Sexism in Gaming: The True Story, as Told by a Booth Babe
Over the years, the treatment and perception of women in the games industry has systematically become a hotter and hotter topic. Discussions have gone on about the need for Booth Babes to be at gaming events like E3, as some consider them to be preventing women from being taken seriously within the industry.
Just this year, news of a ‘misogynistic’ trophy took the forefront, as gaming celebrities like Adam Sessler and journalists stood on their soapboxes in defense of women’s rights. Then, later in the year, stories about the ‘creepy E3‘ started to leak, a “looming” security guard creeps out a female journalist, a woman is mistaken as a Booth Babe and an attendee goes for a boob shot.
But, as these stories seem to take a life of their own, I couldn’t help but wonder why the people on the front line are never allowed to speak for themselves. Why don’t we hear from a Booth Babe? Why is it that they need us to defend their position? Is the problem as big as others seem to make it?
With that, I got in touch with Yvonna Lynn, a veteran in the modelling world and president of the booth modelling agency Charisma+2, who also has experience working within the games industry. Here is what she had to say regarding the whole situation:
Could you tell me a brief summary of your history within the games industry, your career as a booth babe and the origins of Charisma+2?
After modeling in Europe and Asia, I was able to get back to gaming again. It was near impossible to travel frequently with a gaming rig. Stateside, in 2005, I got my first promotional gig working The Legend of Zelda booth at E3, where I had the amazing luck to meet Miyamoto my first day! Over the next few days I searched every booth at E3. Only to find a handful of models out of the hundreds working that were gamers, who wanted to be there for more than the money. It was then I realized how many actual gamers I knew that would love to be brand ambassadors for a video game. That was the start of Charisma+2.
What exactly would you say is the benefit of having a booth babe working gaming conventions?
A basic booth babe will attract foot traffic to your booth using attractive models. That is marketing 101. Although having someone attractive at the booth can bring the initial attention, if that booth babe is simply there for the money it shows. That is where Charisma+2 really shines. We bring someone that is attractive and truly loves video games. When someone enjoys her work it is easy to see. Many run-of-the-mill booth babes hate their work and do not regard gamers highly.
Charisma+2 models are gamers that are not only fans, but can interact with the customers. Many times our models are set to play alongside, or against, the customer in a much more interactive experience than the standard booth. So, when game developers and publishers spend millions to make a game it just makes sense to go that extra last step to ensure that the customer’s experience the first time with a game is a favorable one.
Booth babes have a complicated history in the public’s perception, what are your thoughts on the concept that the position is demeaning to women and hurts their ability to be taken seriously?
Marketing, in general, has always had people on both sides debating what is and what isn’t demeaning. The valuation of “demeaning” is very subjective and open to many interpretations. Charisma+2 has both male and female talent and goes to great lengths to make sure that our talent are only represented in a way they are comfortable. Different people have different relative value systems and ideas for what they deem acceptable. While swimsuits and body paint are perfectly fine for some of our talent, there are others that only want to apply for positions that have business professional dress as the requirement. One company might want to portray a racy and exciting image and another may want to be very conservative. There is no “one size fits all” in marketing.
Charisma+2 is different from a basic staffing agency in that we aim to provide more than just an attractive image. Our talent has the ability to play the games and act as a brand ambassador on the ground at that booth. Someone’s attractiveness should not prejudice others to think that the attractive person should be taken any less seriously. The Internet, at times, can be filled with hate and anger. That energy is often times focused in posts that attack specific groups or minorities. I try not to focus on the hate, but instead look to provide a valuable service to companies in need.
There are often talks about banning booth babes from events like E3, do you think this would hurt the industry or events if this were to happen? Why or why not?
I do not think it would hurt the industry except in the sense that proclaiming such a ban would make the industry look immature and petty. This year at E3 (2013) there were hardly any booth babes at all, which was fine. The overall tone of the event was more professional as I mentioned in the intro sentence of my quick Best Of E3 blog piece. However, it was not some sort of silly ban that needed to be enforced on companies as if they were children incapable of making their own decisions.
I do not know of an industry whose conventions do not hire booth babes. Promo models are hired for everything from plumbing to boat shows. Why not gaming? I think the solution to appease those opposed to booth babes would be to hire promotional models who are gamers… real gamers who have product knowledge and true gaming experience. It is humorous that the non-gamer agencies try to pass off their girls as gamers when we, as true gamers, can smell that poppycock within 30 seconds.
During this year’s E3, there were reports from some women about being treated poorly at the event and during parties outside of the convention hall, have you heard any negative stories from your models or have you yourself experienced anything that would be a cause for concern for other female attendees or models?
This is yet another point in my web show.
One of the foundational building blocks of Charisma+2 is respectful support of others. This cornerstone of compassion rests on the sensitivity to sexual and physical abuse. Although the first edition was written when we had only female talent, it is equally important to us when it occurs to males, my article, “Why you are Great… Even If No One Sees It” addresses the sincerity and depth of my feelings on the matter.
It is precisely because I take the subject of mistreatment so seriously, that I find some of the recent discussion over what might have been misunderstood harmless situations so sad. Many have taken what is a crucial issue and applied their benign, watered down experience as something worthy of receiving national attention. I can’t help but feeling like they A) may not have been out in the world enough to be at a game convention or after party B) unaccustomed to in person flirtations so find the attention as inappropriate, or C) are overly sensitive to outside compliments, especially poorly expressed ones.
The game industry does have its fair share of socially awkward people, but I find it rather endearing. If someone says something out of line, just walk away or calmly say, “that is inappropriate”. Having someone take your picture or make a come-on is not a huge ordeal that needs to be anywhere near the same platform as sexual abuse. I sincerely do take serious mistreatments to heart. It is just disturbing to see hyper inflated claims of people trying to get a moment in the media or receive validation by crying claims of misconduct.
Having had some experience working within the industry on various levels, do you believe that women have a more difficult time than men breaking into the industry? If so, why do you think this is?
I do not think women in gaming have any more of a glass ceiling than any other industry. In some cases, I think they have an advantage because they stand out a bit more, though not as much as they did years ago. Gender prejudice does exist, but is in all industries. Mind you, I am saying this as someone who was amply qualified and experienced but was rejected for a job with a developer because, and I quote, “Yvonna would be a distraction”. Then again, that was nine years ago and in Texas. The last of the good ol’ boys studio policies have died away for the most part.
Currently, I see studios all over the country, not only willing to hire women but wanting to! I have seen numerous studios actually seeking female employees out so maybe SOME of the women complaining “ #1reasonwhy” are not being contacted about jobs for other reasons than their gender. The studios see that 47% of their market is women and would like their input. The challenge lies in the fact that there may not be as many female programmers because there are not nearly as many female programmers applying. It is known that the mathematical and scientific studies are becoming increasingly popular with females as time goes on, but it may take a while until there are enough to balance it out. As a matter of fact, I personally know numerous female programmers and studio executives who don’t feel victimized by sexism at all.
Sometimes the sexism banner is waved in an effort for unemployed women to seek attention, to somehow become relevant, or get validation by flaming instead of actually doing something about it. That may sound harsher than I am intending. I just have little tolerance for flame threads. Trolls are both male and female these days. I wholeheartedly endorse speaking up and bringing to light injustices! The challenge occurs when people feel passionate about an issue they sometimes lose major points in their intelligence skill tree.
Some of the “#1reasonwhy” comments were incredibly valuable, well written, and thought provoking, whereas others used sailor mouth easy jabs to simply incite anger and draw attention to themselves. Those comments seem to do more damage to women’s workplace issues than good. As a woman, I would not want to hire a male or female that felt the need to publicize rants so poorly because of the mere workplace environmental damage potential even if her work was good.
There seems to be an increase in publicity surrounding the way women are portrayed in games, do you think that the industry has been unfairly portraying women as the victim or less capable than men? Or do you think that there are people out there simply using sexism to push their own agendas?
This was a bullet point at one of my presentations at Florida Super Con recently. Throughout the history of gaming, one can see sexism in the roles of females in gaming in many ways similar to Hollywood. It is fast and easy to use plot devices, but again, women are getting stronger roles with the help of the forward thinking writers such as David Gaider and numerous others. To be fair, there are many unrealistic male portrayals in video games. In general, characters in video games are taking facets of the human experience and presenting it in the extreme.
My Game of the Year so far is Tomb Raider. The gameplay, UI, story, art, audio, everything made it a fantastic and truly fun game. The fact that it was a female lead was a great perk, but not the reason for me ranking it so favorably. I also thoroughly enjoyed that Naughty Dog brought us The Last of Us and even wrote about it. In a similar way that women like Helen Mirren and Betty White via film show that age does not inhibit attractiveness, Ellie proved strength was not age dependent. As the founder of Charisma+2, I encourage my talent to be their healthiest, most educated, and most well rounded individuals they can be, so I find a strong, young woman lead a fantastic choice.
Lastly, I just wanted to thank Yvonna for her candor and taking the time to speak with us.
What do you think about the ongoing Booth Babe debate? Are people using sexism as a tool for professional gain? Have we really seen an evolution in the way female characters are portrayed? Let us know in the comments, email me at Dan.O@PlayStationLifeStyle.net or message me on Twitter @Foolsjoker.