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D&D 5E D&D Races: Evolution, Fantasy Stereotypes & Escapism

DarkMantle

Explorer
As someone new-ish to the recent controversies, I tried to deconstruct the "big picture" and make sense of all the conflicted feelings going around. Here's an hypothesis:

Evolution says "Keep it simple, stupid"
  • Humans are predisposed to binary thinking, pattern seeking, and stereotypical thinking
  • For our ancestors, this was an evolutionary feature to increase efficiency and reduce cognitive load, which presumably increased their likelihood of survival
  • Today, we are still averse to uncertainty and ambiguity
  • So we still reduce a complicated world into simplified narratives.
  • This feels good and gives us peace of mind to see the world in simpler terms.
It's simply fantasy
  • This attractive perspective made its way into fantasy fiction through its authors' POVs and the readers who enjoyed it.
  • Fantasy is escapism, not homework. It allows us to explore human themes without taking up the same cognitive category as the burdens of real-life.
  • If there was fantasy fiction that wasn't escapist enough, it didn't sell as well.
Fantasy stereotypes
  • Fantasy races are also an outcome of stereotypical thinking.
  • Each race was a subset of human personalities. All dwarves typically have so-and-so traits. Orcs were cardboard caricatures of the Other. They didn't have a wide separate personality spectrum.
  • This was practical: It would be almost impossible (?) to come up with fantasy races that are both un-human and relatable for mainstream readers.
Escapism was for fun, not homework
  • If D&D is an escapism from a messy, complicated, uncertain, ambiguous world, than stereotypes fit easily into fantasy worlds.
  • D&D was to relax and have fun. The hard thinking was for real-life.
  • Only if D&D were an escapism of a different sort, like where players want to engage with complicated "there is no right answer" dilemmas, then stereotypes don’t play a role and and are even disadvantageous.
Conflicting goals
  • So this is where different goals come into conflict.
  • The modern world was starting to realize that an increasing number of stereotypes are really problematic in a global civilization
  • For the designers of D&D, the goal was always to make a game that people want to purchase, play and enjoy.
  • On the other hand, significant portion of society wants to move away from harmful or problematic stereotypes, where they may be.
  • Meanwhile, our brain have not finished catching up to modern civilization. The brain still likes what it likes 100,000 years ago, and the way we feel isn't going away.
  • In D&D, stereotypes can continue to feel settling (for escaping from an overly complicated world) or unsettling (where they touch close to real-life pain)
Given all these goals, I think we are caught up redefining what fun and escapism is all about.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
  • The modern world was starting to realize that stereotypes are really problematic in a global civilization

And that's the problem, not stereotypes, but thinking that stereotypes are problematic. Stereotypes are not problematic, they are extremely useful and actually the whole of D&D is based on stereotypes. After that, you can use them or subvert them, but even subverting them makes them useful as a reference.

The problem is not stereotypes, the problem is BAD stereotypes, with BAD in this case meaning that it refers in a bad way to the real world.

99.95% of the races and species in D&D are stereotypes and never cause a problem. Actually, only 2 cause a problem, the orc and the drow, both for bad reasons (the orcs in D&D are greyish or greenish, and drows never were all inherently evil anyway), although it's certain that the "dark = bad" is in itself problematic.

The problem is people inflating these small issues to humongous perspectives and mixing that with other problems (for example about genre, which is more a problem of representation). Nothing more. In France, where we don't carry the same problem (we have others, for example colonisation, so it's not a question of feeling better in any sense, just different), we have absolutely zero problems with orcs and drows (who are extremely cool), and races in D&D in general.

So it's not stereotypes, it's bad D&D stereotypes for relations with real world stereotypes, and these are actually local, not global.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Given all these goals, I think we are caught up redefining what fun and escapism is all about.
There is a collective culture around this, and a personal. For example,
Fantasy is escapism, not homework. It allows us to explore human themes without taking up the same cognitive category as the burdens of real-life.
I am the exact opposite. I use my fantasy to examine my real life burdens. I double down, I dig in, I escape by going deeper. Perhaps Im unique in this, but I dont think this generalization is as universal as it may appear.
 

DarkMantle

Explorer
And that's the problem, not stereotypes, but thinking that stereotypes are problematic. Stereotypes are not problematic, they are extremely useful and actually the whole of D&D is based on stereotypes. After that, you can use them or subvert them, but even subverting them makes them useful as a reference.

The problem is not stereotypes, the problem is BAD stereotypes, with BAD in this case meaning that it refers in a bad way to the real world.
I agree, not ALL stereotypes are bad. Some stereotypes are useful or pragmatic.

I guess one example of a useful stereotype is: 16 year olds are not mature enough to drink alchohol. That stereotype made its way into law. This may upset 16 year olds, but it's the law.

I've edited the original line to your point, to clarify it's about less-than-useful stereotypes.
 

DarkMantle

Explorer
I am the exact opposite. I use my fantasy to examine my real life burdens. I double down, I dig in, I escape by going deeper. Perhaps Im unique in this, but I dont think this generalization is as universal as it may appear.
I don't think you're unique in this. Shows like Black Mirror are many others (maybe it's more sci-fi?) do dig into real life problems.

What I was intending to say is that fantasy escapism is one way of getting away from the stuff we don't like doing or thinking about. Often that can be getting away from real life burdens, but it doesn't have to be.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I don't think you're unique in this. Shows like Black Mirror are many others (maybe it's more sci-fi?) do dig into real life problems.

What I was intending to say is that fantasy escapism is one way of getting away from the stuff we don't like doing or thinking about. Often that can be getting away from real life burdens, but it doesn't have to be.
Gotcha. I know a lot of people had trouble escaping because there was no depictions of people like themselves as heroes. Only villains and/or primitives.
 



DarkMantle

Explorer
One thing that can really put a damper on a person's escapist fantasy is reading something that sounds an awful lot like the justifications to do horrible things to other people like them being used to say why it's ok to kill something on sight in said fantasy.

I get it. Hard for me to tell who you're referring to? I hope you're not referring to me as making justifications? I just tried to create a hypothesis, because so many people are arguing without any end goal, it feels to me.

Stereotypes are by definition oversimplified generalizations. Generalizations are a necessary aspect of our cognitive functions. Stereotypes are not.

Generalization is a very broad usage. Definition I just pulled for stereotype was "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing". I could be wrong, but I think I used the word correctly.
 


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