Rewriting Fantasy: Dungeons and Dragons Goes Woke
Gaming|Aug 24, 2020

Rewriting Fantasy: Dungeons and Dragons Goes Woke

Dungeons And Dragons Is Offensive, Or So The Narrative Goes
Ian Miles Cheong

As if real-world issues weren’t enough, we now have to be offended by fantasy depictions of humans, too.

Not content with simply cancelling orcs for being a problematic, evil and ugly fantasy race, identity politics is gaining even more ground in gaming with a new ground of complaints. The efforts to sanitise Dungeons & Dragons are taking away what used to be a “safe space,” pardon my French, for geeks and nerds. The goal is to make it more acceptable to normies who want the space completely purged of anything that might offend their fragile sensibilities.

Not only are orcs problematic, but so is the concept of race in Dungeons & Dragons, and its creators at Wizards of the Coast, keen on proving their wokeness, have taken the unprecedented step of completely reworking the concept that has been core to the game in all its iterations, including video games.

In a post on the Wizards website, titled “Diversity and Dungeons & Dragons,” the authors detail how “one of the explicit design goals of 5th edition D&D is to depict humanity in all its beautiful diversity by depicting characters who represent an array of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and beliefs.”

It goes on to state that “Human” in the D&D world refers to everyone, explicitly stating that humans aren’t simply represented by fantasy versions of northern Europeans. It’s worth noting here that even in previous iterations of the game, not once were humans used to categorise only Europeans. In my own personal experience of playing Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights – all of which were based on earlier versions of the D&D ruleset, humans referred, as they do in the real world, to humans of all races and creeds with no difference between them.

Humans were not orcs, or elves, or dwarves, or whatever. Humans were humans. It’s pretty obvious that Wizards, in their attempt to appear woke, are gaslighting players into thinking that this wasn’t always the case, which is odd to say the least. Their predecessors – the ones who were responsible for developing D&D, like Gary Gygax, deserve so much more credit than is being given to them.

In addition, Wizards say: “Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, some of the peoples in the game –orcs and drow being two of the prime examples – have been characterised as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated.”

Now, no one’s ever been under the misapprehension that humans based on real-world analogues of Africans, Asians, Arabs, Europeans, and so on were anything less than human. Their humanity is what set them apart from races, or species, like the near-immortal elves, or the bloodthirsty orcs. Orcs aren’t humans, and were never based on any human civilisation, and to claim otherwise is to rewrite what humans always were in D&D’s myriad settings, which span the Forgotten Realms, Al Qadim, Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Planescsape, Greyhawk, Eberron, and so on.

With the Wizards of the Coast’s newfound wokeness, the company intends to present orcs and drow in a new light because they are, and I quote, “Just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples,” which sounds to me like they’re comparing orcs to minorities in the same way Joe Biden talks about Hispanic people.

The company plans to rewrite and reprint texts, changing what it found, quote, “Racially insensitive.” This includes erasing the word “exotic” as it appears in multiple instances. The company is also working with someone it calls a “Romani consultant,” which has got to be the best damn gig I’ve ever heard of, to depict the Vistani people differently. The company says it’s hiring sensitivity readers into the creative process.

In case you don’t play Dungeons & Dragons, the Vistani are very clearly based on gypsies. I’m not supposed to use that word, but the point I’m getting at is that it’s a fantasy human race based on a stereotype. Now, what’s the point of even having fantasy gypsies if you’re going to depict them as real Roma? What of the other races, like whatever passes as a Viking in Dungeons & Dragons? Are those races going to also be subject to consultation from sensitivity readers?

Wizards says they plan to swell their ranks with more “diverse talent,” because your melanin dictates your propensity for game design, apparently.

None of these developments happened overnight. It all began, as it normally does, with a Kotaku article way back in 2017 about black culture in Dungeons & Dragons. It asked questions like “Is cosplaying Drow blackface?” And the answer, as they would have it, is “yes,” which even got an episode of Community removed from Netflix and Hulu because Chang dressed up like a Drow.

Efforts to change Dungeons & Dragons were renewed earlier this year when a thread on Twitter, posted by someone named Ammourazz, discussed why orcs were problematic. Following that, another user shared a guide on an anti-racist portrayal of the fantasy Vistani people. The rest, then, is history.

This is an ongoing issue, so it remains to be seen how far this crusade will go. There’s a good chance it’ll spill over into other fantasy settings beyond Dungeons & Dragons. Nothing is safe anymore.