For many, the story of their first gaming experience is as personal and influential as other firsts in life. Cartoonist and avid gaming enthusiast Hazel Newlevant thought it important to immortalize some of these personal stories with a comic anthology she titled, Chainmail Bikini.
A chainmail bikini is a pop culture reference that relates to the implausible outfits or armors worn by gaming characters (particularly females) that highlight sexual characteristics as opposed to offering any kind of protection or function. Newlevant’s anthology seeks to offer perspective, and grant a voice to many she believed to be unheard, and underserved within the gaming community. After having gathered over 40 artists in a 200+ page anthology, the project was submitted and successfully funded on Kickstarter where it has received more than $35,000 in support from over 1000 backers. The stories are from a predominately female perspective and are designed to showcase the contributors’ experiences with gaming in their lives.
Still active on Kickstarter, we wanted to learn some more about what Newlevant hopes to achieve with her anthology, and hear her thoughts on the positive and negative aspects of the gaming community.
Jesse Tannous: As the editor of this comic anthology you have been exposed to all the contributors’ pieces, what have you taken away from this experience about how games affected the lives of these contributors?
Hazel Newlevant: Editing Chainmail Bikini has really shown me what all these different types of games have in common. Whether it’s tabletop role-playing or handheld gaming, players are taking on a character and stepping into some sort of fantasy world. That’s a very significant action, far from being “just a game.” The contributors have been affected in a variety of ways. For some, gaming is an escape that helps keep them sane when real life is daunting. Some use games to explore or transcend their gender. Many have been inspired to increase their real-world skills by the games they play, whether it’s learning to draw, write, sew (especially important for LARPers), or even learn kung-fu!
JT: Did your own story make it into the anthology? If not, would you like to tell people a bit about how games have affected your life?
HN: Two of my comics are in Chainmail Bikini, because I was overflowing with story ideas, plus I’m the boss. One is about Diablo II, the other is about Vampire: The Masquerade. Games have always been big for me. Maybe it’s because I grew up homeschooled by atheist hippies, but playing games was an important way to meet new people and interface with my friends. We’d get together at homeschooler-only events and play endless Magic: The Gathering, or meet up weekly for D&D sessions. Surprisingly, I’ve never caught much flak for being a girl gamer, but it’s upsetting to know that many women feel excluded from gaming, when it’s been such a positive force in my life.
JT: Why was it important to the overall point of the project to keep the comics of this anthology strictly from female contributors?
HN: The point of the anthology is to interrupt the paradigm that gaming is a “man’s game,” so to speak. Some of the comics explicitly address sexism in gaming communities, and some don’t, but we think that by asserting our presence and telling our stories, we can help to change the culture. Simply from an entertainment perspective, I think it’s more interesting to read women’s stories about gaming because they’re less often heard. We know about the boy who deals with his feelings of powerlessness through video games, but what about the girl who invents her own role-playing system in her basement, or the girl who uses in-game romances to explore her sexuality?
Another aim of Chainmail Bikini is to support and spotlight the talents of female comic artists. Culturally, comics are in a similar spot to games right now, where it’s traditionally been a male-dominated field, and that’s shifting, but female fans and creators still deal with sexism and exclusion.
While the focus of the anthology is on women gamers, I wouldn’t say it has “strictly female contributors.” There are a few non-binary and queer folks participating, and their voices need to be amplified as well.
JT: Coordinating and compiling so many different comics from so many artists must have taken a lot of time and work, how long have you been working on this project and how did it begin?
HN: I came up with the idea for Chainmail Bikini about a year ago, and I started contacting contributors eight months ago. I don’t remember exactly how the idea of a female gamer comics anthology came together, but it felt natural and obvious and like something that needed to happen. The secret to coordinating this anthology was a big spreadsheet where I kept track of the status of every contributor. That, and bugging people about their deadlines. Originally, I wanted to find a co-editor to help put everything together, because I was afraid of doing something so big on my own. But it’s been exciting to be the sole decision-maker, and I’m not alone, when all the contributors are invested in the success of Chainmail Bikini, and I have friends with Kickstarter experience that I can turn to.
JT: The idea that the games industry runs rampant with over-sexualized depictions of women paired with the particular virulent instances of discrimination that target women in gaming seems to paint a very unappealing picture of the games industry, especially for women. How do the submissions for this anthology contradict or reinforce these ideas?
HN: Sexist depictions of women within games are a big problem. So is the harassment of women who are critics, journalists, or makers of games. I think both of these things are rooted in the assumption that the primary players of games are men, and that everything should be designed to cater to their fantasies. This is an assumption that Chainmail Bikini is trying to change. Still, it’s not all dark. The comics in Chainmail Bikini are primarily about women celebrating what we love about our favorite games, and our ideas for challenging stereotypes, reinventing narratives, and generally making gaming better.
Despite anything else that Chainmail Bikini may stand for, most would probably agree that making gaming a more inclusive community that supports all of its’ members would make it a better place.