Posted at 15:01 on 26 Jul 2009 by Pandora / Blake
The weekend just gone was San Diego Comic Con, the annual international gathering for geeks and gamers. EA Games ran a competition to promote their new game, Dante's Inferno; I found out about this courtesy of top geeky news site Ars Technica.
So EA Games had a booth at Comic Con launching the game. The booth was staffed by "booth babes" (what's wrong with "model")? EA Games distributed flyers to Con attendees explaining the rules: to win, you have to "commit an act of lust" with any of the "booth babes" at the Con (i.e. not just the ones staffing the EA Games stall). You take a photo of this "act of lust" and send it in. The "best" photo wins "dinner and a sinful night with two hot babes". The same babes who were staffing the stall? Well, presumably, unless EA Games are stupid enough to offer other companies' models as a prize, as well as bait.
Got that? EA Games are offering the female models in their employ as a sexual prize, with which they reward the sexual harassment (and potentially assault) of not only their own models, but any other unlucky women happening to be staffing booths at the same con. Not only was the most "sinful" photo likely to be rewarded, encouraging contestants to up the ante without reference to the feelings of the anonymous "babe", but each contestant was encouraged to enter as many times as possible.
I've been a "booth babe" (let's leave aside the demeaning qualities of that term for the moment, shall we) - most recently at BoundCon. It's a slightly different job from studio modelling. It's hard work; you're basically a sales rep, in role 24/7 for a whole weekend. Whether you're at the booth or wandering around, you represent your stall and are a portable advertisement. You can't do anything without people gathering to stare and point cameras. You can't go to the toilet without people stopping you to take photos and ask questions, some more polite than others. It's a lot of fun, but being "on" for a whole weekend without a break is demanding, exhausting work, and by the second day you are desperate for some privacy and some comfy, casual clothes.
Modelling does not equal prostitution. I have this argument in endless emails with guys who don't get it - I'm a model and an actress. You hire me to pose and act. Sometimes, posing and acting involves physically interacting with other models and actors. That's cool - they're professionals, and I wouldn't agree to work with them if I didn't trust them, or they didn't have a pile of trustworthy references.
If you hire me, you do not buy the right to touch me. You do not buy the right for your friend to touch me. You do not buy the right to give me to a room full of drunk people and invite them to touch me.
I already have problems with enforcing this boundary. A lot of people still seem to think that "model" is a euphemistic way of saying "call girl". As if the fact that I'm comfortable revealing my body means that I have no right to define my own boundaries; as if looking was the same as touching.
Thanks very fucking much, EA Games. Not only did you sign up your models to a weekend of harassment by leering guys pawing at them and competing for who can create the most "sinful" photo, but you signed every other model at ComicCon up to the same fate. That must put you in a hell of an interesting legal position. Not only that, but by encouraging attendees to objectify and paw your models, you increased the chances that the female attendees of BoundCon would be the victims of harassment.
40% of the gaming market are now female, in a world where women in technology are still massively underrepresented and the objectification of female bodies is endemic in advertising. Even in a best-case scenario where all the models hired by EA Games knew about the contest in advance, consented to it, and were able to enforce their own boundaries during the Con and had the support of EA Games in dealing with any unwanted sexual attention - even if this were also true of every other model working the Con - this is STILL unacceptable.
It sends a message that women are objects to compete with, and prizes to be won. It sends a message that EA Games considers the only audience worth having to be heterosexual males - you know, the male "YOU" in the flyer. Female gamers and queer male gamers don't exist in the misogynistic world of EA Games. Women only exist in the gaming industry to be the scantily-clad sprites on console packaging, the hyper-sexed female characters in the games themselves, or the generic, permanently available "booth babes" who exist only to help male gamers get their rocks off.
Sexual harassment is already a huge problem at Cons - look at the experiences of women at last years' Comic Con, or the Open Source Boob Project at ConFusion. This contest was launched into a culture that is already, famously, not female-friendly. EA Games couldn't have sent a clearer message to women telling them they aren't welcome at conventions unless they're happy being treated like this.
Well, they've lost me as a customer, but since (according to them) female gamers don't exist I'm not sure this news will affect them much. What they do care about is their reputation. If any of you agree with me, you can help by spreading the word about their attitude.
The day after the contest was announced, the games team published a statement on Twitpic, bleating that the competition was "just tongue in cheek" and "it was all done in the spirit of good-natured fun". Anyone fancy a game of misogynist bingo? Not only is this statement not remotely good enough, but you only need to look at the stream of sexist bile in the comments to see why I can't see this ending well.
This contest is insulting to gamers, it's insulting to models, and it's insulting to women. This requires more than a half-hearted "clarification" on a social networking site - it requires a company policy statement apologising for the offense and damage caused by this contest, and detailling the action EA Games intend to take to avoid such overt sexism in their future marketing.
Most of EA's UK PR team are women. If you think there's something wrong here, you should write to them and say so.