INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: Cosplayers won’t be banned from conventions, but sexist commentary should be
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
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.