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At game industry shows, most notably the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), female models are often hired to staff the booths of software and hardware publishers. Models also roam the show floor or stand outside convention centers handing out flyers that describe their client’s wares and booth location to passersby. These models are frequently referred to as “booth babes.”
The video game industry is hardly unique in its use of models, of course. Convention Models & Talent Inc. of Atlanta lists Pepsi Corporation, Sysco, Proctor and Gamble, and Sara Lee among its clients, and attractive models are used on television and in magazines to market everything from eye drops to automobiles.
When E3 first began in 1995, spotting models was difficult. Although rumors circulated the show floor about who was using models and who wasn’t, it was difficult to tell. Models generally wore whatever the company’s staff wore, be it company tee shirts or other more formal attire. Attractive staff members were occasionally brushed off as spokesmodels who, it was assumed, knew nothing about the products they were presenting.
By 1999, however, “booth babes” were standard at game industry shows and spotting them was not difficult. Industry pundits had even started asking whether the show was about games anymore. Crave Entertainment’s booth featured women in bras with racing stripes, and over at the Midway booth, the model’s apparel was decidedly low cut. However, Gathering of Developers, a Dallas, Texas–based publisher, took the booth babe concept to a new level—and what many called a new low. Having positioned themselves as an anti-establishment, developer-driven publisher, Gathering of Developers rented a parking lot across from the Los Angeles Convention Center where E3 was taking place. Having a booth separate from the show asserted their independence. At the booth’s entrance, women dressed in schoolgirl uniforms carded people to make sure they were at least 21 years old. Inside, the booth was loud, even by E3 standards. Bands performed and competed with the sound of traffic from the street. Dwarves dressed up as members of the band Kiss strolled around the booth to promote the Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child game that Gathering of Developers would be releasing later that year. The biggest surprise, the one that would be remembered for years to come, was what came to be known in the industry as “the lesbian sex show.” On the final day of E3 and in a parking lot across the street, two women were broadcast kissing one another intimately on the big screen behind the main stage where bands traditionally performed. In subsequent years, the infamous Gathering booth would continue to make waves, most notably hosting pole dancing strippers in 2001. Images of these dancers can be found at www.ritual.com/index.php?section=inside/showcavepics&id=79.
Although people within the game industry regularly talked about the use of booth babes and expressed their distaste for it, year after year, the booth babes continued to be a fixture at industry events. Booth babe photo roundups have become standard fare for press covering industry events, and one site, www.e3girls.com, covers the show’s models exclusively. The site has also released DVDs featuring the show’s models.
At E3 2005, having had its fill of booth babes and looking for a little publicity of its own, Agetec®, a game publisher and hardware manufacturer, launched an anti-booth babe campaign in an effort to remind people that E3 is about the latest games, not the latest looks. Wearing long blonde wigs, black logo tee shirts and high-waisted, form-covering women’s underwear over black lycra shorts, the male Agetec Anti-Babes (Figure 1.5) caused quite the stir and a fair number of smirks. Photos and further information on the anti-booth babes can be found at www.antiboothbabes.com.
FIGURE 1.5 Agetec’s Anti-Booth Babes
© 2005 Agetec®. Reprinted with permission.
By 2006, the tide had turned, however. E3 indicated that it would enforce its dress code policy and fine violators $5,000. Those inappropriately dressed would be asked to leave. The policy prohibited bikini tops and other revealing attire that had become common among booth babes and furthermore excluded games with adult sexual content from the show. For developers of sexual content, it was a watershed moment, perhaps the very one in which the mainstream game industry and adult games industries went their separate ways. For booth babes, their participation in the conference was largely unchanged. They were still there, just better (or more) dressed.