Arriving at the inevitable endpoint of their 2020 promise to make the game as “inclusive as possible”, Wizards of the Coast has officially announced that the “problematic” term ‘race’ no longer has a place in Dungeons & Dragons.
This decision away to move away from the word was first revealed by the publisher on December 1st, courtesy of a post made to the official D&D Beyond blog.
“Dungeons & Dragons has a history of evolving to meet the needs of our players and foster an inviting space for everyone,” opened WotC. “With that in mind, we understand “race” is a problematic term that has had prejudiced links between real world people and the fantasy peoples of D&D worlds.”
“The usage of the term across D&D and other popular IP has evolved over time,” they said. “Now it’s time for the next evolution.”
Moving to detail the efforts they have already undertaken in service of this evolution, the publisher then recalled, “Since the release of the fifth edition of D&D in 2014, we have made the conscious decision to reduce usage of the term ‘race’ to only apply to the game mechanic.”
“We took this a step further with the release of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything in 2020 when we presented an alternative to character creation that untangled ability score improvements from your choice of playable people,” they continued. “We have also evolved the lore of the peoples throughout the D&D multiverse to be more diligent in extracting past prejudices, stereotypes, and unconscious biases.”
However, rather than divorce the game from the concept all together, WotC instead plainly asserted that “in the next Unearthed Arcana containing playtest materials for One D&D, we are presenting a replacement for the term ‘race.’ That new term is ‘species.’”
“We have made the decision to move on from using the term ‘race’ everywhere in One D&D, and we do not intend to return to that term,” the publisher explained. “The term “species” was chosen in close coordination with multiple outside cultural consultants.”
Drawing their blog post to a close, WotC noted that “having an open conversation around the term ‘race” is both important and challenging.”
“That is why it’s vital we foster a positive, open, and understanding dialogue with one another,” the publisher concluded. “We welcome your constructive feedback on this evolution and the many more evolutions to One D&D that make this game exciting, open, and accessible to everyone. Dragons and elves belong in our world, and so do you.”
Finding evermore support in recent years thanks to the rise of identity politics, the rising complaints against the use of ‘race’ ‘in Dungeons & Dragons stems from the idea, as summarized by North American Simulation and Gaming Association contributing author Clayton Whittle, that the mechanic “encourages assumptions based on racial essentialism.”
“Certain races are ‘inherently evil,’ and their actions always pursue goals of cruel intent,” wrote Whittle in March of this year. “Players are trained from the start to expect evil intent from goblins, barbarism from orcs, or kindness from elves. These continued interactions represent only a peek at how often D&D defines character traits according to racial heritage.”
“Even when striving to achieve this utter removal from reality, there are nearly inescapable connections, because we, as humans, cannot realistically imagine a completely disconnected reality,” said Whittle.
“D&D is a perfect example,” he then offered up in support of his argument.
“Despite the existence of magic and fantastical races, the D&D universe operates relatively close to our own reality,” opined Whittle. “The world contains many of the same flora and fauna, the same biomes dominate the planet, gravity is the same, and technology reflects our own technology from the same historical eras.”
“The departures from our own reality, such as magic, may be flagrant, but they are undoubtedly the minority when compared to the overwhelming number of similarities,” he posited. “And, it is these similarities that encourage players to make connections to our own world.”
However, in stark opposition to this cacophony of virtue signaling, Stetson University Psychology Professor Christopher J. Ferguson recently published a study in which he found “no association between D&D and racism, and most people including POC don’t find ‘evil’ orcs offensive.”
In the study, Ferguson concluded, “The D&D game was not associated with ethnocentrism in real life, nor did a consensus of individuals, including People of Color, find the depiction to be offensive or racist.”
He added, “It appears that, if we are are serious about addressing race issues in the United States and internationally, focusing on monster depictions in the D&D game may not be the most fruitful avenue.”
In the abstract of the study, Ferguson detailed he surveyed “308 adults (38.2% non-White) a subset of whom (17%) were players of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.”
He continued, “Playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was not associated with greater ethnocentrism (one facet of racism) attitudes. Only 10.2% found a depiction of orc monsters as inherently evil to be offensive. However, when later asked the blunter question of whether the same depiction was racist, the number jumped to 34.0%.”
“However, when later asked the blunter question of whether the same depiction was racist, the number jumped to 34.0%, with women particularly inclined to endorse this position,” he further detailed.
He then explained, “This suggests asking people about racism may prime them to see racism in material they hadn’t previously found to be offensive. Neither participant race nor history playing the D&D game was associated with perceptions of offensiveness or racism.”
As noted above, in response to this outrage, WotC assured players in 2020 that they were committed to making Dungeons & Dragons “as welcoming and inclusive as possible.”
Since then, the game has seen a number of changes towards that objective, most recently the removal of lore relating to the Hadozees having endured of a period of captivity due to the racist belief among critics that the fictional spacefarers’ simian backgrounds implied they were analogues for real-world black people.
As the exact implementation of their replacement term is still a work in progress, WotC has invited players “to give feedback on the term ‘species’ along with everything else present in the playtest material” through “the survey for this Unearthed Arcana playtest, which will go live on December 21.”