There’s yet another kerfuffle in the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) hobby of late, yet again caused by poor communication and bad ideas coming from the leadership of the game’s owners, Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. There was recently a meet-up of community influencers and third-party designers (thus far, none I’ve heard of) that did not go well. They only invited people from one side of the ongoing TTRPG ‘kulturkampf’ and then seemed surprised when they were attacked by them. One comment that seemed to get a pass from those present but not from the broader community was the decision to remove half-races. Not only that, but they also said that the very idea of half-races was racist.
This is far from the first fuss about racism to dog the hobby or its surrounding nerd media. Practically every fantasy race has been equated with the Jewish people at one point or another, and in the fevered minds of moral entrepreneurs, orcs are equated with black people on a regular cycle of about three months. The half-races thing, however, is relatively new.
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a popular tabletop roleplaying game that millions worldwide have enjoyed for almost fifty years. One of the defining characteristics of the game is its use of various races and species, such as humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs.
Firstly, it is essential to note that the world of D&D is fictional, and as such, the races and species within it are purely imaginary. They are not intended to represent any real-world group of people or be interpreted as analogies for real-world races or races as we use the term in the real world. Indeed, in fantasy games, all human ethnicities are treated as a single race. Human. Therefore, it is misguided to view the inclusion of half races as an attempt to promote racism or to perpetuate racial stereotypes in the first place.
Furthermore, D&D is a game that is based on fantasy and imagination. Its purpose is to allow players to explore a fictional world, take on different roles from their real-world selves, and engage in various adventures and quests, embodying those characters through roleplay. The inclusion of half races is simply one aspect of this fantasy world-building. It allows players to create unique and exciting characters with traits and abilities not found in any particular race or species. This variety is part of what makes D&D such a rich and engaging experience.
In addition, the inclusion of half races can promote diversity and inclusivity within the game. Allowing players to create characters that are a mix of different races and species encourages them to think outside the traditional boundaries often imposed by real-world societal norms. Players can explore themes of identity, belonging, and acceptance through their characters, which can be a powerful tool for promoting empathy and understanding via analogy, experiencing the other and encountering fictional prejudice.
I have endured enough lectures on inclusivity by well-meaning bores to also know that the half beings in D&D have been important to people who are half and half of actual world ethnicities, most recently (and perhaps most powerfully) a blasian girl (African-American/Japanese) visiting her Japanese family and running afoul of Japanese racism and curiosity.
It is also worth noting that D&D has made efforts to address concerns about racial representation within the game, no matter how absurd those concerns have always been. In recent years, the creators of D&D have released statements claiming that some of the game’s content had perpetuated racist stereotypes in the past and committing to ‘do better’ going forward. They have since taken steps to revise and update certain aspects of the game to be more inclusive and respectful of all players, except their older players who contest these claims but whose views have not been respected while they’ve been insulted by the claims of past *isms.
Finally, it is essential to remember that D&D is a game meant to be played with others. The social aspect of the game is a critical part of its appeal. By playing together, players can share in a collaborative storytelling experience, work together to solve problems, overcome challenges, and build relationships. Including half races and the variety it brings to character creation can enhance this social aspect of the game by encouraging players to engage with one another in new and exciting ways and to consider and inhabit the fictional world around them.
Including half races in Dungeons and Dragons is not racist any more or less than evil orcs or species characteristics are, but these moral entrepreneurs have convinced the game design team otherwise. It is one aspect of the game’s world-building that allows for more character-creation options. Rather than perpetuating harmful stereotypes or promoting racism, it can encourage diversity, inclusivity, and empathy within the game and allows us to explore engaging themes around race, culture and prejudice. There is no reason why the inclusion of half races should be viewed as anything other than a positive and enjoyable aspect of the game.