The Penny Arcade gang aren't exactly known for their tactful and effective approach to gender relations. But PAX, on both coasts, does do one thing right: they forbid exhibitors from hiring scantily clad models who don't know anything about the products just to attract visitors. In other words: no booth babes.
Now, many of the PAX exhibitors do hire conventionally attractive young women to stand near the merch and hawk the product (I came upon a table of such studying their lines the night before PAX East opened, this year), but they're required to dress reasonably and blend in with the booth, as it were. And the difference isn't so much with the women or exhibitors themselves as it is this:
The policy against booth babes attempts to foster an environment where women are around to sell the products, not to be the products.
E3 has no such policy. And after three days wandering around the madness of an enormous convention centre, I desperately wish it did. And I wish that all of the marketing departments for all of the studios, large and small, did too.
I've been walking through the halls, observing the beckons of a legion of carefully coiffed young women wearing the same t-shirts or polo shirts as their male peers, but with booty shorts or miniskirts and six-inch heels. (Their male counterparts are generally in baggy jeans and ancient sneakers.) They're not beckoning to me, of course. I am not their target audience or demographic. And a booth that wants to attract my attention by waving the promise of women at me is, in fact, saying loud and clear that they don't want my attention at all.
At one demo, I had to fight my way through a mob to get to the booth's front desk, only to find that actually, there was no line at reception — the throng around me had assembled to snap photos of the two women in ill-fitting, barely-there elf costumes as they posed provocatively by the booth's entrance.
A studio for which I have previously always harbored a soft spot handed me a poster with a naked woman on it (she has strategically placed long blonde hair) after showing me their two demos in a room that had implausibly posed, borderline softcore-fantasy-porn female character models arrayed along the walls around us.
For every confident cosplayer who might do the job at a con, I am seeing dozens of companies trying to sell me hundreds of women. They are not drawing my attention to the content of their games, or to their tactics or techniques. They are drawing my attention to thigh-high boots, to low-cut shirts, and, frankly, to the hard work of a really expensive bra.
So much of what I see here at E3 is aimed directly at the lizard hindbrain of a 13-year-old boy. But you have to be 18 to get into the show, and it's nominally for industry professionals. Perhaps someday we — men and women alike — can all be treated like the grown-ups we theoretically are, and be trusted to judge a game by its content... not its double-D cover.