Rich Howells

INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: Cosplayers won’t be banned from conventions, but sexist commentary should be

INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: Cosplayers won’t be banned from conventions, but sexist commentary should be
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Every once in a while, an article from some random website gets shared around social media that may not contain the most reliable information, but its headline is salacious enough to get clicks and stir up controversy – or, in many cases, manufacture controversy.

Such is the case with “Booth Babes And Sexy Cosplayers Are In Danger Of Being Completely Banned From Events,” an article by Reggie James on a site called Reaxxion, which delivers “gaming news and reviews for masculine men” – whatever the hell that means. I must not be “masculine” enough to understand the complexities of this opinion piece, as I spotted several errors in a matter of seconds, including in the opening line, despite the fact that I’m not a gamer:

“Recently PAX banned booth babes from their events, one of many conferences including E3 to start banning booth babes.”

Recently? More like five years ago. PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), a series of gaming conventions held across the country founded by the creators of the webcomic “Penny Arcade,” enacted a policy regarding “booth babes,” or scantily clad women hired specifically to attract gamers to whatever booth they worked for, back in 2010, and it reads as follows:

“PAX has a strict ‘no booth babe’ policy with the purpose of creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable and welcome, and the focus is on games, not hired booth staff.

Booth babes are defined as staff of ANY gender used by exhibitors to promote their products at PAX by using overtly sexual or suggestive methods. Partial nudity, the aggressive display of cleavage and the navel, and shorts/skirts higher than 4” above the knee are not allowed. If for any reason an exhibit and/or its contents are deemed objectionable to PAX management, the exhibitor will be asked to alter the attire of its staff.

Cosplayed characters that are playable in-game are an exception to this rule (within reason), and exhibitors must obtain permission from show management prior to the show.

If for any reason an exhibit and/or its contents are deemed objectionable to PAX management, the exhibitor will be asked to alter the attire of its staff or remove those staff from the show.

Cosplaying attendees may be asked to alter or modify their costume if it is considered overtly sexual.”

E3 enacted a similar policy in 2006, so this is nothing new, but with PAX East happening over the weekend, this super manly website obviously needed some clickbait to show up in Google searches because its bulging biceps just weren’t enough to attract viewers, so here we are. The misdirection continues:

“PAX has basically said ‘because a few people are uncomfortable we’re getting rid of this without putting it to a vote or any real consultation with the audience that pays money to come to our events.’”

Actually, PAX conducted a survey of over 6,000 attendees, and 60 percent agreed with the policy, and 81 percent agreed that these “babes” should be trained to speak about the product they’re promoting, but that doesn’t fit into the narrative here. The author says that cosplayers are the next people to suffer under these draconian policies, although the only major example of this in five years I could find is when popular cosplayer Jessica Nigri was hired in 2012 to promote the game “Lollipop Chainsaw” by dressing as its main character, Juliet, and was asked to change for revealing too much skin, despite the fact that both her costumes were totally accurate and “playable in-game.” Thankfully, we have a rallying cry to rectify things three years after the fact:

“So what’s the solution for all this? Booth babes & cosplayers need to join together and prevent this from happening. They basically need to unionize. I know that’s a dirty word to people, but I’m not talking about a government run union; I’m more talking about a coalition so that they can lobby for their rights against these increasingly foolish and increasingly irrelevant conventions.”

Let’s ignore the fact that this guy doesn’t really seem to understand how a union works and concentrate on the matter at hand – this convention, which is obviously quite relevant considering it is increasingly well-attended and thoroughly covered by media both large and small, isn’t being taken over by Puritans. In fact, I’ve seen dozens of photo galleries from various gaming websites featuring plenty of cosplayers showing off and showing skin.

While factually inaccurate, I was inclined to at least agree with his sentiment. Despite this policy being old news, it’s pretty hypocritical that an event promoting an industry that profits from turning ultraviolence into entertainment is afraid of breasts or a little too much leg, particularly since both are prominently featured in female characters in practically every popular game on the market. Who decides what’s “objectionable” or “overtly sexual,” particularly when sex sells? I’m very much against censorship and roll my eyes every time the morality police tell me what I can and cannot see in a country that supposedly prides itself on free speech and expression, but I have to say that Mr. James lost me again with this paragraph:

“Will they stand together? Who knows. It seems increasingly hard to get people to fight for sexy women thanks to ‘feminism.’ You can ‘free the nipple’ but only if they are A or B cups women. No women with D cups or women with rocking bodies.”

Yes, if there’s any oppressed group out there who desperately need defending, it’s sexy women. Thank goodness the guy who hates “social justice defenders” is here to start his own virtuous crusade to aid these beautiful ladies – purely for righteous reasons, of course. Back off, feminists, with your “equal rights,” asking to be treated like human beings and not be judged and stereotyped by the size of your breasts by guys who talk so much about masculinity that they’re not fooling anybody! Can’t you see that we need to prove that gaming isn’t overwhelming sexist by saying the most thoughtless, overtly sexist things we can? It’s hard to tell what’s trolling and what’s real anymore in the boiling broader Internet discussion about gaming and gender, particularly when an author appropriates a poem about the Holocaust to end his chauvinist rant about protecting cosplayers’ boobs. Yeah, “First they came…” is actually in there. For a tough guy, he sure sounds like a drama queen.

Short of illegally exposing themselves, women should be able to cosplay however they’d like, especially if they’re donning the same outfits that the characters are wearing. Why can cosplayers be banned but games featuring those same outfits (or lack thereof) can’t? Sure, the “booth babes” should be able to answer simple questions about the games they’re promoting, but who decides how much they need to know? Will they be quizzed beforehand, assumingly as someone measures the length of their skirts? These policies are way too broad, but they also don’t seem to be causing much damage, either. While this could become a problem in the future, it doesn’t seem like it’s heavily enforced on everyday cosplayers, instead focusing on vendors using annoying and disruptive tactics to drum up business.

If PAX or E3 or any other convention wants to start dictating decency to the masses, however, they need to look inward at the industry they’re promoting first and champion stronger female characters and less misogyny in gaming. While tens of thousands of people shared this guy’s “article,” more legitimate stories about female game developers receiving death threats are ignored or ridiculed, and while gamers can’t stop talking about “Gamergate” and its continued fallout, industry leaders remain largely silent on this issue and continue to go about their billion-dollar business.

Maybe they should stop reprimanding cosplayers and start going after “masculine men” like Reggie who claim to represent “real” gamers. If you want to ensure a bright future for gaming, you have to stop people like that from pushing potential consumers – men, women, and children – away. I put down my controller years ago, and articles like this certainly don’t make me want to pick it back up.

Lead photo by illyne

Infinite Improbability is a longstanding column that examines various topics in geek culture for both dedicated fans and those who don’t get the reference. Look for it every weekend exclusively on NEPA Scene.

  • JerTobin

    I thought booth babes were awesome when I was younger, thought they were lame when I got older despite how nice they are too look at because I knew they were just random women who probably didn’t know anything about gaming hired from an agency just to capitalize on the overwhelming male demographic in attendance. That irks me. If you want to catch my eye and spend time at your booth, there’s more pertinent and less tacky ways to do so than luring me in with tits and ass. I’m fine with hiring cosplayers who are actual fans though. Look as sexy and outlandish as you want, you earned it, fanboy/girl.

    As for sexism in gaming, it’s total bullshit and so sick of hearing about it, People should pool their outrage into things that really matter when it comes to women in the world, like how they are treated in the middle east, or more effort put into campaigning against female genital “circumcision” in Africa. Let’s stop concentrating on such relatively trivial nitpicky nonsense.

    There’s as much sexualisng of female characters in gaming as there are the male figures, and the same goes for the violence as well. For every scantily clad character there’s probably one normal dressed and smart one. Gaming is actually not all tits and ass and directed at teen boys just discovering their boners, despite what some cringe worthy Facebook ads might have you believe. Is there that niche? Yes, just as much as the mobile niche that consumes middle age cat ladies like Candy Crush. Women 18+ by the way, are the fastest growing gaming demographic: “Females now make up 48 percent of gamers on computers and women ages 18 and up now are behind the console more than boys 18 and younger, according to a new study by the Entertainment Software Association.”
    http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/female-gamers-48-percent-console/2014/08/22/id/590288/#ixzz3UXpeiV9u

    Another interesting factoid from a different article: “YouTube data tells us that both men and women are spending more time per video with gaming than in any other content area. Women, however, are spending slightly more time watching each gaming video than men are. And to further shatter social stereotypes, millennial females actively comment on, like, and share more gaming content than they do cooking/recipe content, according to Tubular Labs data from December 2013.”

    https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/think-gaming-content-is-niche-think-again.html

    So if sexism is that rampant in gaming, it’s sure not scaring off those that are supposedly being sexualized. I would think if there was truly that big of an issue (And not a manufactured one by those with a platform who can generate outrage for their own agendas to make it seem like something bigger than it really is), and there was that much disgust floating around, one would not engage in that activity if you were that demographic and hence not cause the numbers to rise.

    There was never any freak out specifically over male figures getting their faces blown off by shotguns in video games, or hit by buses, eaten by aliens, etc., but the moment you start putting female cartoons through the wringer, look out!

    • PicardFacepalm

      >As for sexism in gaming, it’s total bullshit and so sick of hearing
      about it, People should pool their outrage into things that really
      matter when it comes to women in the world, like how they are treated in
      the middle east, or more effort put into campaigning against female
      genital “circumcision” in Africa. Let’s stop concentrating on such
      relatively trivial nitpicky nonsense.

      Even though you may be sick of hearing about it, that doesn’t mean that sexism in gaming “isn’t a thing.” Quite the opposite, really. Just take a look at the GamerGate tag anywhere online and it’s full of vitriolic misogynists screaming at anyone who even looks like a woman. Sexism is here in the west, it is a problem, and people can be concerned about sexism here AND elsewhere in the world. I wasn’t aware that we were only allowed to be outraged by one thing at a time.

      >There’s as much sexualisng [sic] of female characters in gaming as there are
      the male figures, and the same goes for the violence as well.

      This is call a Male Power Fantasy, and it’s way different than the overt sexualization of women characters in gaming.

      >So if sexism is that rampant in gaming, it’s sure not scaring off those
      that are supposedly being sexualized. I would think if there was truly
      that big of an issue (And not a manufactured one by those with a
      platform who can generate outrage for their own agendas to make it seem
      like something bigger than it really is), and there was that much
      disgust floating around, one would not engage in that activity if you
      were that demographic and hence not cause the numbers to rise.

      Did you ever stop to think that maybe women are trying to turn the tables and tear down the walls of sexism in gaming? Maybe that’s why they’re participating more… not because the claims of supposed sexism is “overblown,” but they’re trying to actively change the toxic atmosphere in where women can play alongside their male counterparts in peace.

      >There was never any freak out specifically over male figures getting
      their faces blown off by shotguns in video games, or hit by buses, eaten
      by aliens, etc., but the moment you start putting female cartoons
      through the wringer, look out!

      Tipper Gore doesn’t ring a bell? Nice strawman though.

      • JerTobin

        >Even though you may be sick of hearing about it, that doesn’t mean that sexism in gaming “isn’t a thing.” Quite the opposite, really. Just take a look at the GamerGate tag anywhere online and it’s full of vitriolic misogynists screaming at anyone who even looks like a woman.

        Gamer gate is overblown nonsense and frankly many of, not all, but many on both sides are just absolute idiots, and the movement has diverged from what sparked it initially and is now just a huge pile of steaming nonsense. And if you don’t think that feminists are doing their share of spewing vitriol, I have news for you. Of course I assume you will say that their vitriol is warranted though and they get free passes at telling people to kill themselves and calling people faggots. . Please do yourself a gigantic favor and read the recap of the timeline of events on what really happened with gamergate in case you came into it late. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/gamergate

        Long story short: Girl is sleeping with industry insiders to get better reviews for a bad game she made. People find out about it. People who are not in the industry, the gamers, shame the “journalists” for engaging in this practice. Gamers are then accused of being misogynists by the girl and insiders who still have her back of course after engaging in sexual relations. Suddenly it’s not the fault of the insiders who created the mess, it’s the misogynistic gamers. The woman at the center of this also has a history of making victimization a career of hers apparently. Also, according to a photographer who worked with her years ago when she was a Suicide Girl hopeful, is also a borderline psychopath claiming to have killed a man, and most definitely a drama queen with all of the issues she had with her on the shoot.

        The girl was entirely in the wrong. The “journalists” sleeping with her were entirely in the wrong. Neither could just admit they messed up and failed their integrity checks and promise to do better, instead they blame everyone else for catching on to them and criticizing them. If this topic is that close to you, please spend a few hours and do some research on the REAL happenings of what went on at the beginning of this and get a grasp on the girl’s character too. She is far from a saint. I do urge you and anyone to watch this video for some perspective from the oposite side of the fence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoucuL1jazI

        >Sexism is here in the west, it is a problem, and people can be concerned about sexism here AND elsewhere in the world. I wasn’t aware that we were only allowed to be outraged by one thing at a time.

        Problem is you like the majority of people that have issues with this are confusing sexualization with sexism. A female character with big boobs in a video game isn’t being sexist towards anything. It’s sexualizing, which is not inherently sexist. But if you believe that depicting half naked women or men is inherently sexist then that’s your problem. What i call sexist is telling a girl that they can’t do something because they are a girl. I call sexism the fact that mothers are the ones that get heavily favored in child custody battles because of the stigma that the mother is automatically the better parent. Cartoon half-nudity is not sexism.

        >This is call a Male Power Fantasy, and it’s way different than the overt sexualization of women characters in gaming.

        Oh of course everything is a male problem. How can something that has equal amounts of both sexualized males and females (Unless you don’t count topless muscular guys sex objects) be the “problem”(If you consider sexualizing to be a problem) of one sex? Lay off the LSD please and check in with me on this after you come back to reality.

        >Did you ever stop to think that maybe women are trying to turn the tables and tear down the walls of sexism in gaming? Maybe that’s why they’re participating more… not because the claims of supposed sexism is “overblown,” but they’re trying to actively change the toxic atmosphere in where women can play alongside their male counterparts in peace.

        Yes I have thought of this, and from real world experience, not taking into account what appears to be a vocal online minority, i’ve concluded it to be nonsense. Not one female gamer I know sees a problem or even cares (Let me guess, this is because they are trained by the patriarchy not to?). They care about playing games. They are not wasting their time getting into a hobby with even an inkling of an urge to change anything because they feel their sex is being treated with disgust within it.

        I can guarantee you that the majority, the vast vast majority of people that have problems with “sexism” in gaming aren’t even gamers, just like that sham Anita Sarkeesian, the face of the sexism in gaming front, who is even on video claiming she isn’t a gamer, and whose videos of games she is criticizing contain highlights from other people’s videos because she never played them herself. Somehow though, she feels she can criticize, and her sheep take her at her word and parrot her views mindlessly, because it’s fun to be part of a team claiming to be victims I guess.

        It’s hilarious how Anita, someone with a clear profit agenda, can create a decently put together video, pander to niche communities, and create such a following and uproar over a non issue. Props to her as well to get idiots to think she is some kind of expert on the issue along the way. I’ll give her credit, she is a great marketer and did well to get herself into the limelight. I also wonder what’s going to coe of the case against her for faking death threats to get more monetary support? http://www.returnofkings.com/43647/did-anita-sarkeesian-commit-felony-wire-fraud

        >Tipper Gore doesn’t ring a bell? Nice strawman though.

        That was violence, period, and an attempt at forced morality on artistic expression. Nice try though.

        • PicardFacepalm

          I see.