Lost Humanity 15: Booth Babes

Rab speaks out on the less welcome side of modern games exhibitions.

I was disappointed not to make it to the Eurogamer Expo at the weekend there. By all accounts it was a great event, and it managed to distract people from the inevitability of death for a few days. I was having to enjoy the event vicariously, by stalking those people who did attend on Twitter and Facebook.

Here's the thing, though. Something kept coming up. And it's a tricky thing to talk about on these pages, because... well, because I appreciate the platform Eurogamer has given me here. I don't want to seem like an ungrateful beast, striking out at those who put food on my daughter's table. But we're going to have to talk about these Booth Babes, right? I mean, I can't not talk about these Booth Babes.

As I did my stalking, I saw a lot of people talk about how disappointed they were that Booth Babes were at the Eurogamer Expo. In case you don't know what a Booth Babe is, the Oxford English Dictionary of Gamer Terms describes them thus:

Booth Babe (Boof Bayb): A woman who is paid to stand for hours in painful high heels and skimpy clothes by a corporate body operating under the dated notion that tech products can't be sold without appealing to the worst elements of a perceived demographic.

USAGE: "Wow, dude, did you see that Booth Babe over by the Virgin Gaming stand?! She's so super hot and she has a QR code on her ass!" "Who uses QR codes?" "Who cares, man?! What an ass!"

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I had literally no idea what to use for images on this piece, so here's a shot from Dark Souls.

"Oh God, I'm doing Booth Babe stuff next weekend. The money's okay, but... ugh."

This has got to stop. It just has to stop.

Recently, here in the UK, there's been a campaign to pressure national tabloid newspaper The Sun into dropping its Page 3 models. For those of you outside the UK, I should explain what Page 3 is. Imagine something for me. Imagine you decided to start a newspaper. Now, imagine you are in a brainstorming session with the team who will help you to create this newspaper. Now imagine that someone raises a hand and says - "Hey, I've got an idea. What if we show a big photograph of a 19 year old girl with bare breasts on our third page every single morning?" You'd think that person had some serious issues, right?

Well, The Sun puts that very idea into practice every morning, and has printed those photos for decades. The very concept of Page 3 is a throwback to a time that most of us have left behind. I was a kid in the early 80s, and I can remember the mainstream media portraying women as inconsequential, silly little things. (That's why things like alternative comedy happened - and thankfully I was more influenced by that than by what came before it.) The fight to reverse that behaviour is an ongoing thing, and stamping out things like Page 3 is an essential part of the battle.

But hey - I'm a gamer. So what do we have that we should be stamping out? I've spoken before on this site about the sexism and misogyny in gaming. It's everywhere. We can and should fight those battles one by one, calling out hateful games and hateful developers as we find them. And we will find them. But this Booth Babe business is really our Page 3. It's a tacky, ugly thing that has crept into the standard practice of things, and it's a thing that has plenty of people defending it.

Many (guys) say it's harmless. Just some harmless fun. Many (guys) say that these women aren't being exploited, because they're choosing to do it and are getting paid to do it. Many (guys) say that only prudes get annoyed by these things and that we should all just loosen up, because there's nothing wrong with enjoying the female form. It's all pretty much the same kind of defence you hear for The Sun's Page 3 "Stunners", and I expect to see some of it in the comments after this piece.

But it doesn't wash with me. I love to look at beautiful women. And I'm certainly no prude. But I think it's important in life to look not only at what things are, but also at what they do and what they mean. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to work from the standpoint that in a male-dominated society where the oppression of women is constant and real, very little is ever harmless.

What does the concept of the Booth Babe say about women? It says that women's place at any tech-related event can only be as an attractive decoration to sweeten the event for the men. It says that women aren't truly welcome in that world, because the moment you objectify something it isn't part of anything. It's just there. It's just something else to be consumed. Fundamentally, it depicts a woman as a product.

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I think we'll just make it a rule. When no screenshots fit the piece, we'll use Dark Souls.

What does the concept of the Booth Babe say about men? It says that we objectify women to such an extent that we will think nothing of attractive women just "being there" while we watch. It says that we are exactly what a corporate entity believes us to be. It makes us a predictable, easily defined and easily manipulated stick-man on a company whiteboard. It cheapens us. It cheapens all of us. It cheapens the event, and everyone at it, male or female.

This stuff isn't trivial. Page 3 and Booth Babes are the same thing - they are the stealthy, smiling progenitors of casual sexual objectification.

Have you ever seen some gamer dude getting his photo taken with a Booth Babe? Some chunky, pale guy, grinning as he puts an arm around the waist of a beautiful young girl. A moment captured forever, of this guy and this girl. The guy is probably a good guy. A good friend, a kind person. A good son. He'll be a good dad one day. But in that moment? When that photo is being taken? He's not posing for a photo beside a person. He's posing for a photo with a thing he's seen. A beautiful, unattainable thing. An object.

These moments are killing us. It has to stop.

Eurogamer, it has to stop.

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