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It’s time for fantasy fiction and role-playing games to shed their racist history

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November 03, 2020 at 03:15PM

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Representation of characters from ‘uncivilised’ worlds and a nostalgia for colonial cultures have been problematic from the start

When Black Lives Matter protests were raging following the death of George Floyd, the publishers of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, pledged to take concrete steps to make their games more diverse. Wizards of the Coast promised to “share what we’ve been doing, and what we plan to do in the future to address legacy D&D content that does not reflect who we are today”. In addition, it also pulled several racist cards from the card game Magic: The Gathering, such as Invoke Prejudice, Jihad and Pradesh Gypsies.

Perceptions of racism in fantasy go back to the origins of the genre. Is it a coincidence that D&D’s dishonourable, dark-skinned elves come from a matriarchal society, or that its savage orcs bear uncanny resemblance to a traditionally white, western conceptualisation of barbaric peoples from the “uncivilised” world? Although fantasy affords us every freedom to imagine new worlds and cultures, for the last 200-odd years, humans have mostly managed derivative facsimiles of our own. This includes reproducing the scourge of systemic racism.

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