D&D as a racist tract

 Posted by (Visited 16889 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Nov 202008
 

Well, here’s a barnburner of an essay and Powerpoint!

To quote Steve Sumner’s essay again, “Unless played very carefully, Dungeons & Dragons could easily become a proxy race war, with your group filling the shoes of the noble white power crusaders seeking to extinguish any orc war bands or goblin villages they happened across.” I would argue with/ Sumner’s use of the phrase “could become,” and say that unless played very carefully, D&D usually becomes a proxy race war. Any adventurer knows that if you see an orc, you kill it. You don’t talk to it, you don’t ask what it’s doing there – you kill it, since it’s life is worth less than the treasure it carries and the experience points you’ll get from the kill. If filmed, your average D&D campaign would look something like Birth of a Nation set in Greyhawk.

–Race in D&D.

It’s “just a game” you say? Check out this quote:

While doing research for this talk, I came across the Stormfront web-site. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this vile-corner of the internet, it is the world’s largest discussion forum for white-supremacists. One of the most popular topics is “Culture and Customs,” with one of the most active forums being “High Fantasy and Lord of the Rings.” …Others yield such laughably offensive as the thread: “Drizzt Do’Urden fans, do you find the books blatantly pro-Negro?”

…I came across “Learn All You Need to Know About Race from Dungeons & Dragons,” posted by Holy Roman Empire. I quote here liberally…

“I completely understood how there could be smart blacks and yet blacks be less intelligent than whites as a whole when I was a child. When was the first time I thought about an idea like that? When I got into Dungeons and Dragons at the age of nine or ten. I knew that elves were more agile than humans. I knew that because they had a +1 bonus (back when I started playing, now its +2) to Dexterity…

“And this point may seem a bit silly, but it introduces an important idea that most white people are conditioned not to believe in – racial essentialism…

“D&D also has a lot about racial loyalty. Elves band together in protection of their forests…

“…I think that some of those ideas I was exposed to as a child were good lessons that maybe helped me come to terms with ideas that are part of being a White Nationalist.”

This echoes for me some of the stuff that I said a few years ago about the cultural tropes that MMORPGs are caught in.

  78 Responses to “D&D as a racist tract”

  1. Too easy to find the message of choice in anything analyzed in isolation.

    It’s just a game.

  2. It seems like you could apply this to most games though – as they are by nature simplified and tend towards straight forward conflict: the goods guys vs the bad guys.

    The fact that elves have +1 to dexterity does not lead most people to presume that black people are less intelligent than white people, anymore than playing chess leads people to presume that bishops walk sideways.

  3. Huh. Yeah, this actually occurred to me as well. I think its part of the reason I always like fantasy universes that play with the concept: Orcs in The Elder Scrolls around Morrowind time period and such, for example. To think of them like you normally would Orcs would be racist within the game world (even if nothing directly stated it).

  4. Taymar – Please note that I am not in agreement with the statement, but I can understand the “logic” (spurious as it might be) of what he was saying. He was saying that in D&D terms, the black race has a -1 int… but if the guy rolling a black character rolls an 18 for int, that still leaves him with a 17 that is better than the guy who rolled a 12 on his white character.

    I cannot stress enough how much I disagree with this.

  5. D&D’s original publisher TSR (later bought by Wizards of the Coast, which is now part of Hasbro) enforced race war not only in its rules systems but in its products. The worst example I saw was a short module published in Dungeon magazine set in the “Dark Sun” campaign setting, where the player characters were charged to locate and destroy the last surviving troll on the planet. To be required to become agents of genocide in exterminating the last member of an intelligent species — well, hey, they’re all just numbers on paper, so no sweat, but it struck me as tasteless.

  6. D&D was just appropriating Tolkien who arguably cast the orcs and the Mordor contingent as the forces of Islam, with all the white, european races banding together to fend off the threat from the south east. You may note that orcs were not originally green, but of browner, darker tints. Tolkien was also a Catholic… just saying.

    Drizzt for the win.

  7. Patrick>D&D was just appropriating Tolkien who arguably cast the orcs and the Mordor contingent as the forces of Islam, with all the white, european races banding together to fend off the threat from the south east.

    Where did you get that idea?

    Richard

  8. hey allen, how familiar are you with the dark sun setting?

  9. Well, first off, I think it’s obviously true that D&D, as written, is generally racist. That said, it’s not really that hard to get around – in fact, I don’t think I’ve played in a campaign where racial stereotypes weren’t subverted, but this is probably not the norm.

    There’s an important point that’s being skimmed over here, though – you don’t kill orcs in D&D because they’re stupid, but because they’re evil, and evil actually means something rather specific in D&D because there are gods associated with each alignment that constantly judge your actions and nature. The problem lies in a setting with clearly classified good and evil creatures, not in a world where some species are more intelligent than others.

  10. When your parents raise you to be a racist, you tend to see racist allegories everywhere you look.

    With that said however, D&D is chock full of racial generalities which oftentimes make perfect sense in the context, i.e. Elves by design are generally more dexterous than humans. Does this encourage stereotyping people based on race? Probably, but if you take a hardline “all races and genders are equal” approach, you can end up with unrealistic situations. Like a three-foot-tall Gnome tanking a boss while all the bigger, stronger types hide in the back and heal.

  11. The “races” in D&D aren’t really races, they are species. “Humans”, for example, are a single “race” in game terms. I think the improper use of that game term combined with modern sensativity about race is creating what I would consider basically a silly observation.

  12. Mike Weldon:

    Does this encourage stereotyping people based on race? Probably, but if you take a hardline “all races and genders are equal” approach

    Well, one, what we call stereotyping is really just pattern recognition. That’s how we differentiate one person from the next. Stereotyping isn’t inherently malicious; it’s how we respond to stereotypes that can get us into trouble.

    Two, many folks preach equality, but they really don’t know what they’re advocating. Equality means treating everyone the same. That’s fine in a competition on the track, but how about a classroom? What these pro-equality folks should be advocating is fairness because fairness means giving people what they need, not treating everyone equally.

    Striving for equality is like striving to break even. That’s the middle ground, what we reach for when we can’t do better. Fairness should be the goal. I think we’d all be better off if we weren’t so afraid to go the distance.

  13. I really shouldn’t link to “The Horde is Evil”, should I?

  14. I am writing a game which is an allegory to the modern world, and which includes substantial racism/classism. Obviously, the different races in the game represent different races, religions, and social classes in modern society. It’s actually quite disturbing…

    I coded the NPCs to give you (assuming you’re one of the villified races) nasty looks, inject snide comments, and refuse to do business with you.

    I wrote the code. I know it’s just algorithms. But the algorithmic racism is chilling.

    Games as art. Games as a way to change the wold. I don’t understand why no-one else is building worlds that use races to point out racism in our own reality.

  15. To really understand this, we need to pigeonhole our tendencies based on background, environment, faith, and genetic makeup. Only then can we really hammer it all into perspective.

  16. Danbala, it’s true that there’s a disconnect between the meaning of “race” in D&D and the real world, and it’s important, but the way that D&D is racist is a bit more subtle than that. Notice that “evil” races are generally depicted as being more dark skinned than the “good” races, or that the Drow are a matriarchy and purely evil (can you think of any good matriarchies in D&D canon?).

    But these details aren’t even the most important part of the problem. The real problem is fostering an absurdly strong “us vs. them” mentality, and suggesting that you cannot negotiate with or coexist with evil creatures (the entry for gnolls explicitly says so). It suggests that many creatures are not evil by choice, but evil by their nature, and are utterly unredeemable. This mental toolset is the same one used to justify atrocious behavior towards, say, arabs, because they’re not just “different,” but part of a group of people who are “evil.”

    That’s the problem with the world D&D describes.

  17. I only clicked this link to see what jerry springer wannabe would start a thread like this. I have only one response: “meesa gonna die!”

  18. I love Richard coming in here and saying “where did you get that idea”? As if games and fictional tales can never have RL correlations! Oh, that magic circle!

    It’s common to trash C.S.Lewis for his “Calormenes” who are the evil, swarthy, alien race in a desert place that seems like Baku or something; Tolkien was writing in the same circle, in the same era.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere, Richard is ranting about an option within WoW that enables characters to engage torture to extract information — and *gasp* that reminds him of course not of filtrations camps in Chechnya and the Russian FSB, not of Tolkien or any other fiction, but the reality of the U.S. in Guantanamo. So therefore, it’s wrong. Oh, but killing all those orcs isn’t wrong. Is Richard aware that murder is torture too, under international law?

    I’m the one who is always saying these games aren’t so good for the soul, and create violent and cynical young people who then occasionally act this out in RL. That’s a terribly un-PC position, I realize. But why is Richard just plucking out the issue of torture by interrogation because it reminds him of the America he loves to hate, and saying “huh” to racism?!

  19. But … the point of these hard coded differences in RPGS and MMORPGS is the same: You function best with a diverse party. Yes, the healer is a real stick-in-the-mud and the dwarf can’t seem to stop talking about beer but if you came here with 5 Gnomish archers then you left in 5 small body bags.

    The current D and D build, “4th edition”, has pretty much done away with the “All Orcs are Evil” mindset (while it could still be played that way.)

  20. Heh.. if all humans were good and all orcs were evil there would be no need for the alignment system.
    chaotic/neutral/lawful
    good/neutral/evil

    That being said, I’ve never played pen and paper D&D, so i’m not going to render judgment.

    All I shall say- interesting article! I think it definitely has some insights, it’s a brutal game for civilized people.

  21. Not this again.

    Look, if some nutbag racist thinks that a D&D manual contains any useful information, whatsoever, about human race relations, I think the problem is with him, and not the manual.

    “Cowboys and Indians” is a proxy for human racial violence. D&D is a game about killing monsters and hauling treasure back. There’s a difference.

    Every ancient culture had monsters, and likewise, folklore about killing them. Monsters are not people. Monsters are those scary things that go bump in the night. Monsters slaughter your cow and eat your babies. You don’t have the luxury of sitting around, pondering the ethical implications of killing monsters. If you stop to ponder anything, it’s whether you’re going to make it back to the hut in one piece.

    Sometimes, in games, however, we do kill creatures that look like people. Some games — especially PvP games — can be very tribal. I won’t deny that. However, it can also be very reasonably argued that football is a proxy for tribal warfare. That’s a good thing. To the extent that humans still have any latent tribal urges, we need a little play combat get all that primitive crap out of our systems. The survival of civilization may even depend on it. I’d rather some guy was dancing around in the bleachers with a big plastic block of cheese on top of his head than beating the crap out of his new immigrant neighbor down the street.

  22. What Tess said.

    The first problem I have with the essay in question is that the argument is as obtuse as the criticism lobbed at fantasy movies that blend history with fiction. Yes, a historical fiction is historically inaccurate, but who cares, really? When you avoid immersing yourself in a story by clutching onto the details of real life, when you avoid enjoying the imagination of other people, and when you don’t judge a work on the merits of the work itself, you’re just not doing it right.

    The second problem I have with the essay in question is that the argument is as shallow and naive as assertions that the coloring of The Simpsons characters had a racist agenda. Ironically, this shallowness and naivete is a result of a personality flaw that drives an individual to look for more complex patterns, hidden agendas, and delusional conspiracies instead of merely accepting what is at face value — an “aversion to Occam’s Razor” disorder, so to speak.

    The third problem I have with the essay in question is that the argument is devoid of recognizing that “the map is not the territory.” An interpretation of a thing is not the thing. Conclusions drawn from interpretations are like clones of clones, imperfect in every way. They cannot be relied upon and serious review cannot consider such inferences valid.

    I have a few more problems with the essay in question, but the aforementioned are my top three.

  23. How many of you have lived in a racist culture, not a conversation about it, but a really upfront racist culture with sides drawn up, bottles and razors in hand, writing on the wall, beatings in the back rooms/alleys/woods/cafeterias?

    When did you notice? What did you do?

    I’ve lived it. Don’t trivialize injustice and disease by finding it in a board game where none exists and none was intended.

  24. Modelling games after human history is fine. People kill others for many reasons sometimes it is race. There are valuable lesson to be learned in history.

    Everquest had it built in from the start. Take a human character and try and walk them into an troll town for example.

  25. The Law of Fives states simply that: All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5.

    The Law of Fives is never wrong.

    Of course, this is the 25th comment in this thread, SO IT MUST BE TRUE. Down with Sixist discrimination. Five Power! High Five!

  26. If a nature reporter says that the average gorilla (a humanoid looking animal) is far stronger than the average human, is he being a mean racist? No, it’s simply a fact; its body is engineered that way, sorry. Let’s not confuse racial discrimination and actually having difference races.

    Feel free to say that it’s not fair, but quite frankly, I don’t think that the gorilla will care. If you go in a fist fight with one, you probably won’t come out ahead either. It might breach the norm of social etiquette, but I’ll even go one step further and say that gorilla have more fur.

    Also, it’s fur is dark. Feel free to make a relation between that color and current human social tensions based on social discrimination. I must warn everyone, however, that the gorilla will not change colors based on the outcome of that discussion.

  27. This isn’t really, or shouldn’t be anyway, about whether D&D is a “racist” game, or whether it creates racism, but whether or not it reinforces it where it already exists.

    It’s really easy to argue that it does, because at that point intention no longer matters, and interpretation becomes valid as argument. In order to argue against this point, you would need to demonstrate that D&D promotes a broader respect for cultural and racial differences, not just that it doesn’t promote racism. This’d be pretty hard to do, since as a gameplay system, it promotes an us vs them mechanic, and it, as written, creates a very black and white world where violence is more often than not the appropriate response to “differentness”. This isn’t inherently bad of it to do, and there’s a place for that kind of simplistic handling of fictional worlds, but for it to be the biggest cultural vector for our games isn’t good. Because it means there’s no counter-example in gaming of the complexity of inter-cultural relationships, and we could definitely use tools to help people broaden their awareness of different points of view, rather than increasingly ignore them.

    That being said, D&D is not a problem, except that D&D is pretty much all there is when we step away from the pen and paper world. If it were just one niche out of a much broader stream, there’d be much less issue. That it’s sort of the predominant cultural theme of most of our fantasy worlds is worrisome, though. Not so much because it’s making us more racist, but because it’s not making us less racist; because it’s not making us think about these issues enough. And that in and of itself is a failing.

  28. So, I have to say, with no offense to my dearly beloved commenters — anytime people have a kneejerk reaction against something like this, I assume it’s because

    a) it bugs them, and they don’t want to care, so they get defensive

    b) they are completely oblivious to the power of subtext

    Yes, we can model games after human history, of course. That doesn’t automatically mean modeling the prejudices of the past.

    And if we choose to model them, we can model those prejudices with intent, or inadvertantly.

    And we can also set out to model something else entirely, and end up creating something that maps onto prejudices (or other subject matter in general) quite easily, and even reinforces them.

    When this latter case happens, it’s not a bad thing to evaluate and assess. It isn’t bad to be critical of something we love, in this case; after all, it may be getting used in ways we don’t want or like.

    In the specific case of D&D, and the reason why this hits home for me, is that the “mapping” barely needs to happen. We can argue that “human” isn’t “human” until we’re blue in the face, but we’re splitting hairs. It’s trivially easy to interpret things this way, which is why it keeps coming up.

  29. You know, it’s really worth pointing out that D&D has, with its recent iterations (meaning post-second-ed), been moving away from that whole thing. Maybe not fast enough or far enough for some, but still.

  30. Danbala, it’s true that there’s a disconnect between the meaning of “race” in D&D and the real world, and it’s important, but the way that D&D is racist is a bit more subtle than that. Notice that “evil” races are generally depicted as being more dark skinned than the “good” races, or that the Drow are a matriarchy and purely evil (can you think of any good matriarchies in D&D canon?).

    Ok. I guess the bigger question is whether equating “the darkness” with evil is racist. Don’t dark skinned cultures do this too? Doesn’t it arise out of a fear of night/the unseen?

    But these details aren’t even the most important part of the problem. The real problem is fostering an absurdly strong “us vs. them” mentality, and suggesting that you cannot negotiate with or coexist with evil creatures (the entry for gnolls explicitly says so). It suggests that many creatures are not evil by choice, but evil by their nature, and are utterly unredeemable. This mental toolset is the same one used to justify atrocious behavior towards, say, arabs, because they’re not just “different,” but part of a group of people who are “evil.”

    The idea of a sentient and evil rival species is not limited to D&D. I don’t see how orcs are much different than “martians” from old school science fiction orthe aliens from the movie Alien. (Even the idea of hybridization with the alien is well expressed in both cases). The idea of a thinking creature that is not human and is bent on destruction is primal idea. It may parallel racism but to think of it as racism actually takes away some of its power. The creatures are scary precisely because they are inhuman. To think of them as just another tribe takes away a great deal of their punch.

  31. We cant controle all the bad uses that some people can do with ours beloved games. We cant blame game creators for non intended uses. Religions and ancient myths are often used to promote racist and violent ideas, but we cant change that religions are part of the human nature and history.

    Game mechanics can give the context for bad uses, perhaps.

    But in some RPG you can play with “evil” races characters or become friend of other players with different race characters (how in example SWG), inclusive in factional warfare you can experience the “evil” races point of view. These experiencies can reduce prejudices against the other in the same manner that a racial war and essentialist race attributes can promote then.

    But if an alien race visits the earth we will be racist for say that these race will be very different to humans?

    In Warhammer in example the high and dark elves are the same race but two cultural factions, and you can have characters in one or other. Humans fight with other humans corrupted by Chaos. In board Warhammer lore some races can be allys one time and enemy in other moment.

    In Tolkien fantasy Mordor is depicted how the hell and orc are demons, in many ancient myths the demons are depicted how dark skinnig guys, inclusive in some Indian cultures, demons are associated with the night, and the smoke and hell fire. Also in LOTR the most of the “male white heros” in lead positions become corrupted, traitors o weak.Perhaps some south men allied with Sauron can be associated with the islam, but Mordor?

    Implicit ideas how “all catholic conservative are inherently racist” are more dangerous that some subjetive racist find in a game.

  32. Interesting. I’ve played alot of D&D and never once considered that it was racist.
    The game is Good against Evil, Chaotic against Lawful.
    And certainly the different “races” (pointed out to be different species) have different pluses and minuses but by and large they all evened out.
    Sure, an Elf is more dexterious, but an Orc could smash him with one hammer blow to the top of the head, and laugh while doing it.
    I think that arbitrairily placing value on one positive atribute and not on another (for example, claiming that an elf is better than an orc because he is more intellegent) is simply us placing our own cultural values into the game, which will vary from culture to culture.
    My players often prefered playing the “bad” guy instead of the good guy.
    Besides, who can argue with Gygax???

  33. Tess:

    To the extent that humans still have any latent tribal urges, we need a little play combat get all that primitive crap out of our systems. The survival of civilization may even depend on it.

    Where did you get the idea that primitivity is a Bad Thing? Our primal nature gave us language, love, migration, the Pyramids, engineering, and many other feats of human ingenuity that we depend on today. Indeed, we look to the past to learn from history, our mistakes, and even our successes. Without that history, where do you think we’d be? We can’t escape who we are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to improve. Bettering ourselves is in our DNA.

    Raph:

    We can argue that “human” isn’t “human” until we’re blue in the face, but we’re splitting hairs. It’s trivially easy to interpret things this way, which is why it keeps coming up.

    Splitting hairs, maybe, but the argument is grasping at straws. And, no, it’s not “easy” to interpret things the crazy way. You need a great deal of imagination to pretend that a game called DUNGEONS & DRAGONS has real-world implications for racism. Seriously, we just elected a black president. We’re clearly doing something right about racism.

    What I’m wondering is… where are the gay dragons?

    If you actually read through the threads on the Stormfront forums, you’ll see a common pattern: self-serving, dispositional attribution. People look for patterns in their objects of hatred and apply them elsewhere. That’s the problem with wearing rose-colored glasses. For example, one user writes, with regard to World of Warcraft:

    WoW like every other MMO is just jewish modern culture on a computer screen and just as costly.

    The games revolve around advancing your own character and buying better gear and equipment. All the while thousands of other “individuals” do ultimately the same thing, Its just jewish capitalism without having to leave your computer chair.

    The same user comments on Star Wars:

    I love star wars, I even see hidden messages in there. Although weird ones, young chosen boy grows up to become empirical dictator after many of the elite claiming he was the chosen one? Maybe it is trying to claim Hitler was meant to be the Jews Saviour?

    Another user, claiming that George Lucas is Jewish:

    in my book supporting Jews makes you a Jew and Lucas takes the cake, being a Jew can mean a multitude of things not just religion … in my book some one who gives huge amounts of money to Jews is a Jew. Traitors what ever you want to call them, he indeed is the biggest.

    C’mon, Raph, you can’t take any of this seriously. People believe stupid things. That doesn’t mean they’re right.

  34. Speaking of seeing things in black and white, there seems to be a running assumption that whether a work is racist or not is obvious and that the accusation of racism removes all other values from it. I’ll point out that I love D&D, and I don’t think it’s a bad, evil game, but I do think it promotes racist notions.

    The point here is also not that this is unique to D&D, or that there’s no reason for it, so pointing out that many cultures and works have similar elements, or that people are afraid of dark-skinned things because they associate darkness with the unknown doesn’t change the fact that associating dark-skinned things with evil is racist, or that having an overly simplistic concept of good and evil in your game can promote intolerance.

    The claim isn’t that D&D is really a subversive weapon made by Gygax to turn people into racists, but that the themes that are carried into D&D from Tolkien and before carry troubling implications with them, and that we should try to stop and recognize these implications if we respect the kind of impact that games have on the way we perceive the world.

  35. Morgan makes a very good point about the Stormfront forums that is more fully explained by a wikipedia article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_hitlerum

    Using white supremacists to somehow add weight to your argument is not an acceptable form of argumentation.

    In general, the linked article shows a large number of these lapses in rigour that make its conclusions highly suspect, in much the same way that you don’t believe unwashed lunatics on the streetcorner claiming the world is about to end. They could be right, but it would be an accident.

    For example: the article refuses to think about the Supplements published for the various editions, claiming that they don’t matter because the Core rulebooks are a player’s “bible”. Most serious players understand that this is untrue; the supplements are the main means by which the company monetizes existing players, and thus they are well crafted to be essential to creating a competitive character. Ignoring them is simply being lazy. They might or might not support the author’s conclusion, but to refuse to consider them does D&D a disservice.

    Anyway, I think it’s important to examine issues such as accidental (or purposeful) racism in our society, but I also think there’s a good reason that you shouldn’t just believe everything you read on the internet.

  36. What I’m wondering is… where are the gay dragons?

    A quick Google search got me this:

    Reality of a Gay Dragon, Ch. 18

    That’s the last chapter available, and the one that actually confirms for me that the first-person narrator is male. Most of the previous ones were marked mature, so I didn’t search them.

    You have been Rule 34’d. Kinda.

  37. The reason this topic always bugs me is because, on a visceral level, the whole thing just feels a bit absurd, to me. I can spend all day trying to rationalize this feeling, but in the end, I’m just trying to construct some logical or poetic scaffold for what is really a gut emotion. You might as well have linked an essay about why the sky is red.

    There are all kinds of reasons I might feel this way, and you may — perhaps fairly — see them as blind spots or biases, on my part. For one thing, I’ve tended to game with players of other real races, so it would feel downright silly for me to ignore the real racial harmony in our play, in favor of suggesting a subtext that may not have been at all emotionally present in the experience. Also, I suppose, as a programmer, I see MOBs as a knot of data and algorithms. In contrast, as a player, I see them as bubble wrap! It’s hard for me to give them the honor of carrying much connotative weight. Finally, our myriad characters do all sorts of crazy things that we would never do, ourselves, and I’ve always cautioned against reading too much into it.

  38. Let’s be honest here, D&D is rather heavily privileged. Most of it is likely the fault not of the authors directly, but rather the straight white (middle class?) male dominated society from whence they all came.

    Flicking through the fourth-ed players handbook, a grand total of one black character drawing is present within the races section. In the classes section, only two of the eight have a female lead image, and only four of the smaller pictures detail women. With respect to people of colour, it seems that only two are featured. Other sections actually seem to fare a little better in terms of featuring women, but still people of colour are marginalised in the artwork. And from the other books, there is a clear leaning towards lighter coloured skin (on what is essentially a human) being good, and darker bad.

    Mechanics wise, I’m going to ignore the whole ‘race’ mechanics discussion, except for a suggestion that the mapping – the calling of this ‘race’ – would be trivial to altered if people believed this needed to be addressed.

    It must be remembered that D&D itself will always be faced with the problem of the societies in which it exists. Our society associates masculine with male, and as such all the major classes D&D offers may well seem male-biased. This, however, is not the fault of D&D itself (aside from the artwork choice aspect).

    What is interesting, however, is how all this compares to aspects the generic game setting that players actually use. Skin colour is rarely mentioned by players, and as long as it isn’t then used for the wrong reasons, any assumptions of NPC skin colour would be the fault of society. Society would also be to blame for the common minor role that female NPCs might have, however female NPCs may also be extremely common and breaking the ‘glass thatching’ quite readily – there is also a counterpoint to this which I shall be coming to later. In terms of racial interaction, what we very much have is as other people have commented – “civilised”/good versus “not civilised like us”/bad. Outside of character creation, race may often be ignored in favour of ‘NPC or monster?’ distinctions, depending on the party’s playstyle.

    However, ‘high roleplaying’ groups may find that standard setting to be problematic, especially if they wish to roleplay within a realistic world. It is easy, when designing an adventure, to apply modern world ideals to the creation. As such, disparate “civilised” races get along without any tension (even if racial isolation is commonplace), misogyny doesn’t exist, sexuality is dependant upon the real world acceptance where the group is, and so on. Truth be told – that’s great! Who wants a world were things are not perfect aside from the mission at hand? Dealing with bigoted NPCs would get boring fast, and the game could end up bogged down with such matters. But on the other hand, in my last gaming group, a number of us were looking forward to actually roleplaying – to use the game to explore a subject. We wanted that extra challenge, and the opportunity to talk about how our characters felt and thought.

    The problem of Racism in tabletop roleplaying games really depends on the nature of the game, and more importantly, on the players. It can reinforce bigot views, yes, but all too commonly it is thought of as being non-existant (although it may still be there in reality), and it may even be used as a force for education, if players are willing to take the challenge.

  39. Michelle –

    I’d tend to think that the main reason whites are so featured in the rule books is not any kind of racism, but that the setting for most D&D worlds comes from Tolkeinesque and European high fantasy, in which people of color aren’t nearly as the white people are…

  40. Charles:

    And have you thought about why the generic fantasy setting is dominated by white people? Of course, It is mostly not deliberate racism at all, but it is the result of a dominant white culture, and as such it makes these works white privileged. Whilst we should view these existing fictional works in perspective, as a product of their time, we should also recognise were we can now improve upon them in our more modern productions.

  41. Whilst we should view these existing fictional works in perspective, as a product of their time, we should also recognise were we can now improve upon them in our more modern productions.

    I wasn’t aware “our more modern productions” were set in a non-white centric milieu.

    Yay for correcting reality (My word, that thread is still getting comments.)

    Go talk about sexism, guys. It’s still nicely controversial in the media spotlight.

  42. Wait a minute…are we talking about the possible effects that games could have on the inner workings of a gamers brain over time? Can games really influence or enforce certain racial views over time?

    [sarcasm]
    Ask Derek Smart to provide a design document for D&D 4.0 and see what you get. Then don your cardigans, pour out the wine and wax poetic about race in games till the cows come home.
    [/sarcasm]

  43. Charles said:
    I’d tend to think that the main reason whites are so featured in the rule books is not any kind of racism, but that the setting for most D&D worlds comes from Tolkeinesque and European high fantasy, in which people of color aren’t nearly as the white people are…

    Many, many ye3ars ago, when I was in high school at a Catholic school, our teacher invited some black guys going to college in to talk to us about inner city life and racism. They were pretty good, mainly because they weren’t pro’s at it. It was just some straight talk from both sides. And when I say “sides”, it was troubling for us all (them included) that we realized we were on different sides. We concluded that not really knowing each other left us like this. Open, but a bit untrusting in those we don’t know. Race only heightened a normal condition of human nature, but it was there, from both “sides”.

    But a curious thing was a point they wanted to make. They asked why Tarzan was white? In a land filled with blacks, how is it that a white guy ends up being the super hero?
    We responded that it was because the story was written by a white guy, about a person from his society, placed somewhere else. The story could have been written about a black Tarzan, but it wouldn’t have sold as well. This brought up the question, why wouldn’t it sell as well? Which in turn lead us all to conclude that it was due to identifying with the hero.

    And that still left us all with an unsettling feeling that racism does exist, at least to some small extent, naturally in all of us. But we, that class and those college guys, also came to an understanding of sorts. We accepted it, if it were indeed true, and accepted each other as imperfect equals.

    Our teacher was quite proud of herself. Those nuns are a cagey lot.

  44. @Morgan,

    You need a great deal of imagination to pretend that a game called DUNGEONS & DRAGONS has real-world implications for racism.

    That’s not what Raph’s claiming though. He’s saying he game maps very nicely to pre-existing racism, and that it doesn’t try to break away from it. If society as a whole is moving away from racism, D&D’s systems aren’t going to mean anything. If it’s not, it can act to reinforce it where it already exists. But the real reason to bring it up is that it doesn’t have to. It’d be relatively easy to excise those parts of the game without causing too much damage, and add nuance where it currently uses simplification. It’d not be a bad thing to make the game more sophisticated in how it deals with these things, and it wouldn’t hurt the underlying game too much to do so.

    Again, I personally see this not so much as being an issue where D&D is a bad wrong no-good thing, but rather as an issue where the D&D folks and other game makers have an opportunity to do something much more beneficial than what they *are* doing, but they’re choosing not to. This is more an issue of a wasted opportunity than it is of wrongness.

    “Anyone that thinks that about our game is crazy, so we don’t need to even examine things like how well our systems map onto racist ideology or think about how we can be promoting broader, deeper, more nuanced, and inclusive viewpoints in our products,” becomes the counter argument, and that’s a flawed thing, because promoting those themes is better even in absence of an actual problem.

  45. Eolirin:

    He’s saying he game maps very nicely to pre-existing racism, and that it doesn’t try to break away from it.

    One of the other problems I have with this discussion is that several concepts are being wrongly commingled. Considering how the essay author concludes his paper, he referred to “racism” when he actually meant to refer to ingroup bias and ethnocentric thinking.

    Racism is defined as “the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races, or discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race”. When not explicit, malice (or malice by proxy of arrogance) is implied.

    Writing a story (Tarzan) or developing a game (Dungeons & Dragons) using what you know (or what’s most familiar to you) is not a crime. There’s usually nothing “racist” about doing so. Orcadian myths in which all of the characters are “white” are not racist because these myths lack different ethnic groups — the demographics of Scotland are such that 98% of the population belongs to the so-called “white” ethnic group while the figure is around 100% in Orkney!

    Political correctness to the extent of whitewashing works of culture in furtherance of extreme multiculturalist ideals is not the way to go, people.

  46. Morgan:

    I find it ironic that you refer to promoting multicultural works as “whitewashing”.

    Writing according to what you know is not a crime, of course. However, that is exactly why I called the works privileged rather than automatically racist – for they are written in such a manner as to bias themselves towards a certain audience and to inadvertently promote a certain world view.

    Let’s take a proper look at this. Once again returning to the 4th ed PHB, I examined the full-page or larger art scenes (size criteria for speed, and to consider the most dramatic works), which are really the set pieces for selling the potential adventures. Out of ten, how many had effectively human (humans, elves, dwarfs, etc) adventurers of colour? None, the closest it got was 3 monstrous humanoid adventurers of unclear colour equivalents (*).

    Although the choice of artwork had no malice in it, it clearly propagates white privilege. To a person of colour, they are told that there are no adventurers like you, that only a white person commits heroic deeds. And if you are present, well… you can only approximately be human, you must be othered in order to play.

    You might think that, according to tradition and origin, theatrical productions of Shakespeare would be limited to mostly white people. However theatres are finding that colour-blind casting not only works and is accepting by the audience, but can actually result in even better performances. And for many people, the modern world is multicultural, and so this only acts to keep the productions relevant.

    Of course, when these stories from old feature a predominantly white cast but vilify the characters of colour, it has to be asked – how can this be anything but racist? White privilege has always existed in white dominated lands, the white people typically had power, and there was a lot of prejudice against outsiders or anyone who looked different. When a black character was set as a villain, when the evil monsters were given dark skin; these acts were done in full knowledge of the implications. A lot of our language that we use to describe the world is also equally biased, and this only gets worse and worse post-colonialism.

    If anyone here needs any reason to change these mappings, to make their works less coated in white people, there is a very simple and important thing to remember – money. Very little about a game like D&D is exclusively anglo-euro-american, and yet by marginalising people of colour, it reduces its ability to gain a foothold within other areas of the world. I find it almost funny that some would describe maximising the size of the potential market as “political correctness” (although to be honest, I find most cries along the lines of such statements to be worrisome in their own right).

    (*) Pleasingly, although women seem less common in the smaller art pieces, the larger “adventuring party at work” sets always have a reasonable ratio of men to women, and have even meleé-based female adventurers. One has to ponder, if it can be done for women, why not for people of colour?

  47. Michelle D’israeli:

    I find it ironic that you refer to promoting multicultural works as “whitewashing”.

    Please don’t quote me out-of-context. I referred to “extreme multiculturalist ideals” or what might be instead called multicultural revisionism. And, yes, the pun was intended. I also understood your distinction just fine, but I’m not a sociologist so I don’t feel qualified to discuss “white privilege”.

    What I don’t favor is assigning Jesus Christ to the “black” ethnic group, the Zeus character to the “Asian” ethnic group, and the Spider-Man character to the “Indian” ethnic group to revise (or “correct”) cultural works as a means to promote multiculturalism. What I don’t favor is injecting what amounts to affirmative action into the creative process.

    Of course, when these stories from old feature a predominantly white cast but vilify the characters of colour, it has to be asked – how can this be anything but racist?

    You can write your own versions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, if you like, but you should recognize that simply depicting racism in a work does not make the work itself “racist.”

    I might agree that Dungeons & Dragons depicts racism, but I will not agree that the game is a product of racism.

  48. Morgan:

    I don’t see anyone in this discussion talking about that level of revisionism at all. However, as I noted with the concept of colour blind casting, coloured actors are landing big name Shakespearean roles, playing characters from Arthurian legend in popular TV shows, and so on. This is not “assigning to an ethnic group”, but simply casting the best person for the role. What’s interesting about this is that it avoids the major stereotyping issues that often dominate when roles are written specifically for a character of a certain ethnic (or gender, sexuality, class, etc) background.

    There is a vast difference between “depicting racism” and “promoting racist/privileged viewpoints”. It is one thing to show coloured characters being enslaved, beaten, forced to work as slaves, and quite another to write your villains as people of colour, to depict people of colour as being less intelligent, to show how the white people deserve their better lives than those of people of colour.

    To say that D&D does not have the flaws that our white privileging society brings, is getting very close to saying that the current continued dominance of white people is not thanks to the history of colonialism and racial segregation. There is no real difference between these statements, especially since I have clearly shown (and you have not countered) the extreme bias against the representation of people of colour within the artwork of the player’s hand book.

    I know you likely love D&D and other similar games – so do I. But don’t take flaws with the products personally – just because something you like is a product of the world from whence it came, and that because of that it continues damaging biases, it does not then reflect upon you. It is allowed not to be perfect, and you are allowed to still like it. Take a step back and remember that.

  49. Michelle D’israeli:

    I know you likely love D&D …

    I don’t have any attachment to Dungeons & Dragons whatsoever, having never played the game.

    and quite another to write your villains as people of colour, to depict people of colour as being less intelligent, to show how the white people deserve their better lives than those of people of colour.

    Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to Faran Tahir talk about his experiences as an actor living in San Diego while working in Hollywood. Faran plays a lot of bad guys, even plenty of terrorists. Your suggestion that villains should only be of the “white” ethnic group would probably offend him as an inherently racist assertion. The line between affirmative action and racism is quite thin. With too much political correctness, you end up fighting yourself.

    I don’t see anyone in this discussion talking about that level of revisionism at all.

    Do you have a mirror?

  50. Michelle D’israeli:Once again returning to the 4th ed PHB, I examined the full-page or larger art scenes (size criteria for speed, and to consider the most dramatic works), which are really the set pieces for selling the potential adventures. Out of ten, how many had effectively human (humans, elves, dwarfs, etc) adventurers of colour? None, the closest it got was 3 monstrous humanoid adventurers of unclear colour equivalents (*).

    I hope you understand that there are entire supplements — many of them — that feature “non-white” protagonists. The “Shining South” is a region modeled after a North African region. The humans are dark skinned and battle the uusual assortment of monsters. How does this fit with your assumptions? How about the “Unapproachbale East” that features Asian-sytle heroes — also against the same monsters?

    Michelle D’israeli:Of course, when these stories from old feature a predominantly white cast but vilify the characters of colour, it has to be asked – how can this be anything but racist? White privilege has always existed in white dominated lands, the white people typically had power, and there was a lot of prejudice against outsiders or anyone who looked different. When a black character was set as a villain, when the evil monsters were given dark skin; these acts were done in full knowledge of the implications. A lot of our language that we use to describe the world is also equally biased, and this only gets worse and worse post-colonialism.

    I am going to try to put it delicately, but to me, its very unusual to look at an orc and say that it reminds you of a particular human race. That is not a response that would come instinctively to me. Might I delicately suggest that the instinct to equate monsters with non-whites is abberrant? I do not believe it is a typical “white” reaction. Any conlusions that you derive from that presumption seem suspect to me.

    Michelle D’israeli: . . . especially since I have clearly shown (and you have not countered) the extreme bias against the representation of people of colour within the artwork of the player’s hand book.

    If you are making an conclusion based on the occurance of certain features, you should not be selective in your review of the materials. Examine the supplements and I think you’ll find people of various races and colors are well represented.

  51. I am going to try to put it delicately, but to me, its very unusual to look at an orc and say that it reminds you of a particular human race.

    Okay. Now I’m linking to it.

    The Horde is Evil.

  52. @Morgan

    Racism is defined as “the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races, or discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race”. When not explicit, malice (or malice by proxy of arrogance) is implied.

    That’s totally there. Orcs, Kobolds, and all the various other npc groups designed solely to be cannon fodder, but that are depicted as sentient, thinking, feeling creatures, are most definitely defined as intrinsically inferior to members of other races (the ones the PCs play as) and it most definitely encourages abusive and down right violent behavior toward them. That they’re not representative of real world races isn’t the point. It’s that they’re portrayed as having extremely human like qualities in how they function. They have language, they build tools, they work together, they even have some rudimentary sense of culture (and some actually get a much more fleshed out culture, occasionally), though that rarely gets expressed. And the system depicts them as little more than things to kill, despite dressing them up this way.

    It’s extremely easy to map racism to the game specifically because the game is designed at it’s core around running around killing beings described as capable of feeling pain, thinking, communicating, and for no other reason than that they’re the wrong species. It’s an old D&D line about the lawful good paladin that goes around killing orc babies and justifying it because orcs are evil.

    And I don’t think you can make the argument that D&D doesn’t deserve to be examined on these grounds. Would D&D be a lesser game if it had a more nuanced examination of culture and race? Would it be a lesser game if the species like orcs were presented in a way that made their conflicts with the other races less a matter of course and more a matter of conflicting world views? You may still not have any better option than to fight and kill them, but at least there’d some sense of understanding, some greater depth to the call to wipe them out. I honestly think it’d be a better game if it included more sophistication and less oversimplification and rigid black and white lines. And because it would improve the game to have it, whether or not it actually causes any problems becomes irrelevant; if the only criteria for improving something is whether or not it’s actively causing damage to something else, and not whether or not it can actually be improved, you end up with mediocrity at best.

    And before anyone says it, yes a good DM can do all of this by themselves, but that’s beside the point. The books as written don’t, and they’re what’s being sold.

    But I would support your statement that D&D, while depicting racism isn’t a product of racism. But I don’t think Raph was even trying to state that, though he can correct me if I’m wrong. I think he was trying to say that the portrayal isn’t one that provides any actual benefit, and at worst acts to reinforce existing belief.

  53. @Michael Chui,

    Oh lord.

    That’s… so horribly wrong. Beyond the somewhat crazy nature of the overall thrust of the argument he’s trying to make, the base premise is so horribly flawed. On the whole, Orcs and Tauren are two of the nobler, less messed up, races by Blizzard lore. I think the only Alliance race that you can justifiably call morally superior to either, when talking about the cultures as a whole, are the Draeni.

    So he’s replaced the lore of Blizzard’s deeply crafted universe with preconceptions about what a fictional race should be like, based purely on the visual aesthetic. I dunno if I should laugh or be sick. -_-.

  54. Eolirin:

    It’s extremely easy to map racism to the game …

    Jumping in front of a moving train is easy, too.

    Would D&D be a lesser game if it had a more nuanced examination of culture and race? Would it be a lesser game if the species like orcs were presented in a way that made their conflicts with the other races less a matter of course and more a matter of conflicting world views?

    Would the world be a better place if I were an omnipotent deity? Would you sacrifice yourself to protect a stranger from impending death? Would the United States suddenly fall apart if Barack Obama is elected? Oh, wait…

    I honestly think it’d be a better game if it included more sophistication and less oversimplification and rigid black and white lines.

    We’re not a hive-mind society. You can design your own games. You can lead by your example. There’s no sense in burning, censoring, or revising existing products simply because you believe games are murder simulators, Monopoly promotes greed, orcs are “blacks” in disguise, marketing is evil, online games support “Jewish capitalism”, “white” villains don’t exist, the Holocaust never happened, “Ralph” is the correct spelling, and Dungeons & Dragons encourages racism.

    I think he was trying to say that the portrayal isn’t one that provides any actual benefit, and at worst acts to reinforce existing belief.

    I agree. I have a burning hatred for those vile little gnomes. Them and their tinkertoys, thinking they’re so clever and so much smarter than the rest of us! You know what, where’s my Great White Blade of FUBAR +7? Heeerree, gnomes. I won’t hurt you… I want to give you all a great big hug and a special gift. Cross my heart and hope you die.

  55. The entire article is based around the concept that there is discrimination because ethnic groups are not described at length nor are they portrayed as often in the images. If I used that logic, I would have to assume that the book also discriminates against social classes, sexual orientation, blind people, deaf people, handicaps and just about every minority group in existence. They are not mentioned or drawn very often either.

    If, in order to be politically correct, one has to accept that logic then every form of entertainment out there that I have been exposed to is corrupt. I have yet to see a single movie/book/game that had the right proportions of white/black/Indian/Asian/etc, men/women, tall/short, French/English/Italian/etc, Catholic/Jewish/Muslim, heterosexual/homosexual, smart/normal/dumb, cats/dogs/hamsters, etc. So many of those forms of entertainment failed to elaborate on one or many of these concepts (therefore showing discrimination by that logic), even the Carebears.

    So here is how I chose to see the core rule book of most D&D games (from the 2nd edition and up): the authors did not bother mentioning ethnic groups at length because they figured that if the players wanted to include the notion then they would do as they pleased and have fun.

    Personally, I have created good and evil npcs of just about every race in the game that I ran. From the noble monk who was accidentally resurrected as a goblin to the evil elven lord pulling the strings from behind the scene. No game is complete without adding a Kender either.

    I find it more fun that way. It’s either that or I will never look at my chess board the same way… it has white and black pieces and black always start second. Also, the colors ignore every other ethnic group.

  56. Those whom we would destroy, we first demonize.

    Racism is the obvious example, but consider also certain fundamentalist Protestant distortions of Catholicism, Christian lies about Islam, Islamic propoganda against Judaism. Consider the popular conception of the poor in America as shiftless, dishonest welfare cheats — certainly there’s an element of racism there as well, but it is overwhelmingly a classist stereotype perpetuated by those with a vested interest in keeping the underclass under. How do hardcore conservatives describe liberals, and visa versa — as fellow humans with a different viewpoint, or as evil traitors bent on the destruction of the nation?

    It’s very difficult for a human to be inhuman without first convincing him or herself that the other is something less than human, either obviously inferior or corrupt and malignant. It’s a dynamic so deeply ingrained in most human cultures that it’s all but invisible. And it carries over to our fiction (including games).

    I don’t think Tolkein’s interpretation of Nordic mythological archetypes can be easily mapped to a racial conflict except insofar as World War II was a racial conflict, and D&D started as little more than an adaptation of Tolkein for tabletop wargames. There is a Eurocentric bias, but that might be expected in a game based on European myth and culture (and yes, the suppliments for the Forgotten Realms span the globe in looking for new cultures to repackage and sell). Rather than racism, I would propose that D&D and the industry it spawned incorporates a broader vein of xenophobia, fear and hatred of “the other” on whatever basis is convenient… and the concept of “inherent evil” is very convenient indeed.

    The broader question is, do we as gamers and game makers have any responsibility to challenge the cultural assumptions? Well, perhaps responsibility is too strong a word. I for one enjoy tweaking player’s assumptions. If I had the time, I’d love to craft a campaign where everything in the Monster Manual regarding humanoid races turns out to be little more than propoganda – things the players have heard all their lives and believe implicitly, but which are in reality lies and distortions crafted to justify the oppression and genocide of the “monsters”.

    But I have to wonder how well something like that could be translated into an MMO. Who would we kill to get our shinies? Lawyers?

  57. “I find it more fun that way. It’s either that or I will never look at my chess board the same way… it has white and black pieces and black always start second. Also, the colors ignore every other ethnic group.

    Yep, despite anything McCartney sang, m having my entire piano keyboard sanded down to wood, with extra keys added to ensure Db has a complete range without mixins.

    … and all of the diminished fifths will be removed just in case.

    And what can I play with that? Pachelbel and The Water is Wide.

  58. So he’s replaced the lore of Blizzard’s deeply crafted universe with preconceptions about what a fictional race should be like, based purely on the visual aesthetic. I dunno if I should laugh or be sick. -_-.

    Yep. And you should both laugh and be sick. I intentionally linked to Castronova’s retraction, rather than his original post, in large part because I like Ted and what he has tried to do in every other respect with virtual worlds.

    Frankly, until I hear stories from non-white persons expressing the oppression they feel from reading D&D rulebooks, I don’t see any reason to even pay attention.

    If I used that logic, I would have to assume that the book also discriminates against social classes, sexual orientation, blind people, deaf people, handicaps and just about every minority group in existence. They are not mentioned or drawn very often either.

    Don’t forget robots. The entire concept of D&D is discriminatory against robots. Also, Beowulf is a racist work, because there are no robots in it. Maybe they’re in disguise?

    The broader question is, do we as gamers and game makers have any responsibility to challenge the cultural assumptions? Well, perhaps responsibility is too strong a word.

    I already linked to Richard’s post, Correcting Reality. You should read it, and the comments.

  59. @Morgan,

    You’re quite frankly taking this in directions that no one but yourself have suggested. It makes it really frustrating to try to continue the conversation. I’m going to try anyway, because I really don’t like being misunderstood, and what you’re arguing against isn’t what I’m saying.

    No one was suggesting burning, censoring, or any of the other things you’ve mentioned. No one is suggesting that D&D needs to go away or even change drastically. Actually, the whole point of Raph bringing this up is so that people think about it and then take your suggestion of improving it in their own work. If there’s no discussion, if there’s no thought, people keep making the same game over and over again, and the state of things never improves. If we simply push the issue under the table and ignore it, no one ever does anything. And lets face it, D&D has vastly more derivatives than just about anything else, and most of them maintain that ultra simplistic view of culture, race, and good and evil. Pointing it out in D&D points it out in all of that, by extension.

    But that being said, the argument that people who feel that way should go make their own games is disingenuous at best, even if some of them *are*. I mean, if you’d like to give me lots of money I’d be more than happy to make counter-examples. But as I lack the large financial backing of a company such as Wizards of the Coast, I’m afraid I have far less in the way of viable options in that area. We may not be a hive mind, but because of business realities, the ability to create products is most definitely limited to a select few (where few is a variable, changing, set of people, but a narrow subset of all people). It makes the call to simply bypass existing ways of doing things if you disagree with them a less valid option than it should be. You need to change the existing system as well, or the simple issue of funding destroys any chances of actually moving the state of things forward.

    Raph hasn’t said anything about it encouraging racism in areas where it didn’t already exist, he’s only mentioned reinforcing where it did. No one’s even said that Orcs map to blacks or any other real world race; they don’t. But they are depicted as a race of sentient living beings. And then the players are told to go destroy them without thinking about it. That’s a theme of racism regardless of whether it’s intended or not. It’s a concept that should be challenged even in fictional worlds because even if it never spills over, or makes the jump to the real world, it’s still a really rotten concept to accept. Raph likes to point out that eventually we have to examine what it is we’re pretending to be and why. It’s a valid point.

    When we pretend to walk into a dungeon and we wipe out all of the pretend beings “living” there, pretend beings that we pretend are capable of rational thought and have very human-like characteristics, we are pretending to commit genocide. We justify this in similar fashion to people that commit real genocide; the “monsters”, no matter their level of intelligence, are less than human, or evil, and deserve their fate. We can accept this in a game, no real people are hurt, and it probably doesn’t jump from the game world to the real world. It’s okay that we do this, to an extent. But it’s not so much okay that we don’t examine it. It is still a game, and that gives a greater level of justification for it being okay. But because it is happening in the game, we have an opportunity to explore it as a concept, to develop a broader understanding of it as a concept, and to ultimately make a statement about it as a concept. Failing to do so is a wasted opportunity.

  60. It’s extremely easy to map racism to the game specifically because the game is designed at it’s core around running around killing beings described as capable of feeling pain, thinking, communicating, and for no other reason than that they’re the wrong species. It’s an old D&D line about the lawful good paladin that goes around killing orc babies and justifying it because orcs are evil.

    So you’d prefer the sadism be justified differently, is all? 😛

    Snarkiness aside, it is intriguing that we never question making a game and enjoyable pasttime from the hell of war, so long as it’s done tastefully.

  61. # Michelle D’israeli said on November 22nd, 2008 at 7:58 pm:

    Charles:

    And have you thought about why the generic fantasy setting is dominated by white people? Of course, It is mostly not deliberate racism at all, but it is the result of a dominant white culture, and as such it makes these works white privileged. Whilst we should view these existing fictional works in perspective, as a product of their time, we should also recognise were we can now improve upon them in our more modern productions.

    Sure. It’s the generic fantasy setting in the US because the dominant culture in the US is descended from Europe, which in turn has been heavily influenced by the history and mythology of ‘white’ people (scandanavia/nordic region peoples, anglo-saxons, romans, ancient greeks [to some extent]).

    The generic fantasy setting in much of Asia involves a good deal of the basic parts of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, in an ancient setting that involves long dog-faced dragons. The most popular MMORPGs in Asia (I don’t know if there’s a table-top equivalent to D&D there; there may well be) take place in that kind of setting. I don’t know if there’s a generic fantasy setting in much of Africa, but I’d imagine it would be regionalized there as well.

    These aren’t instances of racism, nor are the necessarily some nefarious by-product of a dominant culture trying to ensure its dominance. It’s just what happens in different regions in the world, in a significantly large part because cultures weren’t grown or created in the hyper-connected world we now live in. This doesn’t mean that differences are a bad thing, or that it’s a fault of a fantasy setting to predominantly feature a bunch of people who look a certain way vs. those who don’t look that way.

    Would it be nice to have a more complex setting? Sure, I suppose, if that’s what you’re looking for. I like games where my pre-conceived notions of what’s going on are tweaked. But I don’t fault a game solely because it takes place in an already existing place/setting/milieu and follows the established conventions and norms in that place/setting/milieu. And besides that, there is a level of detachment between reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a game – even one that involves racism and/or racist actions – and actually being a believer or perpetrator of racism.

  62. Eolirin:

    But as I lack the large financial backing of a company such as Wizards of the Coast, I’m afraid I have far less in the way of viable options in that area.

    Funding isn’t an obstacle; funding is a challenge.

    If you can’t tackle that challenge, what makes you think you’re ready to tackle racism?

    No one’s even said that Orcs map to blacks or any other real world race

    Really? You might also want to read the essay again.

    Raph likes to point out that eventually we have to examine what it is we’re pretending to be and why. It’s a valid point.

    Sure. Raph also likes to point out the mathematical nature of games. When we’re storming through a village, eradicating some species from the planet, we’re not thinking about the species—we’re thinking about the points. Most games are not very cerebral because of their arcade, not literature, ancestry.

    Thirty years of scientific research into video game violence hasn’t provided any conclusive evidence that such violence correlates to real-world violence. Can anyone provide conclusive evidence that so-called racism in video games perpetuates racism in the real world? Doubtful.

    But because it is happening in the game, we have an opportunity to explore it as a concept, to develop a broader understanding of it as a concept, and to ultimately make a statement about it as a concept.

    I can agree with that suggestion, but I can’t agree that Dungeons & Dragons promotes racism any more than Diablo does. Or Rogue. Or Angband. “Those poor, innocent skeletons, zombies, and demons. What’d they ever do to you?” ::)

  63. I already linked to Richard’s post, Correcting Reality. You should read it, and the comments.

    Regarding gender differences in strength: in an MMORPG, where every player is the hero of their own mythic cycle, averages across the whole human population are essentially meaningless. Similarly, unless your title is Weightlifting Online, it can be assumed that the players don’t represent the extreme upper limit of human ability. So we’re dealing with an elite population of characters floating in the nebulous range of “above average” to “very strong”. If you assign a strength penalty to females (or a dexterity penalty to males, for that matter), that’s an arbitrary design choice, not a meaningful model of reality. Not imposing a strength modifier isn’t “correcting reality”, it’s a refusal to model an unrealistic bias.

    The pregnancy issue is marginal. Given that pregnant women in many cultures carry out all manner of back-breaking tasks until the onset of labor, I’d say the most pressing impact on most game worlds would be whether or not the art department wants to tackle maternity armor.

    And that’s what I mean by challenging assumptions: just because everybody knows something doesn’t make it true.

  64. I can’t agree that Dungeons & Dragons promotes racism any more than Diablo does

    That’s just it! This is not an exclusive problem. With Angband and Rogue, the problem is really down to the genocide alone, but take a look at the diablo II cast. Notice something missing? They are all white. You then set out to further colonialism, by killing and stealing from the native people. That’s an exaggeration, but it is surprisingly fair, all things considered.

    white privilege is not exclusive to D&D. I can’t find figures on the ratio of white people to people of colour working within the games industry, but I would not be surprised if it was significantly lower than society as a whole. This is not the fault of the games industry (but rather society for the differences in conditions which caused this), however this does help to reinforce the production of products that further enhance white privilege within society.

    In reply to my statement regarding people of colour in the fourth edition player’s handbook, Danbala argued that this was perfectly acceptable, since suplements still had some coverage. However, I have to say, how privileged a statement that is to say! To get to these supplements, you first have to be playing. You start learning from players handbook. Just like saying “but I have black friends” is no defence for privileged or racist statements, you similarly cannot expect anyone to accept “but there is a coloured supplement!”. To expect someone of colour to accept their likeness’s relegation to a supplement, a minor publication, is frankly racist.

    Similarly, Danbala also states that they can’t understand why anyone would make an association between people of colour and the monstrous races. Yet again, this is a statement based on privilege, no doubt – that as white human characters were shown, it was assumed that everyone would only ever associate these with real humans. However, by making them all white, there is a barrier made to association for people of colour. The only non-white hero characters I found in the large drawings were tieflings and dragonkin. Players were intended to identify with the hero characters, but if they cannot identify with the white ones, what else is left? And please, I hope no one insults themselves by stating “they could just associate with the white ones!”.

    As for an earlier comment about the games being ablest, well… they are, but they tend to have an excuse. It is a bit hard to compete in sword combat without arms. However, Raph’s actual point behind this discussion still holds – why the mapping?. In a fantasy setting, there is no reason why you couldn’t have “blind monks”, or floating legless sorcerers.

    As for those linking to Bartle’s discussion of character sex (not gender), a lot of it was based on a fundamental flaw that players would be happy to pick either sex – yet we know from the daedalus project research that most players always select a matching gendered (in the majority of the games he surveys, no differences between the genders exist aside from presentation – hence gender) character to their own gender. Similarly, in research performed outside of games, most people do not realise they have a gender separate to their sex, and most people adhere strongly to their assigned gender’s limits on gender presentation. I’m not going to reference these here, since this is not the correct place to enter such discussions. That discussion also differs from the one here, since Bartle was not interested in discussing possible mappings (which is in essence the real subject here), but rather the “correctness” according to his own ideas.

  65. Yukon Sam: Those whom we would destroy, we first demonize.

    The problem is that you invert this principal in the rest of your argument that demons must be those we intend to destroy. Sometimes a demon is just a demon.

  66. Thirty years of scientific research into video game violence hasn’t provided any conclusive evidence that such violence correlates to real-world violence. Can anyone provide conclusive evidence that so-called racism in video games perpetuates racism in the real world? Doubtful.

    It’s a slippery slope that I doubt anyone on the development side of things wants to openly discuss. If racism can be fostered and perpetuated via gaming instruments, then the door is opened for the discussion of everything else where social and moral reprehensibility is concerned.

    That discussion also differs from the one here, since Bartle was not interested in discussing possible mappings (which is in essence the real subject here), but rather the “correctness” according to his own ideas.

    What about the “cultural revisionism” angle? Should future versions of already well established games, such as D&D, be designed to preclude any perceived racial discrimination, by altering the core of its own cultural heritage where artwork and other concepts are concerned?

  67. That discussion also differs from the one here, since Bartle was not interested in discussing possible mappings (which is in essence the real subject here), but rather the “correctness” according to his own ideas.

    Bartle’s discussion was on whether or not you should mimic the real world. It was not about the statistical variations between the sexes. If your setting is placed in an all-white milieu, then adding “people of color”, as you so lovingly put it, is correcting reality. You are intentionally breaking the fiction for the sake of an agenda, even if it’s “money”, a point I’m sure you’re quite proud of.

    The “real subject”, here, is that you put more weight on a theory drawn wholly from confirmation bias than any actually valid measure. It’s a frightening and disgusting piece of pseudo-academia.

  68. Mank:

    If racism can be fostered and perpetuated via gaming instruments, then the door is opened for the discussion of everything else where social and moral reprehensibility is concerned.

    The door is already open. Conjecture, however, has no place in such discussions.

  69. Michelle D’israeli:

    take a look at the diablo II cast. Notice something missing? They are all white.

    You’ve clearly never played Diablo II.

  70. I am flipping through my 4th Edition PHB, and I am shaky on this “race/sex count” thing. It skews a bit pale and male, but you need a denominator when claiming that. One-quarter of the races just do not work that way: one has scales, and the other is usually red. “Sex” is iffy on Dragonborn as well, except for the occasional oddity of putting mammalian breasts on a reptile. A great many of the pictures, though, have odd lighting and/or an ambiguous tan skin tone. The count seems to assume that everyone who could be white is white, rather than saying that the illustrations are mostly Latino or Asian. Hair color is no help is assigning ethnicity here. It takes a bit of projection to count them all as white.

    The elf pictures are surprisingly pale give “They have the same range of complexions as humans, tending more toward tan or brown hues.” And on the big picture count, that elf opening chapter nine looks like a dark-skinned female to me, but I can see how you could go in a different direction on both sex and ethnicity.

  71. “It’s a concept that should be challenged even in fictional worlds because even if it never spills over, or makes the jump to the real world, it’s still a really rotten concept to accept. Raph likes to point out that eventually we have to examine what it is we’re pretending to be and why. It’s a valid point.”

    Well put.

    On the other hand, a concept cannot be eradicated. It cannot be removed from the minds. As an argument, this mapping would apply to all forms of expression. If this mapping of real world racism to fictitious combat by races is more than freedom of expression, than some proof of behavioral shaping must be alledged and proven.

    Otherwise, it is a superstition applied in the name of social justice and that is possibly a much greater insult or injury.

  72. Bartle’s discussion was on whether or not you should mimic the real world. It was not about the statistical variations between the sexes. If your setting is placed in an all-white milieu, then adding “people of color”, as you so lovingly put it, is correcting reality.

    You cannot talk about “correcting reality” without also talking about the real world differences, the statistical variations, etc. To claim otherwise is meaningless – you need a definition, a measure to judge by. So it was based upon mimicing the real world, upon personal suppositions. But as I said, this is not the proper forum to discuss that subject.

    If your setting is placed in an all-white milieu, then adding “people of color”, as you so lovingly put it, is correcting reality. You are intentionally breaking the fiction for the sake of an agenda, even if it’s “money”, a point I’m sure you’re quite proud of.

    This is always going to be a point of contention, I feel. I’ll admit, when I first heard of the idea, I was not sure about colour blind casting. However, having seen productions that put it to good use, I am now sold on the matter.

    What this comes down to is a disagreement on what matters more.

    If the setting of your story matters the most, if it must be exactly realistic and accurate, then that is your prerogative. As I mentioned previously, a funny thing about such settings is few people write or play within them with an accurate depiction of racism within the world. Often all the necessary factors are there, but for some reason the authors or players cannot manage to then include what is supposed to be there. When this is so, it is hard to then justify the reality of the setting at all, and so to then justify why it would have such a contradictory set of features.

    There are many good reasons for including a diverse set of colours within a production. For many people, both of colour and of not, their world is multicultural, and for these a work must reflect their world in order to be seen as realistic and believable (this seems to be increasingly the case for younger people). There is the raw monetary concern, for which I have been surprised by exactly how much this appears to not be considered a viable concern. Similarly (yet crucially different) there is widening appeal – but then it seems that for many people here, the only meaningful audience is white people (or again, they don’t actually wish to consider white privilege at work, and fancifully believe that people of colour will be happy to identify with white people). Yes, there is also social justice – but I have to ask, why is that wrong? There seems to be an assumption that it cannot be so, but no one has given any good reason why this should not be, aside from “but the story was not written like that!!!”.

    Finally, there is also the fact that in many cases, skin colour isn’t even defined! It is quite often the case that characters and bit parts don’t even have any skin colour mentioned at all in the text. It is the desire to project ourselves and our world view onto the text that then makes many characters adopt a specific skin colour. This is complemented further by the fact that some works of fiction, specifically Shakespeare, were never intended to be gospel, but to be adapted to the circumstances – to perform them accurately, you have to change them!

    Another aspect to all of this is cultural differences. Racism of course does exist in the UK, sadly. however the cultural understanding and acceptance of racial issues varies significantly.

    Yet an additional consideration would be the phrase “Darkest Peru”, which would be where Paddington bear hails from. Interestingly, it has been my findings that this phrase has less racist connotations in the UK than stateside. But however much this phrase has became innocent, it still has it’s rootes in the popularisation of “Darkest Africa”, which referred to both the dense jungle and to the skin colour of the natives (this indeed was the stated reason for using this book title!).

    As colour blind casting is used successfully to result in better performances, why then would a more diverse colour mix in art and fiction adversely effect the end result? As stated previously, audiences have not taken issue with black Shakespearian kings. For an off-stage application of colour-blind casting, obtain episodes of the currently-airing BBC production “Merlin” (*).

    NB: “people of color” is not how I put it, it is how it is generally said in such discussions. Whilst some people have rightly pointed out problems with this expression (that it contributes towards exoticification, defines colour as somehow being meaningful), the only alternatives that exist for when you must talk about skin colour are equally bad or worse. So there is no need for the sarcasm.

    The “real subject”, here, is that you put more weight on a theory drawn wholly from confirmation bias than any actually valid measure. It’s a frightening and disgusting piece of pseudo-academia.

    My hypothesis was “people of colour and women are under-represented in 4th edition D&D”.
    My experiment was “Using only the large images from within the player’s handbook, and considering only the characters intended to be ‘the party’, count the occurrences of characters of colour versus white characters and ‘monstrous races’, and the occurrences of male and female characters”.
    My findings were as previously reported, noting specifically that I was disproven with respect to women – there was actually a fair representation of female adventurers.

    This was not confirmation bias. There is no selective way to evaluate the evidence. It could be claimed that the monstrous characters should have been considered as coloured, however this has already been addressed – to do this would have intrinsically been ‘othering’. Similarly, I did not consider the smaller pieces of art work, however my previous findings with regards to these are a good indication of a continuing issue, and additionally it cannot be said that it is correct to relegate people of colour to only these.

    Given you yourself seem to support the “D&D is based on white dominated fiction” argument, how you could even claim that the finding that white people dominate was somehow confirmation bias, that it was a “frightening and disgusting piece of pseudo-academia” is completely beyond me.

    if you seriously wish me to source references for my position, beyond the already linked primer on white privilege, I could indeed go and do so. It is not hard to find material supporting this viewpoint. I would challenge you, however, to also find counter sources, to reference your own supposed claims that somehow being white dominated is not a bad thing, that there is intrinsic automatic harm to the art in introducing a more diversely coloured cast, or whatever it is that you are specifically claiming. I would also ask that you refute with evidence any statement of my own that you do not wish to consider.

    (*) Sadly, I do suspect that, despite their claims, Arthur and Uther were not cast colour-blind.

  73. Morgan:

    You may have a point. They do appear to be at least “passing as white”, which is why I drew my original conclusion. However I will retract it on the grounds that as the rest of the game (and in particular, the armour) is very dark, they were limited to lighter skin tones and so that was the darkest they could have used.

    Zubon:

    According to my count, the 4th edition PHB is fairly even to matters of gender. I was quite surprised with the actual numbers there! I still feel that it falls afoul of more-strongly masculine language class names than 3rd edition, but I can forgive that for now 😛

    Regarding the monstrous character races (which tieflings and dragonborn should be considered), these have to be ignored for any consideration of colour representation. Unless the reader is a furry or dragonkin, then it is simply inappropriate to expect them to be happy having to identify with these races when looking for representation of their own ethnicity. These races are very distinctly not human by design.

    Although there certainly could be the possibility that the lighting conditions in the paintings have masked lighter non-white colours, that still does not effect my assessment. Consider the paintings in terms of not someone actively trying to make a count, but casually skimming the book, as one might in a book shop or when at a friend’s house. Is it really fair to expect someone of colour to stop and think “well, that character could possibly have the same skin colour as me, I can’t tell under the lighting”? The answer is simple – NO! Once again this argument falls down to the mistaken assumption that it is reasonable to relegate representation of people of colour to lesser roles, either to say smaller artworks, to supplements, or to unclear skin toned characters. As such, the only way to make an assessment like this is to use a pessimistic rule. I did, however, also attempt to keep an eye out for any obvious signs that the artist was intending a character to have a build of an earth ethnicity, but there was no significant occurrence of this.

    I will fully admit, this entire discussion is on a tangent to Raph’s original point. I started down this simply because people were crying out that D&D was pure and noble (and if D&D isn’t, then Tolkien isn’t, and then nothing would be sacred!), and I wanted to point out that D&D did not have a magic “get out of white privilege free” card, and that the entire point raph was making regarding mappings is entirely valid.

    I think Yukon Sam said it best when they said:

    It’s very difficult for a human to be inhuman without first convincing him or herself that the other is something less than human, either obviously inferior or corrupt and malignant. It’s a dynamic so deeply ingrained in most human cultures that it’s all but invisible. And it carries over to our fiction (including games).

    Ultimately, when building a game based around combat and wholesale slaughter, it would be very hard to find a mapping that both drives the player, does not make the player feel like an ass, and manages to bring in the above very true aspect.

    In a way, games based on semi-realistic combat have to, almost by definition, be based around an “-ism”, be it classism, racism, religious hatred, and so on. The challenge to developers would be how best to then use this – should this be the raw content, or does their concept call for a moral dilemma, highlighting to the player what they are doing.

    This could be used in advocacy or discussion-promoting serious games to great effect. Thinking about it, PETA’s cooking mama clone actually was just that – it chose to highlight the moral issues, rather than build up a level of inhumanity (*).

    (*) Strictly speaking, our modern way of cooking does do this, it abstracts food, very much making the mapping not ‘cut up animals’ but ‘nice cuts of tasty meat’ (This in no way reflects upon my personal opinions regarding vegetarianism and the consumption of meat, however).

  74. In reply to my statement regarding people of colour in the fourth edition player’s handbook, Danbala argued that this was perfectly acceptable, since suplements still had some coverage. However, I have to say, how privileged a statement that is to say! To get to these supplements, you first have to be playing. You start learning from players handbook. Just like saying “but I have black friends” is no defence for privileged or racist statements, you similarly cannot expect anyone to accept “but there is a coloured supplement!”. To expect someone of colour to accept their likeness’s relegation to a supplement, a minor publication, is frankly racist.

    No…. again, the differences or segregation here seem far more based on geogaphy than they do race. “White Priveledge” is present inasmuch as the default high-fantasy setting here derives from European and Western mythology, but keep in mind, D&D is a product designed in and for a Western culture.

    This is no more racist than writing a book about the ancient history and mythology of the Zulus and not including white people in that book as major players.

  75. “This is no more racist than writing a book about the ancient history and mythology of the Zulus and not including white people in that book as major players.”

    The more I think about this issue, the more I think of counterexamples such as Othello and Sir Palamedes the Saracen. Asians and Africans may not have had central roles in medieval/renaissance European mythology and literature, but they were hardly unknown. It wouldn’t be any great insult to tradition to include them more visibly in a game based on that mileau.

  76. Yukon Sam, I agree that there isn’t a problem with including different races in our games, and in general I think it’s something that should be encouraged. I just don’t think that a game about Nordic and European fantasy adventurers should be considered racist because it doesn’t include many brown or black shades of skin.

    Maybe it’s a racial issue, but I don’t think it’s racism, at least not as the word ‘racism’ is usually used (i.e. related to or leading to issues of superiority/inferiority of different races, intolerance, discrimination, et all).

  77. Charles:

    And this is why I called such products privileged, rather than racist.

    In discussions like this, it is important to not use ‘racism’ as it is commonly understood, but the academic definition of that term – “were prejudice is combined with power”. This difference is important, since it distinguishes between interracial bias and systematic oppression. Both prejudice and power intersect heavily with matters of privilege. A privileged life helps reinforce prejudice, and creates/furthers a power divide.

    As a final note, I don’t think anyone here has been advocating ‘many’, a mass inclusion of coloured characters in games. That itself would run the risk of becoming a “celebration of multiculturalism”, something often done for the sake of itself, rather than addressing privilege. As Morgon noted, Diablo II included one coloured character, and most fantasy productions now will have a strong, viewer-aligned coloured character featured regularly (if not part of the main cast). Asking for one character out of six to be coloured in D&D is, in that light, no hardship at all, and not dismissive of its northern european origins.

  78. […] But regardless of what I think, it seems that sadly there are many racists out there who disagree with me. Take this comment I came across “Learn All You Need to Know About Race from Dungeons & Dragons,” posted by Holy Roman Empire (I am not providing a link to avoid giving them traffic but you can check out a summary here): […]

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