Hotties for Rent

by Bonnie Ruberg - April 11, 2005, 3:03 pm PDT

Booth babes: What’s not to like? One girl gamer attempts to tackle the issues without spoiling the party...

Alright, you’re almost there. She can see you coming and she’s smiling. Suck up that bead of drool, wipe the sweat off your forehead, and try to take some deep breaths. Ready? Now your buddy’s got the camera poised and she’s putting her arm around your waist. Do you think she can tell that you’re shaking? She presses up against your shoulder and you flash a giant, nervous grin. Then, *click*, it’s done - another picture for the scrapbook, one more photo to document your exciting trip out to L.A. So just who is the special lady? Your date? Your girlfriend? Your wife? And why’s there a line forming behind you of equally excited, sweaty guys waiting to jump in the frame? Come to think of it, how did a guy like you get in a shot with a girl like her? Sure, she’s tricked out like an RPG character, but still, she’s hot. Exactly what the heck is going on?

Two simple words: Booth babe.

Booth babes, as any gamer who’s been to E3 can attest, are a definite presence in the world of video game expos. Many are local models or actresses with little or no affiliation with or interest in gaming. But in booth babe mode, these women are a vital part of the expo environment. They act both as advertisers and advertisements for all sorts of exhibitors. Dressed in attire that ranges from cute to sexy to totally-revealing, they hand out promotional items, pose for pictures, and spread the word about their company and its products. Due to the nature of their job, booth babes have come to represent a special sort of reversal in the social order of the universe. It’s pretty weird: very attractive women lavish extensive amounts of attention on largely unattractive crowds of men. So gamers who come to E3 not only get to play the hottest new titles, but play the new titles with hotties. As many gaming sites readily proclaim, it’s what makes E3 great. Of course, there are booth babes at other expos, but, at least for the gaming industry in America, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is definitely the biggest gathering of the year. As such, it has the most extensive collection of booth babes.

You can understand how, headed out to E3, a male gamer might feel pretty excited and a little overwhelmed. After all, can you really resent a guy for enjoying the company of beautiful women? And not only will plenty of them be present - many barely dressed - but they’ll be paying attention to him, whoever he might be. On top of everything else that’s going on, it must be pretty thrilling, being surrounded by models in short-shorts. Do all guys go weak in the knees (and hot in the groin) at the sight of these gaming-themed babes? No, but from what I can tell, it sure seems like most do. Different male gamers approach booth babes in different ways. Some brave conversation, while others play it safe and stay quiet. A lot, it seems, go in for the photo op, but even here there are options. Booth babes themselves have reported on men who, after coming in close for a picture, confessed it was their first time ever touching a girl. Apparently some men tremble and shake. Others try to make the most of their brief opportunity and slide a hand over the booth babe’s butt. What’s a hired hottie to do but smile for the camera?

The booth babe fascination doesn’t stop when E3 ends. Pictures from the expo wind up in online galleries - a popular staple of lots of gaming sites. Video montages of booth babes appear after the expo as perks for members at sites like IGN. Many other news sources, Planet GameCube included, have sold E3 DVD’s featuring similar footage. In short, the media helps feed the attraction. There are also entire sites run by individuals dedicated to the E3 booth babes. Here, their pictures can be admired and revisited all year long. Many of these sites go to great lengths to rank the babes according to hotness, inevitably reducing them from real people to mere hotties, and finally, to numbers. However, very few of those pro-babe guys express much interest in actually talking to the girls of their dreams. Though there are a small number of male-conducted, booth-babe interviews out there, most are pretty trivial, purposefully “sexy” and intended for an audience who might not really want to know the less-than-alluring stories behind these beauties. Overall, there’s a lack of discussion on the topic, of attempts to actually look at the issue instead of simply cheering on the entourage of hotties.

Even among girl gamer journalists, who, from what I gather, are not collectively so keen on the idea of booth babes, there’s a settling silence. That’s not to say nothing’s out there. Type “booth babes” into Google and, while you’re bound to pull up hundreds of sites with pictures of the same, grinning, high-heeled ladies from E3 2004, you’ll also find somewhere in the slush pile at least a few expo-goers (often female) who are interested in revealing to the world the real facts about these stunning ladies. They’ve uncovered some interesting details, but we need to know more. Not just about booth babes, but about ourselves as gamers. What do we want? What’s in our future? What’s exactly is the deal with guy gamers, girl gamers and the industry when it comes to that mythical creature, the booth babe?

Why do guys like booth babes? It might seem like a stupid question, but some of the answers are less than obvious. First off, booth babes are hot. Guys are happy to see them, and even happier to be seen with them. For a group of guys defined by a love of video games - a pass-time that’s usually less than conducive to picking up girls - the presence of beautiful women is more exciting than for a normal testosterone-filled crowd. And these women aren’t just passing through. They’re here specifically for the gamers’ enjoyment. Add that to the sights and sounds of E3 - it’s enough stimulation to get all of a gamer’s senses going at once. Also, booth babes make gamers feel they’ve entered a real guy’s zone. Video games, after all, are for men (note sarcastic tone), and exhibitors make that statement clear by hiring so many beautiful women. These sexy ladies help transform the event from a simple expo for electronic entertainment to a hothouse of masculinity. Gamer energy and confidence is high; everyone’s excited. Even after E3 ends, booth babes give expo-goers something to boast and feel manly about. Coming home to their fellow guy gamers, men can display photos galore of gorgeous women draped around their necks.

But are guys really content with a beautiful face? Many seem to demand more. Inquiring minds want to know (and often ask): “Booth babe, do you game?” There are, of course, certain gamers who throw out the question because they’re genuinely interested in hearing about these hotties’ lives. For most however, the question is just one more element of the fantasy. Men don’t want to hear the truthful answer, “No, not really,” or, “When I was younger, but not anymore.” They’re looking for, “Of course, I play all the time!” or, “You’re addicted to World of Warcraft? Oh my God, me too!” Gamers are hoping to be able to attach a sexy face to the other side of a distant screen, to combine their attraction to games and to “real” girls. Beyond the fascination, asking helps alleviate some of the guilt of gawking; if guys believe the scantily-clad women in front of them are gamers, it’s easier for them to forget that those same women, who seem so enthusiastic, are actually being paid. The images these girls enforce are both completely idealized and negating to true girl gamers. The vast majority of these women aren’t really gamers at all. So how can women who do game hope to live up to standards that don’t even exist? Not that most men, when confronted with a babe, are likely to think all this through. The thought process probably doesn’t get much farther than, “Wow, she’s hot.”

Women obviously react differently to booth babes than men, and there are definitely women who go to E3. So what’s running through their minds? The women who come along with their boyfriends/husbands for the trip to L.A., the ones who don’t really have much interest in gaming, but are trying to appease their loved ones - these women probably have the most general opinions on the topic. By that, I mean these are ladies who don’t know much about gaming or the industry. So, their opinions are shaped not by a subjective interest in video games, but by a broader concern for the perception of women in society. If they choose to think about the issue, they’ll probably come up with some questions that are important for members of both sexes to address. For example, is it okay to use female bodies to promote products? By doing so, and by presenting only gorgeous, skinny women, aren’t we perpetuating hurtful stereotypes about beauty? Should women be able to put themselves, and possibly their dignity, up for rent? What about the fact that some of these women are dressed as actual video game characters? Doesn’t this flatten real women into the molds of fake ones and encourage men to consider living ladies with the same regard (or disregard) as animated ones? And what about the real women involved in designing, creating, and playing these games? Where’s the spotlight for them? Lastly, it seems likely these gamers’ girlfriends and wives may be wondering, “Why is my guy staring at that booth babe? What about me?”

If the issue seems complicated for laymen (or, in this, case lay-women), it’s definitely more so for girls who are actually interested in video games. Just how do female gamers feel about booth babes? Some, I’m sure, couldn’t care less; they don’t see a reason to worry themselves over a topic that shouldn’t concern them: The silliness of guys. Others, myself included, definitely harbor some booth babe resentment. It would be great not to care, but it’s hard to walk away from the issue with a clear conscience when it has so many obvious implications for girl gamers. The biggest one? Booth babes make E3 an event for guys. Girl gamers should feel just as welcome at the expo as men. It’s not so easy being a girl gamer out in the world; people outside and inside the gaming universe look down on you. E3 should be a sort of a haven, like it is for guy gamers, a place to come together with like-minded people. Instead, women who attend have to face the fact that the industry still thinks video games are for boys and boys alone. Exhibitors sure aren’t looking to attract women with their booth babes. Girl gamers are left feeling alienated, unwanted - and understandably. How can they help but feel unappreciated as the emerging gaming gender? After all, the real female presence at E3 isn’t girl gamers, it’s the booth babes. It doesn’t help that these rented hotties, these faux-gamers, are gorgeous. Men see booth babes in halter tops and hot pants and then expect girl gamers, real girl gamers, to live up to expectations or move aside.

The existence of booth babes is especially frustrating for girl gamers who are trying hard to convince the still male-dominated industry and fan-base that women have a right to game. We watch men get worked up over booth babes and what we really see is all the positive energy that could be directed toward supporting girl gamers being wasted, turned into negative attention lavished on women who really have nothing to do with gaming. After a while, we begin to wonder if the only way to win some time on camera is to be showy, hot, and on display. But why can’t we just be ourselves, beautiful or not? We shouldn’t have to put on a show. These doubts, of course, stir up conflicting feelings, which derive from the clash of a girl gamer’s desire to appear strong and her sense that, in order to matter, she needs to be sexy. It’s exactly this rock-and-a-hard-place situation that breeds figures like the Frag Dolls. While the Dolls themselves may have the best of intentions, such attempts to reconcile the issues at hand aren’t, in the end, offering real direction for anyone. The only thing the Dolls and booth babes have made crystal clear is that hotness sells, or at least gets people talking.

Why aren’t more women speaking up? The better question might be: How could anyone be so stupid as to fight back against a flood of booth babe-loving gamers? Useless as it may seem, it’s still an important battle, and at least warrants a healthy discussion. The fact that most women have stopped trying to talk about it is also very revealing. Is it time to sit back and accept that this is just how things are, that models will always prance around in spandex at E3? If nothing else, this resignation proves just how far girls still have to go in the gaming industry. No matter what we may think, no matter how many other girl gamers we know, this is a market run for and by men, and both the marketers and the marketed seem to like it fine that way. Booth babes are just one more obstacle girls have to overcome (or at least tone down) in order to reach some level of equality. And frankly, we’re jealous. I know I am. How could we not be? Beautiful women are stepping in, stealing the spotlight, and cleaving us farther and farther from our only potential allies: Men.

So what’s a girl to do, realistically? Guys don’t want to hear lectures about female empowerment. Besides, they’re just a bunch of boys going to E3, the biggest bash of the year, and checking out babes is all part of the fun. No real harm’s meant. We’d just be spoiling the party. What’s the real goal here? Do we want there to be no more booth babes? Let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen. And should it? There’s a larger issue involved that’s hard to address since few women are willing to talk about it openly, but can’t girls like booth babes too? I’m not necessarily talking about homosexuality. It’s just that women, like men, are surrounded by a culture that elevates and idolizes the female form. It becomes a thing of admirable beauty, for girls just as much as boys, having nothing to do with sexuality. Perhaps women, if they would just relax, could get a kick out of booth babes. Or, in the name of equality, should there be male booth babes - guys in spandex hot pants to match the ladies? I don’t think anyone thinks that’s a good idea. Personally, I’m sure short-shorts on a man would send me running. An attractive guy dressed as Leon from RE4, on the other hand ... None of this, however, is going to stop exhibitors from hiring booth babes. Hot ladies equal customers (though, logically, they’re driving away female customers at the same time). As long as guys like girls, there are going to be booth babes.

Despite that inevitability, girl gamers should still be able to do something to put their minds at ease. If direct actions prove futile, maybe there are more subtle ways women can subvert the booth babe system. What if, for example, girl gamers were to express equal amounts of enthusiasm for booth babes as a man? Let’s say you’re a lady among guy friends at the expo. By joining in, you would be including yourself in the fun, not letting yourself get kicked out. Following that logic, if your friends whistle at a hottie, you’d whistle with them. If they take a sweaty snapshot with a dolled-up beauty, you’d jump in for the next pic. Is that really a good idea? That approach would certainly take away some booth babe power and place it in your hands. But, unless you really do dig booth babes, you’d just be putting on an act. So, what then? Should you just ignore the booth babes? Wouldn’t that be ignoring the problem?

How about this: Instead of changing your outlook, you could try casually changing a guy’s. Don’t come out and tell him to stop caring so much; just turn his attention elsewhere. Or, better yet, introduce him to an actual, live girl gamer he can connect with as an awesome person, not idealize as a sexy stranger.

In the end, the best and most important thing a girl can do is try not to feel intimidated. If you have the opportunity, go out to E3, and prove to guys and to the companies who rent out these hotties that women are an important part of the market. Hopefully, someday, your persistent efforts will pay off, booth babes will fade into the background and expos won’t be parties for men to stare at unattainable girls, but places where guys and non-paid girls can hang out together. There may always be booth babes, and they may always be a source of fascination, but they don’t always have to be the dominant female presence at E3. Someday girl gamers will hold the spotlight.

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