EG Expo head Rupert Loman yesterday followed PAX bosses in outright banning the use of booth babes at his event. E3 and gamescom must follow his lead on this offensive anachronism, says Patrick Garratt.
Booth babes at games events are the post-ban cigarette in the bar, a pervasive stink modernisers politely ignore until eventually, inevitably, some brave soul has to insist that the offender take their antediluvian discourtesy outside.
One of the fiercest debates in games this year has centred on sexism, and more specifically on whether or not its overt form - both in terms of content and marketing - still has a place in the industry. The entire subject crystalised yesterday when Eurogamer Expo promulgated an apology for allowing booth babes into its 2012 event, adding that their presence would be spiflicated from next year’s show.
This is great or terrible, depending on who you are. Feminists in both the specialist and mainstream media have seized on the topic recently, calling for a serious shift in attitudes from publishers, developers and journalists when it comes to inimical depictions of women. Right wingers, usually timidly waving their breast-shaped flags on social media as opposed to presenting a cogent argument as to why the rubric of games brutally sexualising the female form should be maintained, have been in a perpetual state of eye-rolling at the entire morass. A clamp-down on booth babes and sexualisation seriously represents censorship and inhibits freedom of expression and speech, say they.
Utter bullshit. The notion is, of course, ridiculous and indefensible. A great many people are offended by sexist marketing. It’s 2012, not 1990. Women’s rights, quite correctly, present a ferocious contemporary battleground, and one that must be ultimately won by proponents of plenary sexual equality. Rupert Loman, the managing director of Eurogamer Network and the boss of Eurogamer Expo, is right to have taken a stand in this case. A company who hadn’t exhibited at the show before arrived this year with a gaggle of soubrettes wearing QR codes on their hot-pants. In case it wasn’t clear, the idea of this “stunt” was that people should use their phones to scan the codes in from models’ backsides on the showfloor. If you have this kind of activity in your show, you’re associated with it. You’re condoning it. Rupert clearly decided he didn’t want his name mired with presenting this style of sell-tactics to the thousands of children and families that crammed into Eurogamer Expo last week.
If you’re still arguing that big-tit marketing in a show open to the general public is “just a bit of fun,” it’s probably time for resipiscence. This isn’t about whether or not the women being employed have the right to do the job, but rather that femininity is being reduced to “make us bend over and shoot our asses because you’re a perennially erect, two-footed penis. You have no brain: you will buy this product because we marketed at your biology like an 0898 number in the back of a ‘lads’ mag. Women are asses you want to fuck. You’re a fuck-rod. Now give us some money." It’s broadside contumeliousness. If women want to work in industries in which they’re distilled to the sum of their sexual parts, that’s entirely up to them; what is being contested here is the right of companies to commit such depredations before mainstream audiences.
The ontogeny of the sexism in games debate recapitulates the phylogeny of the subject in general. As with the rest of society, the games trade, however slowly, has become acutely aware that using sex to sell in this way is, to say the least, solecistic. While bumptious lefties have repeated the message to the point of palilalia, susurruses of discontent are now being heard across the spectrum and the momentum’s obvious: it’s widely accepted that the tottering lasciviousness we’ve previously endured at E3 and gamescom is anachronistic. It’s not up for debate hereafter. Eurogamer Expo’s move transmutes the booth babe issue from theory to fact in Europe, and PAX has already made the step. It’s happened, and other games shows should now find themselves pressured to follow suit. It's time: ban the booth babe.
Inuring to the use of show models isn’t a female manumission - although some crusaders may well see it as such - but, less grandly, is about ensuring sexuality can’t be discomfortingly and capitalistically exploited in everyday environments over which we can exert control. Booth babes at games events are the post-ban cigarette in the bar, a pervasive stink modernisers politely ignore until eventually, inevitably, some brave soul has to insist that the offender take their antediluvian discourtesy outside. Finally, we have an unirenic landlord, Rupert Loman, with the sangfroid to pull the ashtrays from the tables and point to the door. Some things, we have learned with time, should be kept out of public spaces: sexist marketing is one of them.
Image credit: Pop Culture Geek.