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Dungeons & Dragons and girls: Video shoots down gamer stereotypes

A new short documentary challenges the stereotypes we build around boys and girls and their play habits. How do parents influence those stereotypes?

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    Kids play the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons together after the filming of the short documentary 'DnDnG' created and filmed by Meredith Jacobson.
    Meredith Jacobson
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A new video called “DnDnG” – Dungeons and Dragons and Girls – is giving some parents reason to consider the gender equality inherent in role playing games.

After Harry Potter Actress Emma Watson spoke at the United Nations on the subject of gender equality last week I began to notice more stories and videos on the subject that related to kids popping up on social media.

“DnDnG,” a short documentary curated by editors at Upworthy.com, caught my attention as the mother of four sons who love the game Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games (RPGs).

I was introduced to RPGs via a boyfriend in college as his plus-one, which I often find is how many women I know learned to game.

Today, I find that when we seek gender equality, it may have some of its strongest roots in gaming, which is rapidly becoming in many ways more gender neutral than the real world.

At a recent local gaming tournament where two of my sons, ages 15 and 19, competed, I saw male and female gamers, each of whom were choosing game characters based on the stats and skills of those characters and not gender. Boys played girl characters and girls played boy characters and they all played each other in a tournament where the playing field was level.

Successful female RPG role models like actress Felicia Day and pro-framer Kathryn Gunn have made a career out of gaming, video series, and blogging about gaming for both genders.

Ben Forest, who runs a D&D group for his family and others in Red Bank, N.J., attends regional and national gaming events and said he sees far more female tournament players now than he did 10 years ago. In fact, the cornerstone of family time with his wife and teenage daughter Kara, 14, is attending game nights and conventions together.

“Gaming for us is very powerful family time,” Mr., Forest said. “In fact, most of the gaming conventions we attend are organized by women.”

“DnDnG,” is the brainchild of Meredith Jacobson of Los Angeles, Calif., who works for Collective Digital Studio and raised $1,600 via an Indiegogo campaign last April to produce the seven-minute documentary. 

She chose to do this after hearing her boyfriend, Sam Parnell, jokingly tell gamer boys Johnny, Danny, Josh, and Jacob, ages 9 to 11, “Girls will never play D&D with you.”

“I said ‘Don’t tell them that! That’s not true,’” Ms. Jacobson says in a phone interview. “Even though I knew Sam was kidding, it stuck with me for a while. I couldn’t shake it.”

Mr. Parnell runs game sessions every other week for a neighbor’s sons and their friends and every time she watched the game, Jacobson says she wondered about the misconceptions the gamers harbored about girls.

“I didn’t make the documentary about all boys and all gamers,” Jacobson explains, “But, just the idea that they were going around with these misconceptions about girls – I just needed to fix that.”

Therefore, early in the video Jacobson asks Sam and the boys what they think girls would think about playing the game with them and to predict the behavior of the girls.

“Boys prefer aliens and stuff,” says Johnny in the video. “Girls prefer…princess.”

Sam says of the game, “It has certain aspects in it that I don’t think appeal to girls, especially at that age.”

“They might pass out because of gore,” Danny predicts.

Jacobson also interviews six girls who all had only vague information about the game and finds four willing to try playing the game with the boys. The girls all attend the same school with the boys and know them.

“We did a one game practice session so the girls could learn the game before we shot the video,” Jacobson says.

I asked Jacobson if any of the girls “passed out” from due to the imaginary gore and fighting of the game.

“The girls were all about it,” she laughs. “They caught onto it right away. Also the girls sat there planted in their seats, focused with laser eyes on Sam while the boys ran around crazy.”

After watching the video, parents may want to think about stereotypes they might project about gender-specific games, and whether or not those influence their kids decisions on who to invite to play.

Jacobson adds that if she can raise the funds she would love to do a series of these videos “using children to test gender stereotypes for all types of things.”

She says, “It would be very interesting to test a whole slew of ‘typical boy’ and ‘typical girl’ hobbies/activities with kids.”

In our conversation, Jacobson makes the point that she has struggled to deal with negativity from people who she says want to attack the kids, Parnell, and herself for expressing their opinions.

While some may have been trolls out to rain on any gamer parade, Jacobson said she has taken the comments she gets seriously. She’s tried to explain to critics that “This was not in any way saying that these particular boys don’t like girls. At that age, it seems natural for boys and girls not to mix in groups and I wanted them to see what they were missing.” 

Instead of criticizing the film, I applaud this team for successfully debunking those gender stereotypes that creep into our daily lives and perceptions.

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