Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Release the girls from the Dungeon! #1

A thought had occurred to me today. A thought which I believe might be of value to educators interested in getting young girls to play Dungeons and Dragons, a task we all know is quite formidable

I don't think there are any biological, historical or even cultural reasons why girls should be averse to D&D - these games are not physically violent and not overly competitive. Quite the opposite, they are highly cooperative, social and fantastic, the latter appealing to girls even more than to boys, who always look disappointed when I explain to them that no, their character can’t have a machine gun and drive a tank. Girls on the other hand are less keen on steel and petrol. One girl, who was only mildly interested in the game, became quite passionate once I told her paladin can have a magnificent white horse one day.

Furthermore, the inherent connection of tabletop gaming to fantasy literature, a field that girls are more interested in than boys would suggest that D&D should appeal to girls even more than to boys. And yet, in every class I visit to promote our afterschool program, I hear young girls saying, "This thing isn't for girls," ignoring all my attempts to interest them in the game.

A girl having a fantastic encounter. Not in picture: blood, gloom and chain bikini.
Art by Lucas Pandolfelli

Perhaps it all boils down to the name of the game - Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons are not sympathetic places, and dragons are not sympathetic creatures. Even the trochaic name sounds aggressive and belligerent, like the beating of a drum, DUN-geons AND dra-GONS, or DEE-an-DEE. It is a name that screams a challenge at the listener, a warlike and harsh name that promises blood, pain and aggression, a barbaric quest ending with epic violence. This message is conveyed both on a conscious level and on a subconscious level. Yes, it is very appealing to the competitive and aggressive nature of young boys, but it is also antagonistic for most girls, who would love to go on an adventure, but not one based on crawling through filth and old bones and ending with the spilling of entrails in a damp and dark cave.

It is also something of a misnomer. D&D is also about exploration of fantastic terra incognita, about talking with people, about claiming treasures and buying cool stuff in the market, about meeting memorable NPCs and uncovering mysteries. It is about making friends among the denizens of the forest and thinking of ways to save your town from a plague. It is not an FPS but a grand adventure, offering all the diversity and richness of life, peppered with fantasy and the freedom to be whatever you want to be minus the paralyzing fear of failure.

So, the question which is now obvious is how the game should be called to be more appealing to girls. Let us rub brains and think...


  1. Perhaps D&D have had to become so machoistic because it does not appeal to boys by itself.
    You're ruining 40 years of hard work.

  2. Makes sense. However, more gamers means more money to game-makers and I always strongly believed in profit over people.

  3. What's funny is that lore has Gygax's daughter helping name the game.