Among the Booth Babes: A Visit to E3

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly called E3, takes place over the course of three days in two giant exhibition halls and a series of scattered booths in downtown Los Angeles. E3, despite its reputation as that other Southern California mecca for high-powered geekery, is a trade show, a place of business. People here are on the clock — no fans allowed! — indicated by the ominous placards outside every entrance forbidding anyone under 17, “including infants,” from entering. (Ya hear that, babies? No pre-blogging Resident Evil 6 for you!) Which is why it made complete sense for me, not only a first-time attendee but also someone who hasn’t owned a game console since my Final Fantasy VII days on the original PlayStation, to try to take it all in over the course of what was essentially an extended lunch break.

Look, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that it would probably be overwhelming, not to mention indecipherable. I also knew that this event is a big freakin’ deal to a large community of people, and if I came off as flip or reductive of a multi-billion-dollar industry and the legions of fans and consumers who have made it so, I might unintentionally raise some hackles. But still, I was starting from square one here, so when I met up with my far more knowledgeable gaming-writer friend (I’ll call her Kim) on the final day of the show, I decided it was probably best to dispense with all pretense.

Me: “Show me where the stuff is. Help me make it go.”

But first, we dine. Kim texts her fellow gaming chronicler friend (whom she has never met in person, and whom she greets by her Twitter handle), and the three of us post up on the walkway outside the West Hall, where legions of other hungry gamers gaming industry professionals had plopped on the sidewalk to dig into whatever Asian fusion fare the platoon of food trucks parked nearby were dishing up. After some preliminary gaming-blogger shit-talking, we get right down to the most pressing issue of E3s past and present.

Kim: I told her about the bounce house they had last year. Y’know, just go in, bounce around with a half-naked girl for a few minutes …
Guy Next to Us: Who did that?
Kim: I don’t know, I think it was Samsung? They were giving away a free TV or something.
Kim’s Twitter Friend: Oh, man. So last year, THQ was releasing Saints Row, I think, and they had booth babes, and they were giving out free car washes.
Me: I wasn’t expecting you to say “car washes.”

While one would think that the booth babe phenomenon would be as standard as temporary hearing loss at E3 by now, my companions tell me this isn’t true. Let me repeat: E3 is a place of business. Kim was scoffing at the fact that Disney Interactive was handing out Oswald the Rabbit ears — and the gamers gaming industry professionals were actually deigning to wear them! — to say nothing of the ambush of cleavage and fishnets every vendor rolls out in a supposed attempt to butter up reviewers and buyers, or at the very least plant that seed: “Hmm, which Wii controller should I buy? How about the one by the company that put their girls in red wigs and go-go boots last year?” So, just to be clear, for a principled gamer gaming industry professional: Comic Con Booth Babes = Nuisance. E3 Booth Babes = Moral Affront.

Kim’s Twitter Friend: I don’t know … you might want to write something about the booth babes.
Me: I would love to write something about the booth babes.

It was clear that finding stuff and making it go would have to wait — I was now on the lookout for off-duty booth babes. I may not understand what makes the PlayStation Move different from the XBox Kinect, but I watch a lot of reality TV, and I understand push-up bras and fake eyelashes and the role they play in selling a product (and/or one’s soul.)

The problem, at least from a journalistic standpoint, is that most of these women are really well trained, or just generally super positive, or both. Several that I talked to seemed to still be in demo mode, singing the praises of whatever new gadget CompuCorp was hawking that year. But just as I was about to leave, I spotted a gothy, vamped-out girl in a satin bustier, chugging one of the free Nos energy drinks they were handing out outside the lobby. I complimented her on her partially shaved, Rihanna-in-2007 haircut, then went mining for some real talk.

How many years have you been coming to E3?
Three. This is my third year. I love it.

Are you a gaming fan?
Oh, I game. Before I moved out here I had a whole setup in my old apartment. My boyfriend and I played, like, racing games.

So do you see E3 as more work or play?
This is play for me. It’s a blast. It’s so fun, seeing all the new stuff everyone comes out with.

So the whole negative connotation around “booth babes” [insert heavy finger quotes, pray no offense is taken] doesn’t bother you?
Huh?

I mean, some people think that it takes away from the professionalism of the whole thing.
Oh, I don’t know … I’m not really a part of the community I guess so, yeah … I didn’t even know about that!

OK. Any interesting interactions with fans this year?
Yeah, the guys are so sweet. They all come up and want pictures, and it’s like, I can’t complain, you know? I get to wear a cool costume and get tons of attention all day.

Yeah, it’s kind of crazy how the guys swarm when a girl gets up there for a photo op.
Totally. You’re like, the star. And the guys come up to you with their cameras, and they’re shaking, and it’s so cute. And you know, sometimes they try to strike up a conversation … I had a few numbers slipped to me today.

Does it ever go beyond just that kind of nervous flirting?
Not at E3 so much. At Comic-Con, maybe. There’s more drinking there.

Any other good stories?
Stories, lemme think … hmm. [Pause.] Well, one guy had a seizure today.

Wait, what?
Yeah, I guess the lights on one of the games …

Was he epileptic?
I don’t know. I wasn’t there, one of the other girls saw it. She had to, like, call the paramedic and everything. It was crazy.

There you have it. Take that, principled gamers gaming industry professionals. Booth babes not only make otherwise helpless shut-ins feel cool and desirable, they also save lives.

Filed Under: Video Games, We Went there

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Emily Yoshida is an editor at Grantland.

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