Meredith Jacobson is the producer of a short documentary called, “DnDnG,” which is hilariously and awesomely about getting girls to play Dungeons and Dragons. In producing it, her goal was to expose young girls to an activity that is widely considered a “boys” game.
Find more information about the project here.
How did you break into this little DnD community?
I didn’t so much “break into” this DnD community, I’m the reason they started playing in the first place. Sam, the Dungeon Master featured in the documentary is my boyfriend and two of the kids are related to my friend, Anneliese. One afternoon, Sam taught the boys how to play DnD, and they loved it. After that, Sam agreed to run sessions for them every other weekend.
Where did this idea come from?
One afternoon, I heard Sam make some comment to the boys about girls never wanting to play DnD, and totally called him out on it! Though it’s true that I’m not a big gamer, I have plenty of female friends and coworkers who are. Also, reflecting on my personal experience playing DnD for the first time (see #5), I had a feeling that I could get a group of young girls to enjoy it. And even if they didn’t enjoy it, I was confident that there wouldn’t be a noticeable difference in the nature of the game between when just boys were playing and when the game was co-ed. Sure, it would have been fun from a filmmaking perspective if the energy of the two games were starkly different, but ultimately the point was to prove that gender was irrelevant when it comes to playing the game. At the end of the day, they aren’t “boys” and “girls” playing, they’re just kids playing. And just to add something, as far as the inspiration for the idea goes — it wasn’t just that Sam told the boys that girls wouldn’t play, but a couple of the young boys told me off camera before the idea of the documentary even came about that they thought it would be really weird to have girls around. I’m not sure where they got that idea and I know it was something much deeper than what they got from Sam. That’s what I wanted to explore the most, and change their views about.
Did the boys act differently with you in the room?
I think you’re asking if the boys acted differently when we were filming than when we’re not (sorry if I misinterpreted!) and the answer is no. In the beginning they were interested in learning about what the film equipment was for but once they had their answers and Sam got the games going, they played like it was any other day.
Did the girls take a lot of convincing to play?
Convincing the girls to play wasn’t difficult at all, they were excited and eager to play. Evelyn, Olivia, and Ariana go to school with the boys. Of them, Evelyn (the youngest) was most into it. On game day, Olivia was shy at first, but really warmed up and enjoyed it by the end. Ariana was the most aware of the “nerd” stereotype associated with the game, going so far as to say she “probably wouldn’t tell people at school the next day that she played.” — unaired spoilers! Isabella was the bravest — she had never met any of the kids in the video until the day we filmed. She was a family friend of the director, Ron, and loved the idea of being on camera/learning a new game. A couple of days before we filmed, we did a practice game with just the girls (minus Isabella) so that we could build their characters and teach them the general rules/feel of the game before putting them on camera. I knew the “experiment” would be a success when I watched how engaged they were during the practice game, clearly enjoying themselves. They seemed so natural, and they picked the game up much faster than even I expected.
Are you a DnD player yourself?
I would not call myself a DnD player, though I have played before. I will say that before I had ever played, I was hesitant about jumping in and trying it – and had a lot of false preconceived notions about what it was about. For example, I didn’t realize how instrumental dice and chance are to the game. When I thought of RPGs, I imagined it a lot like improv mixed with fantasy – and I wasn’t so interested in that. However, when I actually sat down and played- I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself really getting into it!
What’s next for this film? What’s next for you as a producer?
If we can generate enough interest, my director, Ron, and I have discussed launching a series that explores and challenges other activities or lifestyle choices that stereotypically skew male or female. We love working with kids, and this age range is perfect because they don’t worry about censoring themselves or crafting a specific image, yet they can be surprisingly eloquent and honest.
Right after I finished “DnDnG,” I produced a second short film called, “AFTERMATH.” It’s still in post-production but will be entered in the festival circuit upon completion. It’s a scripted family drama based on a story from the old testament, set in modern day. Totally different type of film! I’m also doing some writing and planning to produce my first full length feature sometime next year. This is all in addition to my day job at Collective Digital Studio.
Is it possible to change — to get out of our childhood conceptions/roles/misconceptions?
I think that people are constantly changing, and it’s certainly possible to get out of our childhood conceptions and roles. The best way to do that is by challenging yourself and doing things outside of your comfort zone. The boys featured in my documentary now know that girls can play DnD, and they’ll never feel weird about having a girl join again. Ultimately, that was the point. My intention was never to make a grand statement about the trends of DnD or girls playing in general, but to prove to this small group of young boys specifically that their conceptions were inaccurate. I think I succeeded! If other people learn that from this short as well, that’s just an added bonus.
Also, despite some speculation it should go on the record that the short wasn’t made as an “I told you so” to Sam. He was completely supportive and helpful throughout the whole thing, and I couldn’t have done it without him!