BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The Mad Norwegian Chicks dig… series continues with three dozen essays by women on gaming from video games to Dungeons and Dragons.
PROS: High profile contributors on a variety of types and aspects of games; strong personal stories; many “I didn’t know that!” moments to be had reading essays.
CONS: Some of the essays feel like filler.
BOTTOM LINE: A set of essays made more timely by recent events than when the anthology was first conceived and essays written.
Stereotypes of women and their relation (or lack of relation) to games, particularly videogames and roleplaying games, have abounded since the dawn of both. From the old anti-D&D movie Mazes and Monsters to Felicia Day’s The Guild and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, depictions of games and videogames as a male-only activity rarely touched by women have been stereotyped, parodied and deconstructed. And on the face of it, the idea that half of the human population neither plays “real” videogames (whatever that means) or roleplaying games is ludicrous. And yet this misperception persists.
Even the idea that the gaming industry is exclusively male and therefore targeted to males is completely at sea with reality. Fantasy authors like Carrie Patel and Erin Hoffman write fantasy novels and work in the videogaming industry. Authors and publishers like Shanna Germain write and publish high-profile roleplaying games.
For answers — and real essays and thoughts by women on their relationship to games — one can come to Chicks Dig Gaming, the latest in the Chicks Dig… series put out by small press publisher Mad Norwegian Press. This latest volume is edited by Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith and Lars Pearson. Brozek, like the aforementioned Shanna Germain, works both in roleplaying games and as an author and anthologist herself.
The volume follows the usual format of previous entries in the series. After a brief forward, it dives right into the heart of it with Thank you Mario, but our Princess is in another Castle, Catherynne Valente’s essay on the Super Mario Bros. series. Less an essay about women and gaming and more about the hidden Buddhist undertones of the game, this essay sets the table in showing that the essays are not by any means a monotone of personal reflections, but rather a celebration of games, and women’s relationships to games. From How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers: A Girl, a Rulebook and Arithmetic, which tells how Seanan McGuire made her math skills pay off in the extremely crunchy superhero RPG Champions (a bear of a system, I can tell you from personal experience) to Teresa Justino’s Who in the Hell is Carmen Sandiego analysis of who and what Carmen SanDiego represents, there is enormous variety in approaches to the essays and their subjects. Even Second Life, one of my old haunts once upon a time (I’m still technically a member of the in-world magazine Prim Perfect’s staff) gets a shout-out, here, in Amy Hanson’s It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.
Certainly some of the essays, to me, felt like filler. But like any anthology, some parts will resonate with a reader more than others. I was particularly fascinated by what the perspectives of these women, ranging from personal reflection to deep analysis, allowed me to learn. Although not credited in the text, did you know that author Jody Lynn Nye helped type up Gary Gygax’s notes for the original AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, Players Handbook and Monster Manual? I certainly did not, before reading her essay Saving Throws, on her history with roleplaying games. This sort of perspective helps smash any doubts that women are interlopers, late-comers and, in fact, have always been in gaming.
The recent GamerGate controversy in the world of videogames — ostensibly erupting out of allegations of journalistic ethics, but turning quickly into a dark and disturbing bout of misogyny, harassment, and threats of violence and death against women under an unconvincing fig leaf of being interested in ethics in videogame coverage — is far too recent to be touched on in Chicks Dig Gaming, but I kept thinking about the issues of Gamergate and that represented a frame for my reading. This makes Chicks Dig Gaming both more and less timely for it; less timely in that the volume is divorced and the essays do not plunge into the frigid and dark waters of what has arisen out of GamerGate, but on the other hand, the volume is more timeless for the essays not being written in response to and in direct dialogue with GamerGate.
And yet, the evergreen issues of women and games makes Chicks Dig Gaming more relevant than ever. For instance, Lynnea Glasser’s How to Design Games for Boys is a satirical essay on designing games for an underserved market, boys, while being an indictment of how many games are designed and marketed to girls. That essay feels both less sharp and more of a lasting, pounding pain in the wake of the events of Gamergate.
Fans of the previous Chicks Dig books are likely to enjoy Chicks Dig Gaming and I recommend the book to them and to anyone else interested in how women game, and think about gaming, and women’s place in gaming…which, as recent events have illustrated, should be just about everyone.