Booth Babe Culture, I Abhor It.

[info_box]I have updated the article’s title via a suggestion by @GeekyLyndsay of DragonChow Dice Bags who pointed out it’s really the culture surrounding booth babes, and not the girls themselves that I’m so upset with. Thanks Lyndsay![/info_box]

You’re Doing It Wrong

With all this E3 coverage lately it’s been hard to not want to blog about video games on my D&D blog here, and believe me I’ve got a draft ready to hash out all my complete thoughts on this years announcements for later posting but I’ll have that published on my personal blog. Anyway there is something I want to discuss that all gaming genre’s seem to have in common. Something I don’t quite understand. Something I find vacant and superfluous at best. That something, is the idea of “Booth Babes”.

Booth babes offend me, and most anyone who knows me on a personal level are aware that I’m not an easily offended person. I might get worked up and/or angry about a lot of things, but being truly ‘offended’ takes something special. It seems there aren’t many convention halls these days that don’t harbor “Booth Babes” or other scantily clad ilk.

As a heterosexual male, of course I find some of them pleasing to the eye. As a gamer, I find the idea downright appalling. Keep in mind it’s not the girls doing the ‘babing’ either, it’s the companies who hire them who want to seemingly forever uphold terrible gamer stereotypes that’s so appalling.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Game companies (and the rest of the world) are aware that sex sells and I’m not arguing that, but I think it only goes so far for some people. In my case it doesn’t go very far at all. Sure they can hire a pretty face and dress them up in some ridiculous outfit and have them prance around faux flirting with all the folks that want to take pictures next to them and maybe attempt to cop a cheap feel – but do these girls actually know anything about the product they are selling? Often not, which makes it all the more embarrassing for those hiring them and unfortunately a bit embarrassing for the girls too.

When I approach a booth that has a product I’m interested in buying, I want convincing that what I’m about to spend my hard-earned dollars on is so awesome that my life would be somehow less fulfilling without owning it. Getting some pop tart in a vinyl suit to make googly eyes at me is not gonna’ be a convincing factor, in fact it’s definitely going to turn me away. I’d rather be spoken to by a peg legged, hunch back, bug-eyed troll with a colostomy bag who’s really passionate about the game/product they are trying to sell than even be subject to a single second of the assumption that I’m just a horny 15-year-old boy inside a mans body.

Exceptions Make Great Examples

I’m aware I’m generalizing and perhaps even stereotyping here but, stereotypes unfortunately do exist for a reason. I’m also completely aware there are exceptions. There are consciousness companies whose booth babes are genuinely interested and passionate about what it is they’re selling. Ones who are gamers themselves and are doing the ‘booth-babing’ out of pure dedication to their product, and that’s awesome! There are those who I’m sure would rather be in a T-shirt and jeans casually talking to passers-by about their product instead of being objectified like a over sexed anime character.

Even booth babes who serve double purpose so sell their own wares in the case of GMSarli’s booth babe who’s acting as a model for her own custom costumes. Sadly, I just don’t think any of these examples are commonplace. There’s really a lot to be said about genuinely passionate people, who really love what they’re doing and are really believing in the things they are creating. I think that goes a lot further than a pretty face and a blank smile.

Time To Level Up

My wife, who is as awesome as she is beautiful is really my idea of the absolute apex of gaming ladies the world over. Gorgeous, smart, funny, passionate, assertive and genuinely loves gaming to her core. However the idea of “gamer ladies” is becoming something of a disparity is it not? Should I really have had to append “lady” to that statement?

Statistics show that more women than ever are gaming, and perhaps those figures could go up even further if women saw other…I dunno, fully clothed women standing around booths during gaming conventions. Women who were relatable and actually passionate about the same things they are? Common ground is a good thing to have when trying to win over customers.

Slowly but surely the idea that every woman in games and media needs saving from some vague ‘damsel in distress’ scenario is fading and that’s a great thing. Maybe it’s time the gaming industry adapt to this changing arena and welcome female gamers into their midst. Hell I dunno, maybe even try and attract them as potential customers? The target demographic of ‘straight white male’ is shrinking and will continue to do so, isn’t it about time some of these companies put a few points into dexterity and start to flex towards being a little more cautious about how they present themselves? Stop selling us rubbish and start selling us some relatability.

[info_box] Damsel Art: Jared Von Hindman of Head Injury Theatre[/info_box]


  1. “Statistics show that more women than ever are gaming…”

    Can you provide some links to those statistics? Are you talking about gaming in general (including board games and video games), or just RPGs?

  2. Thought I’d share my initial reaction with you:

    [15:11] * @DeusInnomen reads DreadGazebo’s Booth Babes articOH MY GOD THAT PHOTO IS DISTURBING.

  3. I absolutely hate that every time a company wants to sell anything, especially if its something that is in a mens demographic, they feel the need to stick half naked women with it to catch attention. Is it really necessary in these types of conventions? I don’t think so. I am the type of feminist that believes that men are smarter than that. Its just gross and insulting to think that’s the only way to sell things.
    I’m not really into gaming but as a woman I would be less likely to go to a booth with one of those women there. Its a respect thing. Respect for women and respect for men and their intelligence.

  4. I’ve known former convention booth babes (though not for gaming). One of them heads a department of 400+ people. Being a booth babe can actually provide really good experience with handling customers, talking about products, and selling. It can be a really good gateway to other jobs.

    It isn’t clear if the scantily clad women at gaming cons see less of an opportunity than those at software conventions. Regardless, they likely still are making a rational decision with proper benefits. (I base this largely on my read of The Logic of Life by Tim Harford, where he finds that prostitutes have rational risk assessment equal to other similarly high-risk occupations). The overall point is that booth babes are likely, on average, being rational. They aren’t being exploited, they are getting paid, and the job has good benefits. It isn’t hard to imagine a video game booth babe going on to work at a software booth, then as a sales person for software, then anywhere in marketing.

    If the booth babe isn’t being exploited, who is? If the booth babe is being rational, is the company that hired them not being rational? It all comes down to whether it pays the bills and sells products. Most of these companies frequent these conventions. They try different numbers of booth babes, hire different women, and see what other booths do. I can only guess that their behavior is entirely rational: booth babes sell games.

    At the end of the day, what you want (and, I’ll admit, me too) is for life to work differently. It would be awesome if sex could be in one corner (an awesome corner, mind you) and shopping in another. It would be awesome if our respect for the other gender (male or female) was such that we would care primarily about character over physique. It would be great if we would approach a booth based on real characteristics of the product and not marketing, flashy stuff, lighting, and pretty smiles. It is not the case.

    A far more likely scenario is that we will see more male booth babes, appealing to a female demographic. We already saw Hayden Panettiere (or Heroes) promote Bella Sara at Gen Con 2007 (she is an attractive draw, in this case, for females – and also a generally smart and beneficial role model). It should not shock us to see male booth babes that successfully (and rationally) draw in female audiences.

    • Not once did I mention exploitation of anyone or any party here. Yet you’ve got 3 solid paragraphs here.

      I was just trying to say it would be nice to see the industry start shifting in a classier direction…

    • It can be really difficult to classify when a woman is a booth babe and when she is something more. I suppose the idea of “booth babe” should really be somebody who is ONLY a girl at a booth helping be eye candy. A human advertisement.

      I run a small tabletop RPG company, and we have a “booth babe” that fits into the category of GMSarli given in the article – our “booth babe” is also our company jeweler and lead costume maker. It also just so happens that she’s beautiful and has a really great personality for customer service and attraction.

      I always wonder how much the beauty brings people to the booth over the personality. Our jeweler is friendly, has a great smile, and greets people as they come up. If she were 800 pounds and smelled like old fish, her personality would still make her a great sales person. Given, that doesn’t keep me from playfully encouraging her to show some skin with her costumes – skin brings people over. (Of course, I’m also gay, and I encourage my entire game development team to show some skin and look sexy. So, in every way, I agree with Alphastream. Male booth babes are on the rise!)

      I think the real secret is not in having a beautiful girl at your booth – the secret (at least for tabletop game companies) is having beautiful girls playing your demo games. My goal is to fill my table with attractive girls and get them excited. Men are more likely to enjoy a game with attractive women sharing the experience, and are more likely to get excited (and open their wallets) when the girls they are already with become excited about a product. So when a girl sits down at my table, they are my #1 priority. Even in the RPG industry, getting the female market improves the odds of getting the male market.

      Cheers & Gears,

  5. See the idea of having booth babes in general doesn’t irk me. It is the sexualization of them that irks me. Get the booth babe (regardless of gender) dressed like a normal human being with your company logo and armed with product knowledge and I’ll be down with that, put them in a bikini and a smile and the only thing my inner 15 year old will see is a sex object, which my inner 40 year old will ignore. Get both my inner-self’s attention by sexy smartly dressed knowledgeable people & sell!

  6. What is pretty interesting about E3 is that the audience at that convention is for industry-types. Sure you get a lot of gaming mag press there to check out all the cool stuff. But in reality the companies there are trying to market their game to distributors. So the whole booth babe deal is to garner notice from other folks in the industry, not your average joe consumer. I think that speaks a lot about the company culture at these things.

  7. I will say that I have actively noticed in the past that RPG conventions (e.g., Origins, Gen Con) have far fewer booth babes than typical conventions, even geeky conventions like video games and comics. The booth babes that do exist draw a lot of attention to themselves, but I’ve never noticed them particularly increasing the actual browsing in the booth.

    OTOH, well done cosplay *does* attract attention. And, generally, the quality and geek cred of the costume counts for FAR more than the sexualization. If Palladium could get a guy to walk around dressed as a juicer, it would get a lot more people in the booth than a girl dressed as an Atlantean Warrior Woman. IMHO, of course.

    I do have to agree with Daniel’s point above, though. The smart company gets attractive women in simple outfits doing their demos. AEG did it, White Wolf did it, and I’ve seen a few other companies do it (Mayfair? I think so). Gamer guys typically want to *talk* to pretty girls, not just ogle them. They especially want to talk nerdy to them. As other women see these women doing demos, they also get the impression that this is a “female friendly” company/game. It’s a total win.

    Apparently, though, that mentality doesn’t carry over into related industries.

  8. “Get the booth babe (regardless of gender) dressed like a normal human being with your company logo and armed with product knowledge” – Good point, Obsidian Crane. I even wonder if a prototypical booth babe doesn’t intimidate a good many gamer. We have a lot of introverts. Thinking on your comments and those of DreadGazeebo, I recall a really fun game of Lunch Money where the SJ rep was really cool and certainly attractive, but was more “pleasant smart person in T-Shirt” than booth babe. That approach isn’t just not sexist (or sexy), but is actually pretty inviting. And it is true that playing a game with cool people is inviting. When shopping for my kids I react well to any booth that has a family playing the game.

  9. Interesting discussion. It’s not just the gaming industry as I imagine there are booth babes at auto shows, etc. It seems any product that is targeted to a male audience is going to use sex to sell. Take a look at the Axe Body Wash commercials; those are absurd. But they’re likely pretty damn effective.

    I have not attended a gaming convention, but I’ve been to a few Star Wars or sci-fi conventions. There is “the” Slave Leia that sort of functions as a booth babe for the entire convention. I agree with you that it’s uncomfortable; it’s why I never enjoyed strip clubs. I feel self-conscious as I stare at these women even though they and everyone else in attendance knows that is their purpose (at that moment, not in life).

    I’ve seen this up close and personnel, and this is not meant to be a humble brag. My cousin is a Star Wars artist and I’ve joined him at some of the conventions. I’m very knowledgeable about his products and the material and have sat at his table to help with selling stuff. However, my wife filled in one day and he practically sold out. She wasn’t “whored up” or anything, but she’s a HELL of a lot more attractive than I! And it’s also helpful that she knows a lot about Star Wars and could speak the fanboy’s language But wooing male customers with booth babes likely results in greater profits. Until more customers like you put their foot down, it will not change.

    • See you touched on something a lot of others have already and I’m starting to see a trend here. It appears women in general don’t need to be ‘sexed up’ at all and that most guys would like to talk to a female about gaming and possibly game with them, not just stand around and stare. Interactivity, knowledge of the product and a general good attitude seems to win people over, if the person is attractive it probably just helps out a bit.

      I definitely think a nice balance can be struck without all the sexualization. I hope to see more at GenCon this year, perhaps i’ll do a follow up article then.

  10. I’m a bit late to this conversation, mostly becuase this is one of the first days in many months I’ve had time to just browse friend’s profiles/blogs for conversation.

    I’m going to attempt to respond to the flip-side of this conversation in a manner that won’t get me virtually slapped in the face by the preverbal political-correctness glove. I’ll probably fail miserably…

    Honestly I get tired of the pseudo neo society concepts that sexualization is a bad thing, something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It’s a ridiculous trend in my opinion. Just because I see an “scantily clad” woman I find attractive, and take notice and enjoy having the opportunity to enjoy her form and figure that she’s openly sharing, I’m somehow disrespecting her (or disrespecting myself)? That’s absurd.

    What I find shallow and offensive is the concept projected upon me that my personality is somehow two-dimensional, lacking in depth and substance because I enjoy taking a moment out of my day to notice something aesthetically appealing. As if I am of some limited social demographic that can’t enjoy both the visually stimulating as well as the thought engaging interpersonal relationship.

    Granted, your post doesn’t go so far, but that is the general jest of this particular social trend, and people like me are the reasons the companies do it. I felt for the sake of the conversation, that the “other side” of the perception should be presented by someone who quite enjoys “booth babes.”

    Is a “booth babe” going to entice me to buy a product? No. I don’t base my purchases on presentation. I spend my dollars on what I feel are quality products — whether they’re being sold out of a paper bag by Bob, the middle-age gamer over a plywood counter or handed out by half-naked ladies in ridiculously elaborate booth.

    However, as a heterosexual male, a “booth babe” most certainly will make me take notice (yes, even more so if she’s scantily clad and even more if she’s in a scantily clad costume as a character from that product/game).

    A good “booth babe” catches my attention as would, lets say, a really cool life-size dragon sculpture or an interactive-dungeon-style booth would. In a manner, it’s performance art; she’s not there to talk to me about the product, she’s there playing a role as a part of an overall visual experience. I wouldn’t ask the dragon sculpture about the quality of the product either.

    Context note: I’ll notice the half naked-ladies in the mock-castle booth before I notice Bob’s cardboard sign over his plywood counter. Having a quality product is paramount, but you still have to be noticed in the crowd. And in a convention hall with hundreds of booths to choose from; that could be the difference between a sale, or a missed opportunity.

    I agree that as the market changes, so will the marketing methods, but I certainly hope that doesn’t mean doing away with elaborate presentations, absurd costumes, playful sexual overtones and beautiful women. To me, that’s a staple of the convention experience, and one I’ll be very disappointed about if it vanishes due to “political correctness” which in and of itself tries to marginalize everything, creating a bland gray landscape of faux equality.

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