Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Chicks Dig Gaming

(Full disclosure: I consider Lars Pearson to be a good friend, and I look forward to his too-infrequent visits to the Twin Cities. I did not receive a free copy of 'Chicks Dig Gaming', but I almost certainly would have if I asked, and I have received free copies of other Mad Norwegian works both as compensation for minor copy-editing favors and just because Lars is a really nice person who likes to do good things for people. I don't think this biased this review, but the nature of bias is that you don't see it. So you can take all this in the understanding that the person writing the review likes the publisher and respects what he's trying to do.)

At this point, it seems pretty clear to me that the story of fandom in the 21st century is the story of marginalized groups in fandom to gain representation. I use "marginalized" here specifically, and not "minority", because it's increasingly obvious that these groups were never a minority at all--they were made to feel that they were alone in a sea of cis-het-white-able-bodied men, but the more they tell their stories, the more we can see that they were there all along. They were simply made to feel invisible.

'Chicks Dig Gaming', then, is one of many efforts to remedy that; it's a book of essays by women, about women's perspective on gaming. (It joins a number of other, similar books of essays by the same publisher on comics, Doctor Who, and the works of Joss Whedon.) The stories include a variety of voices from women of different races, religions, and social classes on a wide variety of topics. Many of them are simply the story of how they came to discover the world of gaming, and how they came to carve out a space for themselves within it, but there are also a number of brilliant flights of fancy (Cat Valente uses Super Mario Brothers as a metaphor for the Buddhist wheel of rebirth), scathingly clever pieces of social criticism (Lynnea Glasser writes "How to Write Games for Boys", an explanation of how to "blue up" makeover and shopping games for the underrepresented gender) and spotlights on various aspects of game design (one highlight is Filamena Young's chronicles of designing an RPG for her six-year old). There's a lot of variety here...

But honestly, the more I think about it, the more value I found in the essays that were variations on a theme of "How I Came to Gaming". They weren't the ones that made me laugh the hardest or challenged me the most (and I could go on about a lot of the essays in this book as particular highlights, from Mags L. Halliday's excellent piece on the 'damsel in distress' trope in the Professor Layton puzzle series to Jen J. Dixon's worthy attempt to explain what someone could possibly find of value in the brutal and unforgiving world of EVE)...but they were in some ways the most important essays in the book. They were the ones that said, "I have a story too. My story, the story of my life and my fandom, is real and undeniable and worth telling. Please sit and listen."

That's why these essay books mean so much. They give voices to the people who have not traditionally had them. They tell people like me, an (all together now) cis-het-white-able-bodied man, that it's okay to sit down and listen to other people's stories sometimes. I am the audience here, not the creator, and that's an okay thing to be.

And another thing that's great about them, the thing that's probably cost me the most money the past few days, is that they not only give voices to these people, they give exposure to them as creators. I bought Lucy A. Snyder's 'Spellbent' based on her essay "The Grace and Dice and Glossy Cardstock", and I bought 'The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy' based on Sam Maggs' "Go for the Eyes, Gamer Girls, Go for the Eyes!" The essay "Looking for Group", by G. Willow Wilson, directed me to her novel 'Alif the Unseen' as well as being entertaining in its own right, and I've not even started picking out the podcasts and blogs and YouTube channels that all the different author bios mention. This book is a huge signal boost to people who deserve more visibility, because they're talented and smart and funny and deserve to be an equal part of fandom.

'Chicks Dig Gaming' is the best of all worlds--a funny, touching, smart, moving book of essays that also helps provide a voice for people who have spent too long and worked too hard trying to prove that they deserve one. I unreservedly recommend it.

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