Saturday, January 29, 2022

Fun Freetime: Racism and RPGs

 In the past few years, just as in many segments of our society, role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) have been accused of "racism." This is particularly true for games that have evil monster "races" — like orcs, the bad guys in “Lord of the Rings” that are evil by nature. 


Some people see parallels to real-life racism and have called for numerous changes in the game.


However, it's not really clear that either a.) playing D&D is associated with real-life racism or that b.) there is a consensus among people of color concerned about this issue.


Stetson University Psychology Professor Chris Ferguson, PhD, sought to find answers in a new study released published in the academic journal Current Psychology


Briefly, in a sample of both players and non-players, Ferguson found no evidence that playing D&D is associated with real-life racism. Further, the vast majority of respondents, including people of color, did not find "evil" orcs to be offensive or racist. Ferguson believes his study is the first to tackle some of these issues head on


“Put simply, these advocacy calls are a minority view,” Ferguson said. “And, by making changes to the game, D&D may contribute to ‘safetyism,’ which may actually backfire — increasing​mental health issues as well as stoking an apology treadmill​ wherein advocates keep moving goalposts.”

I had a chance to interview Dr. Ferguson to learn more.

Why might people think that some RPGs could encourage racism?

I think there's a bit of a movement right now to try to problematize everything.  It seems to be a movement that's come out of the humanities and trains people to look at something in the most ungenerous light.  Thus, people become incentivized to find problems with these and often get to feel as if they are morally better themselves in the process.  So, though it's a very new idea, people have started to look at some of the evil monsters in role-playing games and wonder if they somehow represent real-life human groups, even if there's really no evidence that they do.  Or they may worry that playing the games where some critters are evil by nature may also cause them to apply stereotypes against human groups in real life.

Why did you decide to conduct this study?

There have been real passionate and angry debates on this issue between "traditionalists" who want role-playing games to remain similar to how they have been and remain largely free of politics and "progressives" who want to see role-playing games reflect a more progressive worldview.  In my case, I wanted to see if there was evidence in regard to progressive positions: is playing D&D associated with higher racist attitudes, or is there widespread agreement among people of color that evil monster races such as orcs are offensive.  The answer in this case to both was: no.  This suggests that makers or D&D are responding to a very small but highly vocal minority of players, which could be a mistake long-term.

What implications does this study have for parents?

I think it parents, particularly progressive parents, are worried that playing D&D may be associated with more racist attitudes, the evidence just isn't there.  This appears to be similar to other moral panics over media, including past moral panics over D&D in the 80s and 90s with regard to it being false associated with suicide, psychosis, violence and Satanism.



About Stetson University

Founded in 1883, Stetson University is the oldest private university in Central Florida. Stetson focuses on intense learning experiences in a supportive community that allows students to develop their voice in a connected, inclusive environment. Stetson University ranks No. 4 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 list of Best Regional Universities (South), and has been recognized as one of The Princeton Review’s 386 Best Colleges, 2021 edition. Stay connected with Stetson on social media.

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