online. Generate a few hundred or a few thousand of polite, respectful, coordinated responses and I can almost guarantee a change.
And that brings me to my final thought — the moral high road is only available so long as you stay on it. I don’t mean to pick on this fellow, because I completely understand the sentiment, but here’s a perfect disrespectful response:
@br I’m not even there and I’m a male, and it’s an assault on my self-esteem too, because #E3 implies all men are sexist twats. – Twitter / Webimpulse
That thought could have ended with “…because #E3 implies all men are sexist.” And I respect the pain of 140 characters for thoughts, but I think this is a conversation that can move forward faster with mutual respect. Some companies are engaging in regrettable conduct with ramifications on equality and sexual enculturation. Focus on that. There simply is no place for name-calling and emotive ranting if we want to make progress. Even if that means I can’t end this article by calling anyone a douchenozzle.