Using Playboy to get ahead, and then trying to rise above
Pamela Horton has been a gamer since she was five, when her father introduced her to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the family Super Nintendo. Her dream job is to be a character artist in the video game industry. She majored in studio arts. Horton also planned to pursue a Master’s in art therapy as a “second choice” career, before the economic recession cut funding to her scholarships and she was forced to drop out of school.
This sounds like the story of a downtrodden everywoman, but Horton isn’t struggling anymore. In fact, you might have seen her on the cover of one of the nation’s most famous magazines: Playboy. Horton is Miss October 2012.
I read it for the articles
As much as Playboy has become a more legitimate men’s magazines, it does lead to certain preconceptions. “Posing nude is always synonymous with sex. Playboy is associated with sex and perversion when it is art and has deep thought value. People who are close-minded are going to continue to think I’m some floozy when I am faithful to my soul mate in every way possible,” she told the Penny Arcade Report. “I’d like to think my art is tasteful and creative. The perverted mind looks at it and thinks I’m some harlot with no moral standard. This could not be farther from the truth.”
“It’s actually because of that stereotype Playboy doesn’t want me associating myself with the adult industry. Strip clubs, adult stores, etc. They hate the stereotype much more than their playmates,” Horton said. “I believe the human body is an art piece: every intricate detail, every minute observation we can make, every feature that can be adored. Not in a sexual nature by any means. This is why they’re called ‘artistic nudes.’ Playboy has been featuring them since 1953. I’ve been doing artistic nudes since I was 18. That doesn’t mean I sleep around or take advantage of men.”
Horton is currently in a relationship, but that fact doesn’t work into the desired storyline that Playboy wants to tell. “I’m obsessed with MMOs! I love being known as every gamer guy’s dream,” she’s quoted as saying in the magazine. That’s not the best way to present yourself to a culture that has been historically hostile towards women, especially the women it judges to be disingenuous or useless to the culture. Horton claimed the quote was inaccurate.
“The way I said it was, ‘I love being my gamer guy’s dream,’” she said. “I love my boyfriend, I love being his dream girl, but Playboy wanted to imply that I was single to create more appeal so more issues get sold. Everything was tailored to fit the page and tailored to imply that I’m single,” she explained.
Horton said due to contract she can’t control details of her portrayal in Playboy, and claims she has no control over what her publicist sends out, and that’s led to problems. She was particularly disheartened with a Kotaku article which re-ran her publicist’s e-mail inviting outlets to interview her, followed by “Eyeroll right?”
Horton said she’s clarified in every interview that she’s not as arrogant as the Playboy quote would make her seem, and she’s saddened when she doesn’t get the chance to explain. “Kotaku didn’t even want to interview me,” she said. “Also, they did give League of Legends and Riot Games in general the… I guess morale boost saying a Playmate plays their games. Which I thought was awesome for Riot, but they went and judged me based on this article.”
It’s impossible to guess how she thinks these arguments sound. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a tight watch on what your publicist says, and it’s hard to avoid sounding entitled when you take advantage of the possibilities given by a Playboy photo spread while also complaining that Kotaku refuses to allow you to explain yourself. Still, it’s not a black-and-white situation to be in; it’s nice to think that people can get ahead on merit alone, but Horton told the Penny Arcade Report six of her friends are also after the same, or similar, jobs in gaming. Much of her recent advancement in gaming is due to her nude images and the association with Playboy.
The games industry is a hostile environment, and it’s hard to blame someone for taking opportunities where they can get them. Even popular games that were marketed well might not pay off in the end, and layoffs are common.
It’s clear that Horton wants to distance herself from the preconceptions that come with posing nude and having the “gamer” label attached as a marketing afterthought, but the fact remains the benefits are going to be exorbitant. There is such a thing as having your cake and eating it too.
Using sex appeal and gamer iconography to get ahead isn’t a new thing, and the rewards can be great. “...In 2006, [Olivia Munn] got a gig co-hosting G4’s geek news program Attack of the Show! The network was initially not sure they wanted to hire Munn, since she admitted she knew very little about video games, but her charisma prevailed,” a Grantland article about Oliva Munn stated. “On Attack of the Show! Munn capably related the latest in video games and Internet trends. She also did some segments in sexy cosplay outfits and deep-throated the occasional hot dog on camera. If Attack of the Show! was basically a web show on TV, then she followed the most basic tenet of the web: anything for hits.” Munn is now a successful actress, having landed roles in Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom, and the New Girl, as well as an appearance in the film Magic Mike.
Like Munn, Horton has dreams of being much more than a pretty face on the periphery of gaming culture, and she’s using her looks to help her get there. The Playboy brand has power, regardless of how you perceive its place in the popular culture. Everyone knows the name, and everyone recognizes the logo. Being a Playmate, Horton says, is like becoming a famous actress. It opens doors. That comes in handy as she looks to fulfill her dream of becoming a character artist.
“As with everything in life, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Now I know people,” she told the Penny Arcade Report. “Riot wouldn’t give me the time of day [before Playboy], but Riot actually paid for me to come to the [League of Legends] world championship. They want to meet me, they want to get to know me, and I know people that work at Riot now.”
Horton also has connections to Blizzard thanks to the magazine. When we spoke over the phone, Horton was preparing to leave for California, where she would catch the League of Legends championship, and later meet with Rob Hilburger, Director of Global Public Relations at Blizzard. Hilburger is the former Vice President of Media Relations at Playboy. Those are contacts anyone would be lucky to have, but for a burgeoning artist, it’s hard to imagine much better. The Diablo III team won an award for Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Commercial or Video Game Trailer from the Visual Effects Society.
Horton is no hack; her drawing skills have evolved from fan sketches of cartoon characters like Gir from Invader Zim and Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion to intricate works full of expression and detail. She even started her own webcomic, drawn in the style of Jhonen Vasquez, called Kitty Climbing Trees.
But regardless of her knowledge and skill, wouldn’t she always be “that girl from Playboy”? Wouldn’t having your potential boss be able to look at you naked make the interview process a little… awkward? I asked Horton if she thought gaming and a respectful attitude toward sexuality, including her portrayal in Playboy, could co-exist. She doesn’t think so, at least not yet.
“Men aren’t going to respect women because they see them as things they can snap at. That’s always been their nature. I know there are men out there who genuinely respect women and genuinely care about the well-being of women, but men as a whole don’t typically act that way,” she told the Penny Arcade Report. “I don’t see it happening in a humane way because there’s going to be those arrogant and stubborn men who are just gonna be die-hard, ‘I don’t think women should be playing video games, women belong here, belong there,’ you know.”
That’s not to say all the fault lies with the games industry. Horton admitted Playboy has some learning to do if they really want to be faithful to the gamer community. “Playboy is completely new to this. They don’t know the negativity or the skepticism, especially of female gamers,” she said. Horton has a video on Playboy TV called “Gamer Fantasy.” She appears dressed similarly to Lara Croft, and runs down hallways with guns in hand, wearing a skimpy outfit. The other half of the video shows Horton in tamer clothing and glasses, implying she is both the gamer and the fantasy.
“There was this one scene they wanted me to do where I’m holding a sniper rifle. I’m like, ‘This is a sniper rifle, I would not be holding it like this, shooting you at point-blank range. I would be sitting up in some bushes or on a rooftop, sniping out of sight. I wouldn’t be in skimpy clothes holding this giant gun,’” she said. “It looks badass, but I’m going, ‘There are gamers out there who play first-person shooters who are going to know that’s a sniper rifle, and that’s not realistic.’” The video was part of her contract, and she has no control over its content.
Horton enjoys these opportunities not because of her talents, but because of the boost an appearance in men’s magazine brings, and the power of sexual appeal in the largely male-dominated industry. You can’t criticize Horton without criticizing popular culture; if there wasn’t a market for this content, Playboy wouldn’t be able to sell it. As for Horton, if you had already been posing for artistic nudes, would you do it in a public, albeit scrutinized, venue if it meant your dream job? But Playboy can only open doors, and Horton is the one who has to step through. Once she’s on the other side, she’ll have to work to leave behind a different impression. In some ways the Playboy connection may make long term success harder.
“Playmates go their own way,” Horton told me. She has no regrets about posing for Playboy, and it’s possible the Playmate title will just be one more step towards a longer career in video games. Instead of being “the hot girl from Playboy,” she could be known as the character artist at Blizzard or Riot. Listening to Horton talk about her life and her career aspirations, I get the sense she’d rather be known for that too.