Wednesday, July 01, 2020
D&D needs evil races
In real life, I do not own a sword. As it happens, for the complex problems of the modern world a sword is not really a useful solution. I did however swing a large multitude of different swords in fantasy worlds, whether that was in stories told around a table in Dungeons & Dragons, or virtually on the screen in some video game. The reason why a sword is more useful in a virtual world than in the real one is that virtual worlds by design are simpler. There is less moral ambiguity, and a sword is a perfectly viable solution if your problem is an evil, fire-breathing dragon. The simplicity is a desired feature, simple solutions for simple problems are a feature, not a shortcoming. Our real lives are complex and confusing, and sometimes retreating into a simpler fantasy world is good for stress relief.
Since Dungeons & Dragons has moved more and more into the mainstream, it has increasingly become a target for the raging culture wars. And the latest move is that WotC has been pressured into reworking races in D&D; somehow "Black Lives Matter" is deemed to be relevant to how Dungeons & Dragons treats races like Drow or Orcs.
Now, racism *is* a real world evil, especially in the extreme form where it leads to people getting killed. Scientifically speaking, humanity doesn't even have races; "racism" is usually used to mean discrimination based on differences in looks and origin. The term "race" is more correct with regards to fantasy worlds with elves and orcs, as these are clearly more different than real world humans are between them. But somehow the use of the word "race" in Dungeons & Dragons ended up making the game a target: "This is a racist game, because it has races in it, and some of those races are described negatively!". I think that argument is nonsense.
First of all, we need to remember that the world of Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy world, and not real. No orcs were harmed in describing orcs as evil, brutish, and stupid, because orcs don't really exist. There is no hidden analogy between some race in D&D and some real world group of people. Some people might use a Scottish accent when role-playing their dwarf character, but that doesn't mean that the characteristics used to describe dwarves in D&D is supposed to be discriminatory to real world Scots.
Second, as I said in my introduction, evil is a desirable and necessary part of Dungeons & Dragons. There is nothing that would keep you from designing a role-playing game in which each player plays a social worker fighting for social justice, but D&D is not that game. D&D players wouldn't be very interested in a game where they have to delve deep into a dungeon to resocialize orcs. D&D players are looking to solve simpler problems with virtual swords and sorcery, and that requires easily identifiable "evil" targets. Evil dragons, evil necromancers, and sometimes evil orcs.
In its current form, D&D successfully manages to push some people out of their comfort zone by offering them "racial bonuses" for playing a race other than human. That, again, is a feature: It encourages players to think how their character would feel or behave differently because of their origin. This feature is actually rather "woke", because it makes players think about different origins and their impact. Somebody who has managed to play a halfling different than he would play a human might be more open to understand differences between people in the real world. Now this feature is under attack, because it is somehow seen as "racial stereotyping". But if half-orcs aren't strong, dwarves not tough, and elves not dexterous, then even more people will play humans (already the most popular race in D&D, and not because it has the best stats.). It is a shame that WotC would make their game worse, just to appease some radicals.
Labels: Dungeons & Dragons