Monday, June 5, 2023

D&D must fight racism in fantasy

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“Orcs are human beings who can be slaughtered without conscience or excuses. This overwhelming Evaluation One of fantasy’s most ubiquitous villains comes from NK Jemisin, modern fantasy titan and killer of outdated genre tropes. As a “people of sorts,” she writes, orcs are “the fruit of the poisoned vine which is human fear of” the Other. ” The only way to respond to their existence is to control them or eliminate them.

What is an orc? To their creator, JRR Tolkien, they are “Stocky, broad, flat-nosed, yellowish-skinned, wide-mouthed, and slanted eyes: actually degraded and repulsive versions of the less charming Mongolian types (to Europeans).” Over half a century after Tolkien wrote this description in a letter, here’s how Dungeons & Dragons describes the orc in the last one. Monster Manual, where all those demi-humans are relegated: “Orcs are savage looters and raiders with stooped postures, low foreheads, and pig faces.” Half-orcs, which are half-human and therefore playable according to Player’s Manual rules, are not “bad by nature, but evil operates in them”. Some venture into the human-dominated world to “prove their worth” among “other more civilized races.”

Genetic determinism is a fantastic tradition. Dwarves are miners and forgers. The half-orcs are unleashed. Elves have an otherworldly grace and love poetry. Dark Elves, known as Drow, have skin that “looks like charcoal” and are associated with the evil Spider Queen Lolth. Both a set of rules and a fantastic backdrop, D&D takes care of translating those racial differences into numerical scores: Dwarves get extra points when they try to hit something with a battle ax. Elves have more than two dexterities. The half-orcs’ ‘savage attack’ allows players to gain additional damage after a critical hit. All because of their race.

D&D has generally avoided the same approach to gender. The original version, from 1974, had no special rules for female characters, but a Dragon magazine column beginning in 1976, with the heading “Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D”, gave some women a higher strength score than men and replaced their charisma scores with one for “beauty.” These rules did not stick, and the last Player’s Manual reminds players that they “don’t need to limit themselves to binary notions of sex and gender”.

Over the years, however, D&D has made only insignificant moves away from racial essentialism. Of course, publisher Wizards of the Coast removed, for example, the half-orcs –2 debuff to intelligence. A faction of orcs has more complex, even humanizing, qualities in a recent book. Yet the stereotype remains.

The designers of the game also know they have a problem. In June 2020, when the Black Lives Matter protests swept across the country, the D&D development team released a Blog titled “Diversity and Dungeons and Dragons”. In no uncertain terms, it explained how D&D’s 50-year history of characterizing orcs and Drows as monstrous and evil “is a painful reminder of how much real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated.” It’s just not fair, and it’s not something we believe in. To make matters better, they said, D&D would come up with new descriptions and possible rule changes for races in additional books, and correct some past mistakes.

You can only get that far with a few rule changes and a $ 30 book. D&D is a fantasy game, and fantasy has this unfortunate obsession with a kind of anti-intellectual ethnography. These people live in this place and behave so, by nature. These the others don’t get along with their, simply because they are civilized and they are uncivilized. D&D co-creator Gary Gygax’s nods to his fantastical ancestor Tolkien – including elves, dwarves, halflings (hobbits) and orcs – were so obvious that Tolkien Enterprises threatened to take measures to protect them. Copyright. Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian HP Lovecraft’s horror series and fiction – the latter centered on the immeasurably gruesome “other” – also served as inspiration for the early D&D rulebooks.

Fantastic worlds are, by definition, made up. There doesn’t have to be any racism, but in some of fantasy’s most beloved texts it is almost always present. Helen Young, author of Race and popular fantasy literature, has cataloged the prevalence of fantasy racism in countless fantasy media. “I ended up finding out that it’s rare for a fantasy world not to have an idea of ​​race or racism,” Young says, particularly of how heroes and fantasy beauties are often coded as white. . For Howard, desirable women were “Lily white. The elves, considered a superior race, had fair skin and light eyes. In her and Tolkien’s work, she says, “nearly all of their own evil races – and even evil individuals, for the most part – are based on anti-Black, anti-Semitic, or Orientalist stereotypes.”


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