Can Dungeons & Dragons get rid of its racism problem?

IFull of monsters, chaos and magic. But could it be that the real villain in Dungeons & Dragons is institutional racism? That’s the accusation leveled at the popular tabletop RPG, and many in the gaming community have expressed dismay about the historical depiction of fantasy races like orcs and “dark elves” as basically stupid, brutal, and evil.

D&D is in the spotlight like never before, thank you foreign things, which introduced gaming to a new generation. And his profile will continue to rise next year with the release of Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, starring Chris Pine and Hugh Grant. With a D&D television series and more films planned, the ultimate goal of the game’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast, is a multi-person fantasy franchise – a kind of Marvel Universe expanded with sword and fireball magic.

But in order to do that, Wizards of the Coast must first grapple with what many see as racial heritage and problematic representation. This issue first emerged in earnest in the summer of 2020, when Black Lives Matters protests erupted around the world. In June this year, Wizards of the Coast admitted that they had problems portraying orcs and drows – dark-skinned underground elves – as inherently evil.

“Throughout D&D’s 50-year history, several game races — orcs and drows being two of the best examples — have been characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions very reminiscent of real-life ethnic groups, have been and continue to be maligned,” Wizards of the Coast said in a statement. messages published on its website. “That’s not true, and we don’t believe it.”

The statement was welcomed by gamers who have long been plagued by fantasy worlds where certain characters are inherently good and others bad. However, the topic had already spread. Wizards of the Coast hopes to do something about this with their latest collection of D&D resource materials. Journey through the glowing castlea compilation of drawing adventures from non-Western cultural traditions, released Tuesday 9 August in the UK.

However, some D&D enthusiasts say holding publishers accountable isn’t enough. The players also have to play their part. “Don’t just wave goodbye to racism like it’s ‘just a game,’” says Paul Sturtevant, D&D fan and co-author Historians of Satan: How Modern Extremists Abuse the Medieval Past. “We gamers are always looking for other people who take our hobby seriously, so we have to take it seriously too.”

For others, Wizards of the Coast sucks all the fun out of a fantasy RPG. Orcs in D&D perform the same function as Stormtroopers in star wars, is the argument. They are cannon fodder for players who earn experience points and level up by defeating enemies. Change that and you’ve changed the game. “It’s petty and counterproductive,” said Christian Twiste, a science fiction and fantasy writer who runs the blog. Confessions of a Conservative Atheist. “Games like D&D require enemies that players can face and eventually defeat, especially when most of the game is dedicated to fighting and killing monsters.”

Journey through the glowing castle made history as the first D&D manual written entirely by an author from a minority background. As such, he rejects the Eurocentric vision that defines fantasy as far back as Tolkien (who describes the inhabitants of the far south and east of Middle-earth as dark and warlike). The pages feature adventures inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead and Middle Eastern bazaars. Meanwhile, the Written In Blood chapter is set in Godsbreath, a fantasy empire steeped in black experiences in South America. “A lot of my family tree has its roots in the southern United States, so I knew right away that I wanted to draw from that aspect of the African diaspora,” Writing In Blood author Erin Roberts said in an interview on the official D&D website. “I wanted to create a large area to explore… in the Southern Gothic tradition.”

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luminous castle is a welcome first step, say those who feel the game needs to change. “It’s incredible that Wizards is hiring more people of color to write the official D&D books,” said Sturtevant. “It’s encouraging that Wizards appears to have hired these creators and provided them with a platform to write from their own experiences and create fantasy worlds that honestly and specifically reflect their culture.” The problem, he continued, is that control of Ultimate is still in the hands of Wizards of the Coast and its parent company, board game and toy giant Hasbro. “Writers are hired as freelance writers for one-off adventures, which means they aren’t the ones who make editorial decisions about their work, or are able to change some of the structural issues in the game, such as gameplay. B. The type of character that endures Racism.”

Talking about race and adapting non-Western cultural traditions is what D&D and the tabletop hobby have managed to slip into to date. D&D has been an outstanding niche for much of its history; its fan base is predominantly (though certainly not exclusively) male and white. It champions role-playing games on Netflix foreign things and the rise of D&D podcasts like important role introduced new audiences to this world – many of whom were impressed by the promotion of the race archetype and the portrayal of orcs and drows as inherently perverted. The controversy is likely to continue with the release of the D&D film next year, which stars Chris Pine, Hugh Grant, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page and Sophia Lillis.

Two years ago, after Black Lives Matter, Wizards of the Coast hoped to clear up racial issues by changing this problematic rule for Orcs and Dark Elves so that they were no longer evil and/or stupid. For example, players who choose to play as half-orc characters will no longer automatically experience intelligence drain. It also rewrote racially insensitive material from previous game books, including sections in Strahd’s Curse An adventure where cultures like Rome, Vistani, have been branded lazy and untrustworthy.

Batiri Goblin participated in Wizards of the Coast’s introduction to the new Dungeons & Dragons storyline Tomb of Annihilation during a livestream event in 2017


But while many players supported this change, others accused Wizards of the Coast of giving up on some players. Christian Twiste argues that D&D is not the right forum to discuss racial and class injustice. D&D is about adventure and escape, he says. What’s the point of turning it into something else? “You can hack and cut your way through the dungeon without worrying that you might have killed an innocent orc. However, when the monsters are no longer evil, the players are no longer good. It doesn’t increase the moral complexity of the game. It affects the morale of the characters and makes them a little less than heroes who beat evil.”

He was worried that D&D might not be playable. “I can’t imagine how much fun this game will be when your morally flawed, human-centered dwarves have to quiz each monster to determine its cultural history and possible blame for invading a neighboring village before fighting.” Twiste said. “When the local innkeeper notified the group, the town was full of goblins [goblin-like monsters] from a nearby hill, should the players make a line of cops or something? Was it really the goblin that killed your daughter, or maybe it was just a misunderstanding? It seems like these questions would be a lot more suited to a college dorm or faculty room than a game where most people aspire to be heroes. ”

Without more involvement in the creative space, ideas become stale, the same plots are reused, and hobbies slowly die

Gwendolyn Marshall, author of Ancestry and Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5E

However, this argument was opposed by others in the game world. “Of course, if you take representation seriously, it’s a more inclusive hobby,” says Gwendolyn Marshall. Associate Professor of Philosophy at Florida International University and author Ancestors and Culture: An alternative to racing in 5E (i.e. for the “fifth edition” of Dungeons & Dragons). “It also makes for a better story. Without more involvement in the creative field, ideas get stale, the same plots are reused, and the hobby slowly dies… A lot of people complain about that [Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel] just don’t want to do the work of thinking new thoughts and trying new forms of imagination; they prefer to laze back on some of the same tired and troublesome tropes. ”

What the conversation ended up telling us was that D&D was no longer under the radar. In the ’80s and ’90s, when languishing in nerdy darkness, no one cared whether D&D was politically correct or not. Most people hardly ever hear of it – apart from being briefly, erroneously and humorously attributed to satanic worship in the US during the short-lived “Satan Panic.” But now the hobby has grown. In doing so, he is forced to grapple with some very mature questions about historical privilege and injustice. With Journey through the glowing castle, Wizards of the Coast have shown that they are ready for this debate. As usual in D&D, what happens next is up to the players.

Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel will be released in the UK on August 8th Can Dungeons & Dragons get rid of its racism problem?

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