"Booth babes" fight back!

Savvy models stage a cheeky objection to the controversial E3 conference dress code.

Published May 11, 2006 7:06PM (EDT)

The E3 game conference kicked off Wednesday, and, as we predicted back in January, the much-ballyhooed dress code crackdown for so-called booth babes hasn't amounted to much. While the ban on nudity or partial nudity, bikini bottoms and sexually explicit behavior could earn bawdy exhibits a $5,000 fine, Reuters reports that provocative duds (and deeply tedious tasks) remain the norm: "Pauline K, who declined to give her last name, wore a white shredded tank top with an exposed midriff, short mini skirt and knee-high leggings as she handed out fliers for a company that makes custom face plates for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360." Exhibitor Gail Salamanica said the models are "wearing slightly more clothes this year. But not much." (Kotaku notes that at least one Wonder Woman got bounced for her skimpy attire.)

A few of the models resisted the restrictions even more forcefully; blog Joystiq has a photo of a "booth babe protest" outside the conference facility, where young women carried witty homemade signs reading "Bikinis > Bullets," "I'm rated E for Everyone" and "What's wrong with these guns?" And though there's a difference between a woman celebrating her own body and a company using curvy women to boost sales, the protest nevertheless makes a great point: Why is women's apparel the only part of the gaming industry that conference administrators see fit to regulate? If you're going to get pissed off about something, wouldn't game violence be a better target?

There's another aspect of the "booth babe" debate that E3's decency police doesn't really address: the question of whether having women in risqui outfits on the exhibit floor actually boosts sales. Back in 2001, the third year of the E3 conference, Salon wondered whether the booth babe phenomenon limits the gaming audience (and thus, the companies' own bottom lines) by playing to a mostly male "geek ghetto." While the industry is working to meet the needs and wants of female gamers (and anyone not titillated by women in skimpy costumes), it seems like there's plenty of work to be done to make gaming culture more inclusive.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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