I have a sneaking suspicion that RPG games are inherently racist.
Hear me out.
I’ve thought about this for a while, and I don’t think it’s intentional at all. Or maybe I just read too deeply into things like this. If you’ve ever read Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy you’ll know that we seem to naturally, throughout history, create enemies to propel our societies forward. We rely on differences (physical, political, religions, social, and economic) to separate the undesirables out. All this hinges on a lack of empathy toward this “other,” because once we feel empathy for the other, these differences can no longer be superficial.
From birth we are trained to recognize and pick out classes, like being a young kid and seeing a homeless person, and then—in the same day sometimes—going to a neighbor’s house of moderate wealth. Then, while still being kids, we encounter as we get a little older videogames of varying complexity that implement progression and class based forms of entertainment. Not only are they competitive, but each class’s specialization locks you into a certain path of gameplay. Fantasy roleplaying games take this concept further and suggest perks and disadvantages for playing a certain race. Elves may have bonuses to stealth and intelligence, or charisma even, evoking the image of an elite member of society, connected to social and political strongholds. Conversely, orcs may have penalties to intelligence and charisma, but they have proficiencies that boost strength and traits that are integral to physical combat. To add insult to injury, at least in the Dungeons and Dragons game system, orcs are also typically evil in alignment. (I once played a game as an orc paladin, and the whole time I was reminded by the dugeon master that orcs could not be paladins because they were evil and having a good, or even neutral alignment, was tantamount to breaking the rules!)
Race is an artificial term already, as there is no genetic difference between a human from Africa and a human from North Africa. While there are physical differences between someone from Africa, who has extra skin pigment after exposure to blistering, equatorial sunlight, and a North American person, there is no degree of separation that would deny procreation between the two. Race, if anything is an artificial moniker that human beings have employed to categorically separate individuals from each other whom hail from a variety of geographical regions on the planet. Yet there are stereotypes, not unlike the class based systems in role playing games and other video games that implement class and skill progression trees, which entertain the idea of “racial traits” (I.e. Asians are intelligent, Blacks are lazy (yet exceedingly strong), Caucasians are politically cunning). These racial stereotypes supplant the familiarity we all share as human beings with a veil of obscuring unfamiliarity and suspicion. This is how “others” are created.
So imagine the reality that as children, while we are still building a conceptual framework of the work through our observations and experiences, we are encountering the ideas, suggestions, that certain people are better at some things and others are not. Not only that, we are doing battle with, struggling for resources with, engendering a “race” based competitive ecosystem with complete strangers. The entire premise is literally Darwinian in nature.
Obviously, this is all introspective speculation and the strength of this argument depends on how willing you are to look into it. But I could easily write a book on my experiences, incorporating trolling, anonymity, death threats against female developers, and Varg Vikernes’ roleplaying game MYFAROG. The latter is funny, because on my way to Norway a few years ago I sat right next to a personal friend of Varg who told me that certain, less desirable races, were meant to specifically emulate the stereotypes of people of color (specifically blacks).
Anyways, food for thought.