Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers
Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers, edited by Hazel Newlevant, is dedicated to capturing the experiences of female gamers, whether engaged in video games or tabletop role-playing. As with any anthology, the quality here varies widely, but even as a non-gamer, I found a number of thought-provoking concepts presented, most revolving around the idea of using imagination to reinvent oneself, of fantasy as a valuable tool for change or discovery.
Molly Ostertag’s opening piece perfectly captures this idea, in an illustrated essay about “A Certain Kind of Story”, the kind where a girl gains strength through saving a magical world. It’s a wonderful choice to start, because it sets just the right tone for what follows.
Rachel Ordway’s “Choose Your Own Adventure”, about she and her brothers making their own RPG, reinforces the focus on creativity, while adding in a nostalgic overlay of realizing you can’t go back again to a magical moment of change.
Sarah Winfred Searle just touches on a topic I wish was explored in greater depth, that of putting up with sexism in order to participate. Her story focuses on the positives she managed to find in an unfriendly environment. Maggie Siegel-Berele takes the subject further in her piece on live-action role-playing in a long-running group, talking about how the ingrained misogyny is slowly changing, while Jade F. Lee tackles the topic from a retail perspective, listing the lessons gaming taught her.
Kori Michele uses the focus on gender identification in handheld video games to explore queerness, and other stories mention how games of imagination mean that you’re not restricted by your physical form. Megan Brennan’s “Dream Suite” expresses a desire to move on from fighting in games, to value the teamwork and friendship and acceptance without the violence.
Some of the pieces are just about which game was a favorite, or the people they met, or the kinds of adventures they had while playing, which allows artists to draw fantasy characters and settings. Some of the art is really well structured; other pieces are flatter, more primitive in appearance. Most people won’t be bothered by this, since the pieces are driven by sharing emotion with the reader. And there are enough contributions, with 40 artists, that the occasional repetitive theme or piece that doesn’t resonate is easily skipped over for something more relevant. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)