Babes in Toyland

Barely legal; E3's booth babes (Photo by Courtney Fitzgerald)

E3 is supposed to be extreme, like the X Games for gamers. After I almost paid $40 to park in a downtown lot near the Los Angeles Convention Center, last week’s annual gathering looked like it was going to be extreme in a bad way. But as I fell in line with a thumping, young, almost entirely male army trekking to the Expo from a faraway parking lot, things started to get extreme in that good, trippy RPG way.

The first challenge was battling past a gaggle of stacked, scantily clad women “protesting” for their right to bare arms, cleavage, rear ends, etc. The reason behind the buxom ladies’ protest was also the cause of the biggest buzz at this year’s E3 (that is, if you leave out Paris Hilton showing up Thursday and forgetting the name of her own game) — the new dress code for E3’s notorious “booth babes,” the human accessories routinely hired by game studios to attract attendees to their booths.

Gamers began steeling themselves for a less spicy sausage fest when the show’s director, Mary Dolaher, announced in the 2006 handbook that E3 was putting the kibosh on the bikini bottoms and cartoonish cleavage that had become signature features of the event. (See, “the best collection of E3 booth babes from past to present!,” for more insight.) This year, extra skin would mean an extra $5,000 in fines.

But after walking through the doors and nearly tripping over all the girls in patent-leather knee-high stripper boots, it became clear that the supposedly PG-13 E3 2006 wouldn’t be much different from past babelicious E3s. Boys like to blow shit up and look at boobs. This won’t change, even if the rules do.

“They should just say, ‘Fuck it.’ We make our names pandering to 16- to 24-year-old boys,” said Mark Richards, a 29-year-old quality-assurance supervisor also navigating the labyrinth. “If the eye candy’s there, then maybe they’ll stop by and pick up a controller.”

Which is exactly what I did when I saw two fit blonds in white miniskirts and tank tops standing at a Disney booth, of all things, promoting a big pink hand-held game obviously targeted at “tween” girls.

“If you think about the video games that are popular,” said one of the babes, Valerie Byrd, “you’re stealing a cop car, getting a hooker, paying her, beating her up, and then taking the money back. Those are the video games that are out there. People are worried about girls running around naked here at E3? They should be worried about the video games themselves.”

I’ll admit I did get my picture taken (“ironically”) with three comely brunettes at Nokia’s N-Gage cell-phone-game display. But, honestly, despite the hullabaloo, the booth babes were really the least extreme part of the extreme sport that was E3 2006.

Each level of the indoor fantasyland brought a sensory onslaught; we braved all sorts of overpowering subwoofers and got lost in all sorts of light shows. We felt the ground literally shake at Entertainment Art’s all-encompassing, IMAX-like presentation. We talked “war” with camouflaged soldiers outside the Brothers in Arms booth. We walked through mist. We had medals draped around our necks. Steven Spielberg even showed up.

The best part, though, was playing rock god for a day at the Guitar Hero II booth, where it was the game and not the babes with pink guitars giving out temporary tattoos that drew us in. You play with a controller that looks just like a guitar, though with five colored frets and no strings. Instead of strumming, you flick a button where you’d normally strum the strings. I bonded with complete strangers from Long Island as we teamed up on Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me.”

Yes, it was quite a “rush” to play Geddy Lee’s bass line on “YYZ” as crowds gathered around and whispered, “Hey, she’s good for ?a girl.”

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