You might not have heard about the security guard that groped a journalist at this year's E3. Or the writer who gave a PR woman his business card by slipping it in her dress. Or the women presumed to be booth babes simply because of the way they looked. E3 is the busiest time to be working in the games industries or as a reporter covering the scene. It's the biggest, most important event of the year. But with roughly 50,000 attendees, it's also sometimes the creepiest.
It can be weird to be a female journalist, PR representative, developer, whatever, in this world. I can't tell you how many times people have asked me, "So, do you play games?" after I tell them what I do for a living.
When you're female and working in or alongside this industry people make assumptions. Assumptions that you just know aren't being made about your male counterparts. But I brush it off and answer the question matter-of-factly, because it's all I can do to try to defend my legitimate interest in games when, meanwhile, I dedicate my livelihood to it.
That much is tolerable — expected, even (sadly). But after speaking to a few female journalists and PR reps who attended E3 this year, I learned that, in the midst of all the excitement, they were unhappy to admit a more offensive common theme of this year's show: they called it the "creepy-rapey-E3."
(For the record, the ESA, the group that organizes E3, says they received no reports about any instances of sexual harassment from show security. In the event that they would have, I'm told, they have personnel around the convention centre to investigate the issues and determine the appropriate action.)
This might be upsetting to read. I get it, I really do. And as much as I can't understand the vitriol that typically comes from some gamers in the wake of stories like these, I do understand the source. We love games. We don't want to admit that there are problems in the world of gaming. But we have to.
And these "creepy-rapey-E3" stories? These are things we don't want to admit that our colleagues and peers and people who share our passions are capable of. But many of us don't have the luxury of denial. Because it's right in our faces.
The Touchy Security Guard
A few days after E3, I hopped on the phone with a fellow female games reporter. She told me about an all-too-close encounter at E3.
"What do you do when the person that's supposed to be keeping an eye out for everyone is doing that to you?" she asked me.
She confessed her nervousness after being grabbed by a security guard manning a particular booth on E3's show floor. What started out as friendly, albeit awkward chitchat quickly crossed the line.
It was early last Wednesday morning, and this female journalist — who asked not to be named — was all set to interview the creative director of a game. Through the whirlwind of news and appointments, she already had a lot on her mind, she told me.
She waved to a friend. A security guard who was covering the back rooms where these interviews took place mistakenly thought that wave was meant for him. He approached her. She responded to his small talk casually — in a friendly manner, she said — her eyes darting to the flashy big screen that showcased new trailers for upcoming games. She wasn't invested in the conversation, she told me. It showed.
Suddenly, he was standing over her. "Looming," she told me. He wrapped his hands around her shoulders in such a way that "he could have easily moved" her.
"I was physically compromised," she told me. "I wasn't in a position I could've slipped out of. I had to shake him off."
"What do you do when the person that's supposed to be keeping an eye out for everyone is doing that to you?"
She recalled that when she managed to slip from his grip, she took a few steps back. Not knowing what to say, she nervously went back to staring at the big screen, to her a clear indication that she didn't want to talk anymore.
She felt helpless, she told me. Who was she supposed to turn to? "You're the security guard," she remembered thinking. "What am I supposed to say? You are the security guard." But the security guard persisted. He continued the conversation, going so far as to approach her yet again, this time rubbing her arm instead of grabbing it. At this point, she said she backed up again, this time saying, "Don't do that."
"I was nervous," she recalled. "He laughed, and said, 'It's just that it's funny, because I'm here and there are all these hot girls here and then you find out they're gamers. I didn't know girls like this existed, and I'm basically getting paid to stand here all day and look at them.'
"I'm really ashamed of myself that I didn't punch him in the face first thing."
The conversation was benign, she told me, until it wasn't benign. And now she says she's afraid to make smalltalk with random people.
Fortunately, her story has a happy ending. She reported the security guard to the PR people behind the booth. Soon afterwards, she learned that the guard's management company had fired him. (I reached out to the PR company in question and confirmed that the guard was indeed fired at the show.) The female journalist told me over the phone that the staff could not have been more responsive or helpful. They apologized multiple times and were apparently very comforting.
But this incident, like many incidents that happen to women at events like this one, left her uneasy about getting too comfortable on the E3 show floor. "It's like walking into a shark tank and you don't know which ones are the shark."
Four Groping Hands
One night of E3, a public relations representative for a well-known game company went to a bar with some other PR reps, some marketing employees, and an indie developer. "I remember not wanting to go into the bar in the first place because they were playing Star Wars: Episode I," she joked with me on Monday.
After chit-chatting with the developer at the bar for some time, she got up to go to the restroom.
"As soon as I got up I felt him rubbing my head around the temple area," she recalled. "I thought, 'Ok this is obviously a drunk person who thinks this is funny.'"
She did not think it was funny. She turned around to tell him to stop.
"As I was turning, he kissed the top of my head. I got paralysed. I stopped turning."
Things only escalated from there.
"As I was turning, he kissed the top of my head. I got paralysed. I stopped turning."
"A second guy started rubbing my shoulders and kissing the side of my neck. I freaked out."
Meanwhile, she told me, the indie developer knocked off her glasses while rubbing her temples. She didn't know if it was intentional, but it was scary.
"I'm useless without my glasses," she told me. "I couldn't see anyone I knew. I thought that, while I was talking to the indie developer, my friends might have left without realising and that I was alone. I started panicking. I don't know if he set me up to be in this situation and left me here. I felt paralysed. Like I couldn't move."
She said she couldn't even shake her head, let alone reach down to pick up her glasses. "Yeah, I wasn't moving at all."
Then, the two men stopped. She doesn't know why. Maybe they sensed her discomfort, or maybe they were just too drunk, she said. "I guess they got bored."
Are You A Booth Babe?
It's an unfortunate and uncomfortable reality that female attendees at shows like E3 are constantly mistaken for booth babes, who are women hired to wear revealing clothing and stand at company booths. Here are two of those stories.
A female journalist was waiting for a PR rep to take her to her next appointment. "I accidentally made eye contact [with some guy]," she told me over the phone.
"So, what booth do you belong to?" the guy asked.
She lifted her media badge in defiance, simultaneously moving away from him. In order to avoid comments and looks in the future, she told me, she plans to wear jeans. That time, she said she had been wearing a "nice, modest dress" that stopped just above her knees. She had a similar experience the next day, with trails of stares following her down the hallways. She learned that, as proud as she is of her fashion sense, it'd be more comfortable to cover up.
"That's not flattering to me at all," she lamented, while remembering the looks she had gotten. "Some girls think it's an ego-booster. The only thing it taught me is that I can't wear cute clothes." She said the E3 show floor is a "cesspool of sexism and hormones."
"If you're a booth babe, isn't it your job to take pictures with me?"
A female PR representative with a similar story was hosting her big E3 party one night of the show. One party attendee — a stranger — approached her and asked for a picture. Her answer was obvious: no thank you. And then, as she recalled to me, he responded: "If you're a booth babe, isn't it your job to take pictures with me?"
Not How You Give A Business Card
During a separate party that same evening, the PR representative accused of being a booth babe earlier was discussing the situation with a journalist, relaying her disappointment that she apparently cannot wear a party dress to a party. While talking, they were approached by a male writer the PR rep didn't know.
"Maybe this is what I get for wearing a dress. Maybe this wouldn't have happened."
"All of a sudden he pulls his business card out and slowly moves towards my breasts," the PR rep told me. "He obviously thought he was being cute, 'cause he was obviously drunk."
I spoke to the PR rep later immediately after the incident and she painted a vivid picture: the PR rep looking on in horror; the journalist saying "no, no, no"; the stranger slipping his business card into her dress.
"I looked at him and said, 'No,'" the PR rep recalled to me. "And he walked away." As we chatted about what happened, her tone was furious, then sad. "Maybe this is what I get for wearing a dress. Maybe this wouldn't have happened."
A female PR representative was taking a quick break on the E3 show floor. She found herself at the Nintendo booth, where there was a big display for the newly-announced Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Nintendo's professional photographers offered to take a shot of her on the display. She was down. So she hopped onto the Donkey Kong stage, posing for the camera.
A male onlooker snapped a photo at the same time. Nothing too strange about that — I've taken photos of displays with people in them before, just to get a snapshot of the moment. But right afterwards, the PR rep told me, someone came up and told her something chilling: the onlooker had zoomed in and taken a photo of her breasts.
"I didn't know about it until after the fact," she told me. "Another guy came up saying that the guy had zoomed in on my breasts and took a photo. He questioned him and he denied it. He said, 'That was really rude and disgusting,' and asked him to delete it. And he still denied it. So he took the guy's camera and deleted it."
The Worst Kind Of 'Pick-Up Artist'
Jenn Frank — whose fantastic writing has been featured on Kotaku before — had her own uncomfortable, insulting experience while attending an E3 after-hours event. She explained in an email to me yesterday evening how she met two "pick-up artists" who seemed to only want to insult her.
Here's her story, in her words:
I and a female friend went up to the bar to obtain drinks. We were buying drinks for a group of coworkers, and this includes a drink for my friend's brother, an editor at a major video games news outlet.
As we were waiting, a man at the bar started mocking me, saying my glasses were cute but I am not, and my friend laid into him. I, an idiot, repeatedly apologized for her "behavior." Soon enough we were flanked by two men, one of whom admonished my friend for "being insecure."
These two men, I soon learned, are developers at a noted AAA studio. I advised them to "google me," and I left to return to our group. My friend's older brother, an editor at a major games news website, wanted to talk to them (or beat them up). I teased him: "We don't need you to white-knight us." Then he was upset, and I promised I was kidding.
The two men, noticing my friend and I knew other people at the party, started following us around. At one point they sent a female coworker over to bum a smoke off me.
"Women, huh?" one of the two asked my friend's older brother, who is, again, an editor at a major site. The editor remarked he didn't catch the dev's meaning, so the dev continued, something about "if you can make a woman feel bad about herself you can sleep with her, but it just isn't working tonight."
Jenn told me she found the entire situation rude, to say the least.
These are just some of the stories I've heard and experienced over my years covering the video game industry. They're not just limited to E3: unwanted advances, creepy statements, and inappropriate acts like this are way more common than anyone would like to admit. It's become a fact of life, in other parts of life but particularly in the world of gaming. It's something many of us have come to accept and learned how to deal with over time.
You might want to think that these women should have said or done something to defend themselves. Don't. Because there's a common theme here: immobility. When you're approached or attacked like this, you can find yourself paralysed. Confused. Unsure of how to respond. Over time, many of us find our own ways to deal with these situations. They're always uncomfortable, but at least we can be prepared.
I've never written a story like this before. I've admittedly been afraid to in the past. These confessions are always met with scepticism and hatred and accusations. The bravery to step up is rarely celebrated. It's seen as whiny and entitled. That reaction is baffling. And I'm glad that the women who spoke with me for this story shared their experiences. They're why I know I can't be afraid anymore. I don't have that choice.