"So, what booth are you at?"
This is usually how conversations start with strangers at E3. Only when they ask me this, they usually think I'm a booth babe. The wardrobe might have something to do with it: fashion wise, I beat Lady Gaga to her shtick by about two years. Most journalists don't walk around E3 in PVC or a pirate costume. But if I don't cosplay, I get bored. There's more method than that to my madness, but more on that later.
The "what booth are you at?" issue is a compliment in a way, an insult in another. Two assumptions apply: 1) I'm attractive. 2) I know next to nothing about gaming.
Sadly, this makes me more desirable to the average game industry insider than if the reverse were true. Granted, pretty and stupid is generally more desirable in North American women than brainy and plain. Don't believe me? Watch Big Bang Theory.
A beautiful woman who can tolerate the presence of dark under-eye circles, insomniac adrenaline sweat, and a wardrobe of free swag t-shirts triggers an "achievement unlocked" cut scene in the minds of men who fit that profile. They space out for a while, and when they return to reality, they discover I'm babbling a mile a minute about some game or another that just rocked my world, usually because limbs got dismembered.
Then they get very confused. Even a little sad. Their perfect fantasy of a game-geek virgin whore has been shattered by an actual understanding of genre. This means their opinions may be questioned. This means that their virtual penis may be judged by an eye that's seen more than her fair share.
Bye bye virgin. Now I'm just a whore. What else is new?
Some guys can handle it. Some guys are even relieved. I've found most men who work in gaming are generally receptive to women liking games, even if they're not the most sensitive in terms of workplace dialogue. Men who make videogames are not, in my experience, ignorant misogynists. The people who really eat the spleens of young women trying to break into the industry are other women.
I'm not talking about the looks of horror on the face of the female marketing reps the first time I walk into their booth in buckle boots and an outfit made up mostly of belts. I understand their concern that they're going to get fired because they booked an appointment with a vapid, crazy person. And I hate to admit it, but far too many women covering videogames for television are hired primarily for their looks. Their gaming knowledge is like the nutmeg offered for the top of your coffee at Starbucks.
Part of this is lack of access - girls are not encouraged to play games, nor is it the social activity it is for boys. But part of it is a lower standard for women in this sphere. No man would get hired if they only owned a DS and a Wii, but I've met numerous "gamer girls" who fall into this stereotype. In one case, I was even shut out of a position for being "too overqualified and not able to relate to the majority of girls who play games".
WTF? Mostly this BS comes from the feminine malaise of low self-esteem and a deficit of ego. We don't like people, especially boys, not liking us, and we take criticisms far too personally. We can't handle that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, we meet will think we're posers until they see the truth. This is life and this is the working world, and we need to break free of the ivory tower of 'empowerment'. No one just hands anyone a writing gig, and video game reviewing is a competitive business.
To be clear: I've met plenty of great female reviewers for web publications over the years, but their services rarely have the money to send them to Los Angeles for five days. Even if they do get sent, they tend to dress down, and I completely understand that: the easiest path to being taken seriously is to have people forget you're a girl. That, and it's tiring walking the convention in heels. As I write this two days before the show, I'm still glaring with open hatred at the shoes I'm considering packing.
So I'll tolerate a certain amount of "mansplaining" at E3. It's encouragement to play better, if only to make a point. And, when they discover I know what I'm doing, most developers switch gears quickly.
Strike that, male developers switch gears quickly. This is another reason I put up with the stereotypes from men: there are women in any business who are horrible to other women. I thought this would be avoided in the gaming world, but I've met too many wretched queen bees to be deluded that way any longer. There are some wonderful women in the field, but I'm still lurking on "women in gaming" boards much more than on co-ed sites. It's just not worth getting into a pissing match with someone over minutiae. I'd rather save up my piss for something really valid.
We girls whine and whine about not getting ahead, about there not being enough of us, but when a fresh-faced young thing with energy, talent and enthusiasm tries to come onto the scene, we line up to take pot shots with far more eagerness than the men. A male gamer's disdain is tempered by the faint hope that he might get laid. Most women don't have that motivation, and so we descend on any fresh female meat like the fast-moving zombies that zombie purists despise.
I've spoken to other cool chicks in the gaming world, and the stories all ring very similar. The common threads are being mistaken for someone in the marketing department, dealing with horrible locker room humor, and horror stories about the viciousness of other women. Once a woman settles in to being the "girl" in the office, it's hard to adjust to not being the only one, to not having that inherent specialness because of a new girl -- especially when one has to overhear the guys go on about how "hot" the new girl is. Because "hot" is a catch-all for any other kind of compliment.
But enough on that, because the topic is E3.
I used to dread those first moments at a booth when it felt like everyone was looking at me like "What the hell is that?!" Eventually, however, I realized that the options were being looked at like an alien, or not being seen at all. Now, it's part of the game, and I'm playing for extra XP. If anything, I'm memorable, and getting people to remember things that break stereotypes is important.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I saw other gals this year doing the cosplay thing. It works, and it makes things more fun for everyone... except the crankypants security guards who tell me to put more clothes on. It's tragic that breasts are so overvalued as a commodity, but I'll take it for now. Any edge is a useful tool... except at the Disney booth, where they frown on excessive boobs. I always go stealth at the Disney booth.
In short, a player is never given things in a game. One progresses through early levels as a pathetically weak starter character until one earns advancement. This is the "maleness" stereotype associated with hardcore gaming that we women need to internalize for the advancement of our gender. It's also an important thing to keep in mind when navigating the social hierarchy of E3. Your first year is overwhelming, and you get shut out of a lot. This is true for both genders. The frosty reception - and I mean sub-zero frosty -- E3 gives a newbie is not linked to sex. But as you build experience and relationships, more areas open up, and you become more comfortable going out on a limb.
This year, however, I'm playing one aspect of my E3 experience safer: I've nixed all but one dress from my show wardrobe. With the amount of motion capture gaming that is previewing this year, pants are a must.