Boys like Dungeons & Dragons. Girls don’t.
Or, girls aren’t particularly interested in D&D, because they don’t even know what the game is. Because they’ve never played before.
Such is the story about gender and D&D. But to what extent is it true?
Here to debunk this conventional wisdom about girls and RPGs is the documentary DnDnG. The micro-budgeted, seven-minute film is brief, cuts to the chase, and packs a powerful punch.
The premise? A gang of four boys, aged 9 to 11, are asked if they ever play D&D with girls. “Nope,” they say. “I've never had any girls in either of my groups.” Why?
Because “boys prefer aliens and stuff,” says one boy named Johnny. “Girls prefer princess.” Another boy, Danny, worries that the fairer sex might “might pass out because of gore."
Meanwhile, a group of girls are asked if they’d like to play. Four gals, ages 8 to 11, agree. Before long comes "the unthinkable,” the narrator of DnDnG jovially declares. “Boys playing Dungeons & Dragons with girls.”
Why create this little pre-adolescent social experiment in the first place?
“My boyfriend, Sam Parnell, loved playing D&D growing up, so he decided to teach our friends' sons, ages 9 to 11, how to play,” says producer Meredith Jacobson, in an email. “He even talked me into playing with him once, and I have to admit that it was a lot more fun than I was expecting.” One afternoon, Jacobson overheard Sam telling the boys that girls their age would never play with them.
“When the boys nonchalantly accepted that as fact, I knew it was time to prove to the kids and to Sam that girls could absolutely play, and they would even have fun.”
Thus, the idea for DnDnG was born.
Jacobson says she recruited a group of girls from the boys' school; of the six that were asked, four agreed to play. A couple of the girls have parents who had played D&D when they were in college, so they were “thrilled” to have their daughters involved.
But the girls had not played before. One, named Olivia, thought D&D was a video game. "Most girls won't give Dungeons & Dragons a chance,” another girl, named Evelyn, offers in the film. The boys are equally skeptical about the prospect of rolling dice and defeating goblins and dragons, but they go along with the idea. With Parnell acting as Dungeon Master, the game begins.
Jacobson says before we see the boys-plus-girls gaming sessions, the girls played a practice game of D&D without the boys before filming “so the boys didn't have an unfair advantage.” The girls-only game is not shown in the film, but Jacobson says it was “just as lively and active as any boy game I've witnessed.” She adds that, “unsurprisingly, [girls] were even better at paying attention than the boys are. Once it was over and past their bedtime, they begged for more! That's when I knew my hypothesis was correct and the boys would be in for a surprise on game day.”
Los Angeles-based Jacobson, who majored in Film/TV at Boston University and worked on the Disney TV shows Pair of Kings and Dog with a Blog, is now an Executive Assistant at Collective Digital Studio. She crowdsourced the documentary’s $1,600 budget on Indiegogo and relied on friends for her crew, including director Ron Utin Lalkin.
The comments from both sexes elicited by Jacobson’s film team are hilarious, but are also extremely telling about the ways gender roles, and what is considered an appropriate game for a boy or girl, get passed down through the culture.
You’ll have to watch the DnDnG to see how it all turns out. To be sure, the boys act differently when playing D&D with the girls in the room. Here’s a preview of the responses from the boys, who are interviewed in a post-game postmortem. “Playing with girls was weirder than I expected because they are so good,” says one. Another, pausing for dramatic effect, admits, "Actually, it was … awesome."
The girls’ worldview also gets rocked a little. “It seems like a boy game, but it's actually for girls too,” says Evelyn once the D&D session is over.
Adds Olivia, "I would definitely play again."
Gender bias loses saving throw versus truth. Stereotype defeated. Huzzah!
For more information about DnDnG, visit dndngmovie.wix.com/dndng.
Director Ron Utin Lalkin and producer Meredith Jacobson prep Jacob for his interview while Chris Hall sets up his mic.
Dungeon Master Sam Parnell sets the table for the boys game.
Chris Hall of Icemen Audio tests the sound while Danny stretches before his interview.
Emma Kazarian, camera operator/“kid wrangler,” slates Jacob for his interview.
(L to R): Boys Josh, Danny, Jacob, and Johnny listen as Dungeon Master Sam Parnell (center) gives them new levels at the end of their weekly game.
Danny and Evelyn getting into the game.
Dungeon Master Sam Parnell begins the boys and girls game. This is the first time these boys have ever played with girls.
Four boys pictured in a screen shot from “DnDnG”
Chris Hall of Icemen Audio sets up Danny's mic. Director of photography/camera operator Maddie Staszak (L) and producer Meredith Jacobson (R) and finish typing up questions before the first round of interviews begin.
Dungeon Master Sam Parnell prepares for the boys game.
Published 4:00 am Thu, Aug 14, 2014
About the Author
Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, and teacher. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Gilsdorf's articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, film, books, gaming, geek culture and travel regularly appear in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, GeekDad, Washington Post and wired.com and dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. As an expert on geek culture, Gilsdorf frequently speaks in public, and appears on TV, radio, Internet media and in documentary films. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. More info at ethangilsdorf.com or follow him on Twitter.