Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Booth Babes – Where do you draw the line?

Last weekend’s PAX East was a rip-roaring success. For the majority of attendees, the three day expo saw them thoroughly gamed and entertained. However, alongside the panels, indie megabooths, and tabletop tournaments, there were a couple of events that generated an unexpected backlash toward the event’s organizers, Penny Arcade.
keith apicary 300x200 Sunday Sidebar: Booth Babes   Where do you draw the line?
A post-expulsion Keith Apicary surrounded by supporters
The first of these events was the ejection of gamer-comedian Keith Apicary from the convention. He was escorted following his inability to adhere to pre-agreed contractual guidelines. Apicary’s schtick is not something with which I am terribly familiar, so I cannot comment further than what I have read of the events, which suggest that he was asked to leave after breaking the terms under which he had been allowed to attend. Namely: remaining dressed.
Which brings us to the second, and perhaps more contentious, event. Jessica Nigri being told to cover up her body on the show floor. Jessica had been working with Grasshopper Manufacture to promote their upcoming game Lollipop Chainsaw. The game features a teenage girl fending off a zombie horde with a – you guessed right – huge chainsaw. Being a Suda51 joint, the title is prone to rather a spot of over-sexualization, and as such, Jessica’s role was to be dressed up in all manner of too-short tops and skirts. After changing into her pink costume (pictured below), Jessica was asked by Mike Krahulik to either remain within their promotional school bus, or to change her outfit.

jessica nigri Sunday Sidebar: Booth Babes   Where do you draw the line?
Jessica was asked to change back into cheerleader from... whatever this pink outfit was
Stranger still is that professionally, nothing happened. Jessica said it was A-OK. She understood that her clothing might be pushing the boundaries of acceptable attire, and one quick wardrobe change later, everything was fine. That is, until certain people started to speak out. Some were angry that anything she was wearing was considered appropriate, while others were indignant at Mike’s alleged disgust at the female form, enforcing a ‘patriarchy’ attitude, stifling creativity, etc etc. It sparked a lot of reaction that invites discourse. Just where do we draw the PR line?
One of the founding principles of the Penny Arcade Expo was that there would not be booth babes. Their use as promotional implements was seen to serve only to lower outward opinion of the industry, and the sleazy use of titillation to sell was considered to be juvenile, and unwelcome at an event that would serve not only a male audience, but females and children, also. With this principle in mind, I think we can agree that Mike Krahulik was well within his rights, as the show’s owner, to ask Ms Nigri to change. It reminded me immediately of a similarly negative reaction, though against booth babes, at last year’s PAX East, with regards to the Duke Nukem Forever booth.
duke nukem pax east booth Sunday Sidebar: Booth Babes   Where do you draw the line?
Attendees were invited to have their photographs taken sitting on Duke's throne.
Whilst queuing up to try Duke Nukem Forever, my (female) companion and I got talking to one of the women working at the booth, and I was surprised to find out that she was an avidQuake player, and had been playing PC games since that series began way back in 1996. When I asked her what she thought of the costumes, etc, she said that it seemed like a good bit of fun, and that it hadn’t caused any problems so far. Of course, this was two hours into the first day of the convention, and shortly afterward, people could be heard speaking on both sides of whether or not Gearbox should be using such tactics to promote their release. One of the more hotly-debated aspects was whether or not it was ‘ironic’, and then whether not that made it acceptable. Contemporary reactions at DNF‘s release were that it felt wholly unironic, and in fact mostly embarassing. One review I remember compared the protagonist to an inappropriate uncle at a family gathering. Interestingly, though, this was juxtaposed at the time with Shadows of the Damned, Grasshopper Manufacture’s biggest title before Lollipop Chainsaw, which was praised for its handling of lascivious humor in a way that made the jokes land rather than fall flat. And so the circle is complete.
Dear reader, I ask of your opinion: Is PAX right to outlaw booth babes? Is it unacceptable for a woman to dress sexually in a family setting? Or is it unacceptable to tell someone what they can or cannot wear? I don’t believe that there is a right answer, but I’m curious as to where the majority lies.

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