Video games allow ordinary users to transform into extraordinary heroes. For Dominican American actress Dania Ramírez, who plays an avatar in “Jumanji: The Next Level,” video games made her American dream come true.
“I grew up in a crowded apartment with my family living in one bedroom, and a second family living in another bedroom,” she told NBC news. “And for a Dominican girl who played video games for the first time in the United States, and is now acting in a big movie about a video game, this is my American dream.”
The actress emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights when she was almost 10 years old. She said video games can help players build up confidence to follow their dreams.
“We live in an age where everything is electronic. And many kids are not ready to be judged by the Internet and social media,” said Ramírez, known for her roles on TV shows including "Heroes," "Devious Maids" and "Entourage" and whose movie credits include "X Men: The Last Stand."
“But video games can make them feel more confident, teach them to solve problems, move faster, and go after their dreams,” Ramírez added.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” opens Friday, and is the sequel to the 2017 adventure comedy blockbuster that pulled four high school friends—Spencer, Martha, Bethany and “Fridge”—into a video game console. Locked inside, they had to survive dangerous and at times ridiculous obstacles to find a way out.
Now in 2019, Spencer has been sucked back into the fantastic world of Jumanji. And this time, Martha, Bethany and “Fridge” will team up with Spencer’s grandpa (Danny DeVito) and a family friend (Danny Glover) to help bring him home.
On screen, Ramírez plays an avatar in Jumanji that guides players with clues. And off screen, she says that video game avatars are also guiding players on a journey to explore their identity.
“When my children play video games, they sometimes get excited figuring out how they can make their avatars look more like them,” she said. “As a Latina, representation in video games and media is important because they need to represent the diversity we live in. And avatars are helping players explore who they are.”
Fans say that video games can help players change perspectives, reimagine themselves as different characters. And “Jumanji: The Next Level” pays homage to this by allowing players to switch avatars.
This flexibility creates better experiences. But as a mom, Ramírez drills into her kids that video games are only one small part of a lifelong journey.
“Video games in moderation can be both good and necessary,” she said. “But if you play all the time, you will lose your social skills. I encourage my kids to play face to face with others so that they can feel their reality and not lose touch.”
And the actress says that making this wider connection with the world is a central message in Jumanji.
“I think that video games can make you feel like you can become something bigger than what you are,” Ramírez said. “And that feeling that you can work hard to make your dream come true connects all of us in the world.”