On “Booth Babes”

Booth Kittens are a much better idea

During E3 this year, there was a lot of discussion, once again, about the ubiquitous use of ‘booth babes’ at the event. This discussion was further sparked by the eminent Brenda Garno’s brave series of tweets about the way the practice makes her feel. Following this, I was contacted by a journalist for a national news publication looking to write a piece on booth babes, and on the perspective of UK female developers, such as myself. I don’t think the article ever appeared (or, I might have missed it!) but since I wrote up my very quick thoughts on the matter anyway, I wanted to share my answer here on my blog, too.

Here’s what I said:

I’ve been pleased to see the backlash against the use of ‘booth babes’ this week, coming not only from Brenda Garno, but also from many other industry figures whom I respect. I am very glad that Brenda spoke out against the practice. I think it’s important to note, though, that the target of our ire should definitely not be the women hired as booth babes, but absolutely should be towards the companies who reinforce such an outdated, exclusionary, and lowest common denominator practice. It is a practice which shouts “the products we’re selling are for heterosexual men only” and implies that women are secondary to their concerns. Which, firstly as a woman, and secondary as a lifelong gamer (and a developer who is relatively new to the industry), is a very hurtful message indeed; as if the time we have invested in games is not worth the same as if we were men.

It also cheapens the games themselves; it implies that there is not enough innovation in these companies’ games that they can stand alone as worthy products, without also needing to throw in attractive women to dress them up. Perhaps, sadly, there’s a correlation there: the companies with the least interesting/innovative games are perhaps the ones which use booth babes! I think they should spend their effort and money making better games, without needing to hire booth babes, and devalue the industry for us all.
As an example of the exclusionary culture contributed to (and responsible for) by such a practice, an apt, eloquently-written example was, incidentally, provided this week by the brave and ever-insightful Katie Williams. Despite being a seasoned game journalist covering E3, she describes how it was widely assumed that she would neither be interested nor understand how to play the games she’s been playing her whole life. Please do read.