Gamers on Exhibition vs. Exhibitionism

You may have already noticed that the results are in for Penny Arcade’s survey on what PAX attendees do and don’t want in the exhibitor’s hall. I have to admit that I was a little surprised at the results.

Unlike many other gaming and electronics events, like E3 and CES, the Penny Arcade Expo has a ban on scantily-clad promotional models—a.k.a., “booth babes,” women whose job is to attract the attention of the mostly-male attendees to a particular exhibitor. Penny Arcade decided to poll its audience online to get a sense of how readers feel about the policy. I’m not sure how many of the 6,000+ respondents are actually regular or intended PAX attendees, but it seems like as good a sample as you’re likely to get for this sort of thing.

Of those who responded, 20% “dislike” or “hate” the ban, 20% are “indifferent” to it, and the great majority—60%—”like” or “love” the ban. Some additional key figures which Penny Arcade pledges to “formally message in our ‘booth babe’ policy”:

Sample Size = 6,313
Male/Female = 78%/22%
Rep needs to be trained/educated about the product (81%)
Anything that is considered “partial nudity” is banned (43%)
However, cosplayed characters are allowed to wear revealing outfits, assuming it is true to the source game (68%)
No messaging that specifically calls out body parts (47%)

I saw this linked off Kotaku, where commenters seemed divided about the results. My personal favorite comment comes from dogcow:

worthy sentiment, and probably appreciated by the growing female gamer population. But seriously, how do you police something like this? Have Comic Book Guy quiz all the chicks with tight T-shirts? “No, I’m sorry. There was NO Mario Cloud Suit in Flip Flop Galaxy, World 2. Good DAY, sir!”

I found this comment hilarious, but I also think it sort of misses the point. I don’t think that Penny Arcade has to “police” this. I think the company is sending a message just by having the policy. Yes, there is some wiggle room in terms of the implied new rules regarding cosplay and product knowledge, but I think the spirit of the ban should be clear, and I have a hard time imagining that vendors will actively try to circumvent it and risk a backlash from an audience that is clearly mostly in opposition to this form of promotion.

What’s more, it’s worth noting again that the overwhelming majority of respondents on this survey happen to be men. I’d be curious to see the correlation between the gender of respondents and their answers, but that’s just the researcher in me talking. Even so, if every female respondent liked/loved the ban, and every respondent who disliked/hated the ban were male (which I highly doubt was the case, even before factoring in LGBT respondents), that would still mean that there are twice as many men who don’t want “booth babes” as there are men who do.

Think about that for a moment. Think back, for instance, to that article I linked the other day from Cracked, about 5 reasons it’s still not cool to admit you’re a gamer. Think about how much that piece focused on how the gaming industry tries to market to gamers as if we’re all sex-starved adolescent males.

This is not a safe assumption anymore, if it ever was. This is not just about appealing to a male audience vs. a female audience. This is about how people want to be marketed to, men and women alike.

Admittedly, a sample of Penny Arcade readers (or PAX attendees) may not be a representative sample of gamers at large, or even of “hardcore” or “hobbyist” video game players. Nevertheless, these kinds of results should give marketers—and even game designers—something to think about before assuming the quickest way to gamers’ hearts is through our pants.

5 thoughts on “Gamers on Exhibition vs. Exhibitionism

  1. Not really surprising, once you remember that the average gamer is in his 30’s. He (and yeah, still a he for the time being) likely has kids, half of them daughters. Add in the growing female population (likely under-represented at PAX) and I’d call those number conservative.

  2. Would be interested to find out how many of those surveyed feel as though the concept of a “booth babe” runs counter to the message of gamer (and geek) pride inherent in an even like PAX. Eye candy at the booth does not a proper title make. In fact, to what extent can covering your promo area in half-naked women be seen as overcompensating for a lack of proper plot structure/gameplay/polygon count in the game you’re attempting to promote?

  3. Good points, and taken in a somewhat different direction from where I originally went, which I’m glad you brought up. I couldn’t help but notice (upon rereading my own post after posting it) that I described this in terms of how people want to be marketed to rather than a more visceral, genuine distaste for the objectification/hypersexualization of women—like, “you’re insulting my tastes” vs. “you’re objectifying women” or “you’re juvenilizing geek culture.” Perhaps that was just me being cynical.

    That said, I think plenty of gamers seem more willing to forgive in video game characters what they would prefer not to see in “booth babes”—maybe because it’s just stranger to experience it “in the flesh,” in a context of social interaction rather than tomb raiding or whatnot.

  4. * That said, I think plenty of gamers seem more willing to forgive in video game characters what they would prefer not to see in “booth babes”*

    Actually, the responses indicate the opposite. As long as it’s tied to a recognizable character, they’re fine.

    It’s an interesting distinction, and one that seems to be more about familiarity than abstract mores.

  5. Oh, on re-reading, I think you were sorta making the same point. Skimpy Booth Babes seem to be fine, as long as they’re recognizable characters.

    Makes me think of old predjudices I’ve seen, “I hate so-and-sos, but Nameless is a good one.”

    No idea where I’m going with that.

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