North American Simulation And Gaming Association author claims Dungeons & Dragons promotes “racial essentialism” because “humans cannot realistically imagine a completely disconnected reality”

According to North American Simulation and Gaming Association regular author Clayton Whittle, Dungeons & Dragons promotes the concept of “racial essentialism” or “the idea that racial identity determines the path we take in life” – because players “cannot realistically imagine a completely offline reality” and are therefore unable not to draw comparisons between fictional creatures in the game and real-world races.

Source: Dungeons & Dragons

RELATED: Wizards of the Coast Removes Knowledge Deemed ‘Problematic’ From Dungeons & Dragons

Originally founded in 1962 as the East Coast War Games Council, the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) is a “network of professionals dedicated to the design, implementation and evaluation of games and simulations to enhance learning”.

Source: North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) official website

On March 12, the organization published an article by Whittle titled “Confronting Racial Essentialism in Dungeons & Dragons,” in which the Penn. A State University doctoral candidate in learning, design, and technology whose work “aims to empower citizens, especially underrepresented populations, to act as environmental agents in their own lives by providing educational tools, engaging experiences, and a platform through which their voices can build effectiveness” sought to “explain how players, writers, and dungeon masters can approach and confront racial essentialism in D&D, by finding ways to resist the implicit demands of character races”.

Source: Clayton Whittle LinkedIn

“Racial essentialism is, at its core, the idea that racial identity determines the path we take in life,” Whittle began.

“In the most egregious real-world examples, we can point to the absolutely disgusting practices of scientific racism, the pseudoscientific search for empirical evidence that one ethnicity may be biologically inferior to another,” he continued.

Source: Tomb of Annihilation

RELATED: Dungeons & Dragons Executive Producer Ray Winninger Addresses Recent Removal Of ‘Problem Knowledge’: ‘We No Longer Believe Such Advice Is Useful Or Appropriate’

“The hopefully very obvious problem with this idea is that we cannot reasonably attribute individual, experiential ability or knowledge to race,” he added. “To do so absolutely dehumanizes the individual, generalizes the experience and, in short, is absolutely uncool.”

Following this clarification, Whittle argued that the classic tabletop RPG “encourages[s] essentialism” because it “attributes cultural traits to races” and “includes physical traits and experiential knowledge based on race”.

Source: Dungeons & Dragons

“Players must use these base resources to create characters, and in doing so must engage in an explicitly essentialist universe, in which your race determines everything from how far you can run to how much blacksmithing,” wrote the regular NASGA contributor.

“Furthermore, in-game, D&D encourages assumptions based on racial essentialism. Some races are “intrinsically evil” and their actions always pursue goals of cruel intent. Players are trained from the start to expect bad intentions from goblins, barbarism from orcs, or kindness from elves,” he claimed.

Source: Dungeons & Dragons

RELATED: Ernie Gygax Jr. Says Wizards Of The Coast Acted As ‘Corporate Plunderers’ To Dungeons And Dragons, Criticizes Current Tabletop Trend Of Pushing Off Players Who Don’t Follow ‘Modern Trends’

Noting that he had spoken to “the wonderful creators of the DMsGuild, an online marketplace for third-party D&D content” about this concept, Whittle recalled that several of these creators had asserted that “the existence of a second [fantasy] world’ automatically inspires players to make connections.

“It’s the dungeon master’s (or writer’s) responsibility to explain how the fantasy world does or doesn’t connect to the real world,” he continued, before hinting that all players would do so by lacking racist comparisons between in-game races and real-world peoples without the guiding hand of a properly socially aware DM. “Without this explicit guidance, players are free to imagine their own connections.”

Source: Dungeons & Dragons Monster Handbook

Whittle then decided to weigh the pros and cons of a “brilliantly binary way to solve the problem” shared with him by one of the aforementioned DMsGuild creators.

“In his mind, an imaginary world is or is not connected to the real world,” he explained. “This binary approach, explicitly addressed, lets players know whether or not there are connections and sets the boundaries through which the DM wants players to interpret the universe.”

Source: Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

RELATED: Dungeons & Dragons to Introduce First Wheelchair Accessible Adventure

“The first binary approach is a total dedication to fantasy,” Whittle explained. “In this approach, the writer or dungeon master makes it clear that there is no connection to the real world. As one of the wonderful writers said, ‘Orcs are orcs.’

“This approach represents the complete fantasy escape from a disconnected experience,” he said. “There are no allegories to draw on and, because of that, there are no allegories one can reasonably imagine.”

“Surprisingly, most writers find this the hardest path to follow,” Whittle said. “The nature of the mind is to form bonds. Even when we strive for this total estrangement from reality, there are almost inescapable connections, because we as humans cannot realistically imagine a completely disconnected reality.

Source: Dungeons & Dragons

“Deviations from our own reality, like magic, may be glaring, but they are undoubtedly a minority of the overwhelming number of similarities,” he argued. “And it’s those similarities that encourage players to connect with our own world.”

“In the end, this approach is made difficult because, as my collaborators have said, you have to be all or nothing with this approach”, advances the author. “To completely imagine a new world and prevent connection to real-world issues, a writer or DM must constantly review content to ensure it doesn’t perpetuate real-world stereotypes.”

Source: Dungeons & Dragons

RELATED: Wizards of the Coast Officially Removes Negative Orc and Kobold Racial Traits from Dungeons & Dragons

The second approach, Whittle revealed, was to “challenge gaming stereotypes and draw narratives that connect in-universe challenges to real-world problems.

“The writer must consider the impact of how their allegories may be interpreted,” he postulated. “But, ultimately, a dungeon master or writer has control over what they do or don’t include, which gives them the power to reduce the narrative to a controllable level.”

This approach, he pointed out, “allows the writer to control scope and discourage generalization by limiting the reasons for ‘bad’ behavior to local groups, not broad racial stereotypes”.

Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Returning to the question “How do I confront racial essentialism in D&D narratives?”, Whittle finally admitted, “ultimately, no approach is superior.”

“The explicit approach of confronting racial essentialism in D&D takes substantial work, but gives the writer/DM much more control,” he concluded. “It also provides a significant opportunity to explore these stereotypes in a productive way. On the other hand, the ‘orcs is orcs’ approach gives players the opportunity to truly escape, as long as the DM is alert to drown out the imaginary connections.

Source: Dungeons & Dragons

RELATED: Dungeons & Dragons Removes Race Mechanics, Introduces Lineage System in Upcoming Expansion Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Interestingly, Stetson University psychology professor Christopher J. Ferguson recently published a study that claims there is “no association between D&D and racism, and most people, including POC , don’t find “evil” orcs offensive.

Source: Christopher Ferguson’s Twitter

In the study, Ferguson concluded, “D&D gaming was not associated with real-life ethnocentrism, and no consensus of individuals, including people of color, found the portrayal offensive or racist. .”

He added: “It seems that, if we are serious about addressing race issues in the United States and around the world, focusing on depictions of monsters in D&D gaming may not be the most fruitful path. .”

Source: Nature Beyond Witch’s Light

In the study’s abstract, Ferguson detailed that he surveyed “308 adults (38.2% non-white) of whom a subset (17%) were Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game players.”

He continued, “Playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was not associated with a greater attitude of ethnocentrism (a facet of racism). Only 10.2% found a depiction of orc monsters as inherently evil as offensive. However, when asked later if the same depiction was racist, the number jumped to 34.0%.

“However, when asked later whether the same portrayal was racist, the number rose to 34.0%, with women particularly likely to endorse this position,” he said.

He went on to explain, “It suggests that asking people about racism can lead them to see racism in material they hadn’t previously found offensive. Neither the race of the participants nor the history of the D&D game was associated with perceptions of offensiveness or racism.

Source: Ghosts of Saltmarsh

What do you think of Whittle’s argument that D&D promotes racial essentialism? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments below!

NEXT: Psychology Professor Chris Ferguson On Campaign To End TTRPG Slavery: ‘I See No Evidence This Will Actually Help Anyone’

Lola R. McClure