Supposedly girls now make up one third of the gaming landscape, but figures like that seem hard to believe while strolling through the crazy maelstrom that is the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Sure, there are a fair number of women there—behind PR desks, or latched onto their gamer boyfriends looking very tentative. Then of course there's the third group: the booth babes.
I spent the first two days of the conference taking pictures of the luscious beauties who are hired by companies to stand around and promote product. No E3 report is complete, it seems, without a gallery of booth babes to drool over, and GameCritics.com has historically been no exception.
But I began to notice how the girls would be talking amongst themselves between photo ops—how occasionally an arched eyebrow or rolled eye would break through the plastic smiles and offer little windows into what they actually felt. As I watched them good-naturedly accommodate wave after wave of uncouth photo-seekers, I found myself curious about the tales these women had to tell.
And so, in the last hours of the last day of E3, I decided to talk to some booth babes.
My first stop is Kentia Hall, where I find a model named Joy stationed at the foot of an escalator handing out Saga of Ryzom demo discs. She wears dark blue, and keeps a large sword sheathed in one of her knee-high boots. I asked her what being a booth babe is like.
"It's hard," she replies. "I'm standing on my feet all day, but sometimes I break into an English accent and it helps pass the time." She flashes a warm smile, and touches my arm conspiratorially as her voice shifts easily into a London lilt. "I've learned a lot here, though. Before this, I didn't even know what an MMORPG was."
Joy tells me she works several trade shows a month. We have to pause our conversation frequently as men approach to have their pictures taken with her. For each one she pulls out her sword and flourishes the blade while striking a pose.
I ask if she's comfortable with so many guys posing with her. "It's weird when they put their arms around me," she replies, "but then I feel them shaking and I'm like, whatever, if it's so important to you . . . it's funny when guys come up to me and tell me that it's their first time touching a girl."
I head into the frenetic South Hall and find Lauren working outside the Gizmondo booth handing out coupons for free T-shirts. She is more than happy to talk with me as we move off to one side, out of the busy aisle. "Wow, no one's ever asked us anything before," she says. Lauren's day began at 8:30am and will end at 6pm. After the show she will go to her second job working as a cocktail waitress.
"I was having a discussion with my friends here," says the UCLA graduate, "about how we would be millionaires if we could corner a women gamer market. I personally don't play a lot of games because I don't want to spend the time getting acquainted with the controls. I just want to get right into it."
Lauren and Leah
As for the guys, "it really makes their day to be with five girls at a time," Lauren laughs. Her friend Leah, a USC graduate in Film Production and Business, joins us and adds, "This environment is definitely over-stimulating for them."
I ask Lauren if she's had any embarrassing experiences. "Only a few guys attempt to get fresh. They're not really that caliber of guy. They're more nerdy and wide-eyed and so excited that you're actually talking to them. They seem so un-used to seeing girls. I guess they just play videogames and don't go outside much. It's so cute they way they're so enthusiastic and enamored."
I take a picture of Lauren. She asks to see it, so I show her the image on my digital camera's LCD display. She studies it for a few seconds, and wrinkles her nose. "That one's not very good, could you take another one?" I oblige, using the flash this time, and then take a few of Leah and Lauren together. This time they both approve.
Moving on to Capcom's booth, Chrissi is dressed up as Jill Valentine and handing out Resident Evil postcards. "Other than my feet hurting, it's a lot of fun," she says in the brief moment that I'm able to grab her attention between photographs. We're then forced to pause as a deluge of guys who walk up to her, cameras in hand, demanding pictures. "I just want a picture," one interrupts as Chrissi attempts to talk about Resident Evil.
I stand back patiently, taking the opportunity to observe Chrissi's routine. "Hi, how are you," she says, smiling. Five pictures are taken by different cameras in quick succession as she twirls this way and that, responding to cries of "Jill!" A British guy with a Polaroid asks her a few details about herself: she's a model from Long Beach.
When they leave I have her to myself again for a few seconds. "I've been working for Capcom for the past three days," she tells me. "Yesterday I was passing out these lotion packets and everyone thought they were condoms."
As another wave approaches, I decide to take my leave. "I think your article is a great idea,"
she says, shaking my hand. "It was nice to meet you."
Activision's Rome: Total War is a giant display of pseudo marble pillars and semi-circular walls. On the outskirts I spy two booth babes dressed as Roman maidens in white tunics and sandals. The crowd here is relentless. The girls cuddle together and smile; occasionally a guy walks up and presses himself between them while his buddy snaps the picture. I stand for a full five minutes waiting for an opening, but soon realize the futility of trying to talk to these popular babes.
Luckily as I head deeper into the Total War exhibit, I find a third booth babe reclining on a sofa holding a bunch of purple grapes. There's a television crew there, and the cameraman is slowly panning across her body. Beginning with her feet, he moves slowly up her legs, then to her stomach and breasts, before lingering for a few seconds on her face. They leave, and I'm able to kneel down beside her.
Candice tells me she studied Journalism in college, but is now an actor and model. "I work one trade show a month to pay the rent," she says. Her accent is a sultry New Orleans drawl tempered by six years spent in Atlanta before coming to California. She's nonchalant about the men she interacts with. "They come up to me and they're shaking. At a show like this, they're all nice and polite." I ask if she's a gamer. "I used to play the old-school Nintendo in college. Mario and Zelda. But now I don't play."
As I thank her and get up to leave, a second TV crew from MTV approaches and asks her to pose with a sign. After they leave, a fellow booth babe comes up squealing, "MTV, girl!"
Jessica, Kelia and Alicia sit for IHRA Drag Racing 2005
Heading through the concourse to the West Hall, I spotted a trio of babes seated in tiny chairs in front of a racecar promoting IHRA Drag Racing 2005. This was another high volume spot, so I knew I would have to be brief. I approached Jessica, Kelia and Alicia and asked what it was like to sit there all day. "My mouth hurts," Jessica responded. Kelia has a PlayStation but the other two aren't gamers. One guy asks Kelia to pose while holding a T-shirt. She glances at it, then holds it up to her chest as the photo is snapped. I ask if they're obligated to pose with everything and everyone, and they tell me they're allowed to say no if they're uncomfortable with the item. My final question was an estimate of how many pictures had been taken of them that day. "Maybe 500," Jessica ventures. "No, no, more than that," Kelia says. "A thousand."
Booth people pushing Tecmo's Gallop Racer 2004
E3 is a noisy place, but even amidst the din of a thousand flashing screens and booming speakers, I could make out the rowdy hooting and hollering at Tecmo's Gallop Racer 2004 display. A giant television screen showed racehorses at a starting gate, and betting chits were being handed out that corresponded to one of the horses on the screen. As the horses raced, onlookers cheered wildly in anticipation of the prize: a chance to pose with one of the provocative horse-jocky booth babes who strutted around the stage.
I noticed a conspicuous figure standing off to one side observing the raucous spectacle. She wore skin-tight futuristic garb with ridged, spiky shoulders pads and a wig of straight white hair. I approached her and did my usual spiel, to which she
fixed a chilly gaze on me. "I'm not a booth babe. I actually work with a product. I'm a news reporter character in a virtual world, and I thought it would be fun if I dressed up as the character."
"I'm covered up," she continues, gesturing over her elegant costume. "So I think I'm more cool than sexy. I feel very offended when people think I'm a booth babe. These women know exactly what they're doing with their bodies."
Sayah continues to tell me about her product, a MMORPG called Project-Entropia which is being demoed at the Swedish Pavilion nearby. She speaks in an elegant European accent, and the coldness with which she met my initial questions begins to soften as she tells me about traveling to Australia and Asia as a pro ice skater before her current work.
"This is our first show outside of Sweden, and it's my first time away from our booth. I decided to walk around and look at some of the other booths, and I've been trying to find out what American men like." She casts a dismissive gaze over Gallop Racer 2004, where a booth babe named "Coco Butter" is currently straddling a wooden horse-head stick and cracking her whip like a jockey-dominatrix.
"American men seem to like totally fake people. Big boobs and mouths. I don't understand it," she declares. I tell her I'm Canadian and that Los Angeles is a bit of a culture-shock for me as well. She smiles and invites me to the Swedish Pavilion to see her game.
By this time E3 is fast winding down, and I decide to spend my last minutes at Nintendo's booth. There's a special sort of tension that comes into the air during the closing minutes of E3, as exhibitors begin to strip down their booths and unload as
much as they can—BradyGames and Prima hand out their display guidebooks, Logitec gives away peripherals, and press-only demo discs and swag are now tossed out indiscriminately. Everyone's on the hunt for those last bits of free stuff, and the hordes sniff out hot spots and congregate there like jackals around a zebra in its death-throes.
One such hot spot is Nintendo's Pokémon desk, where a gaggle of pushy E3 patrons were trying to persuade the girls behind the desk to hand out the last of the Pokémon plushies which were reserved for those had received a Pokémon token after waiting in line to see the DS. "If you don't have a token, you won't get a plushie. I repeat. If you don't have a token, you won't get a plushie!" yelled one of the girls who seemed to have things well under control.
"It's funny that people act this way over little stuffed toys," I say to another of the girls, Jessica, who is standing a few paces away. She smiles and nods in agreement. "I've been handing out buttons, screen-cleaners, and all kinds of things, and there have been people attacking us for free stuff. People will walk up to us and just try to grab it."
Jessica tells me how she spent a lot of time learning about the games, gets free ice cream from Nintendo, and is allowed to wear comfortable shoes. "Sorry if I'm a little distracted," she says. As she talks, her eyes are constantly darting back and forth between two nearby Game Boy Advance stations. "I'm on theft patrol here."
As we wrap up our conversation, I snap a picture of Jessica and thank her for speaking with me. She calls over to her frazzled companion at the plushie desk, who tosses over a mini Squirdle. Jessica hands it to me. I walk out of Nintendo's booth in the dying seconds of E3 clutching my notebook in one hand and the Squirdle in the other, and hear some of the guys clustered around the desk muttering, "so why did she get a plushie?"
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