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Acts of Lust, or Acts of Exploitation?

Posted by kellie on Jul 27, 2009 in Case Study, Culture, Gaming, Rant, User Generated Content

I got back from Comic Con last night. I’ve been meaning to go for years, and this was the first chance I’ve had to go. I was there with the SEGA community team, covering all the action for our fans who couldn’t attend. We had a booth in the show, next to other gaming booths. EA’s booth was a few down from us. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary the dozen or so times that I walked by the booth. With that many people in such a small space, it was practically impossible to see anything. So it was only when I got to the San Diego airport last night that I read about EA’s “Sin to Win” Comic-Con promotion of Dante’s Inferno.

(I know. I work for a competitor to EA, so it might seem like I’m just slagging on them because of that. I assure you, that’s not the case. )

EA has already apologized for the contest, and provided a bit of explanation. I think this is an unfortunate case of having a decent idea, but having a completely insensitive, sexist, ham-handed execution.

Let’s start with the core idea. According to EA’s apology/explanation, they are designating each month until the game launch with a different “sin” theme for the month. July is “lust”. To enter the contest, you need to take a photo of yourself with one of the “booth babes” from the EA booth. You submit that photo, and EA picks one winner to have a night on the town with VIP treatment. From a marketing standpoint, I can see what they were aiming for with this. It gets people to visit their booth, to create content they can use later, it’s interactive, and they get to giveaway a prize that’s going to be desirable to most, if not all, entrants. But as usual, the devil (pun intended) is in the details. Or in this case, the choice of words and phrases.

To enter the “Sin to Win” contest, participants are encouraged to “commit acts of lust” by taking photos with a “booth babe”. (The graphic says “us or any booth babe” but unless the EA staff is wearing bikinis in their booth — something I’m certain I didn’t see — the implication here is clear.) Then you “prove it” by submitting your photo. One winner gets “a sinful night with two hot girls” and “a chest full of booty”.

Like I said, I can see the core idea here. But it’s hard for me to believe that nobody thought this was inappropriate enough to stop it before it happened. They are encouraging their  fans to sexually harass the people they’ve hired to work their booth. If someone thought of it and didn’t say it — that’s a problem. If someone thought of it and said it, nobody listened — and that’s a bigger problem. If nobody thought of it — that’s the biggest problem at all. I know (and have written about before) women in the gaming industry, and how sexist it can be. I wish the line was never crossed, but it’s nice to see some fairly mainstream outrage over this issue. Maybe some good can come out of these unfortunate incidents — to shine the light on, and change, how women are treated in gaming.

Besides the sexist overtones here, there are also heteronormative overtones. They’re assuming that their audience is not only male, but straight males. They’re probably right, but a contest like this is extremely alienating to anyone who is not in that straight male demographic. Not that gays (or straight women) can’t appreciate a pretty lady (just like I appreciate a cute boy), but “acts of lust” is farther than anyone really wants to take it with someone that’s not of their preferred gender.

I understand the pressure to market games well, and to try to give your audience what they want. But it’s so easy to get carried away in that without stopping to think about what you’re actually saying, doing, and encouraging. I hope we all stop and think a little bit more.

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