Since the game began in the 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons players have always had the option of creating characters in various Tolkienesque nonhuman (“demi-human”) varieties like elves, dwarves and orcs, each with different kinds of abilities in the game. The term that the game has always used for these varieties has been “races”. Circa 1980 few people worried about any unfortunate implications of that approach, though there’s reason to think Tolkien’s “races” were tied to racist views.
Also since the old days, players have had the options to play half-elves and half-orcs: characters with one human parent and one elvish or orcish parent. One implication is that these different “races” were not different species, since they can interbreed. The existence of half-elves and half-orcs was a boon for those of us growing up with D&D who happen to be descended from two different “races” in the real world. I read Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance novels while spending long childhood trips in India, and identified with the character Tanis Half-Elven who similarly found himself an awkward fit in at least one of his ancestral lands.
So I’m alarmed that Wizards of the Coast, the company that owns D&D, apparently plans to remove half-elves and half-orcs from the game – and this on the grounds that it’s “inherently racist” to have them in there. As you might imagine, the issues presented by this decision go well beyond role-playing games.Continue reading