MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In the classic role-playing game "Dungeons And Dragons," you and your friends take on the roles of paladins and rogues, and you traipse around, looking for adventures. Generally, the game allows your characters to be whoever you want them to be - good guy, bad guy, somewhere in between. But that was an option only afforded to certain races in the game until now. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: One of the first steps in starting a "Dungeons And Dragons" campaign is creating your character. You can be a human or an elf or a lizard person. These classifications come with their own backstories and sometimes baggage. Here's Jeremy Crawford, principal rules designer of "Dungeons And Dragons," aka "D&D."
JEREMY CRAWFORD: They have stories associated with them in "D&D's" 50 years of history, and some of those peoples have been traditionally depicted in a villainous light.
LIMBONG: Orcs were brutish savages. Dark elves known as drow had black skin and were inherently evil.
CRAWFORD: It is this thing lurking under the surface that really is painful for people who have faced those sorts of stereotypes in the real world.
LAUREN FRAZIER: It's hard to see yourself in any role playing "D&D" if you're a person of color, specifically black and brown people.
LIMBONG: Lauren Frazier is a game designer and a huge "D&D" fan, but she says when she first tried to get a group of black and brown friends to play, she ran into some resistance. It wasn't just these depictions themselves but the very idea that a role-playing game where you're supposed to be able to see yourself do anything was putting certain types of characters into a box.
FRAZIER: I think good and evil is very interesting. You can make good and evil very nuanced. You can make it very blunt. But making it based on if you look like this, if you are from this race, if you're from this place, you're automatically on one side or automatically on the other side - that is really harmful.
LIMBONG: The game's publisher, Wizards of the Coast, has been working on changing these descriptions for orcs and drow for a while but only recently announced them in response to the massive ongoing protests over racism and police violence. The company also announced they'll be editing out some previous racist descriptions as well as hiring more diverse writers. Frazier is cautiously optimistic about these changes. She says that hopefully, having a more diverse roster of writers will inform the very conception of these games.
FRAZIER: I think that the writing itself needs to come from a place of inclusivity and diverse ideas versus just the same stuff that they always write and then have someone go over it with a highlighter and try to fix the racism at the end.
LIMBONG: That same stuff - your paladins and goblins and bows and swords - has been well-trod territory in "D&D's" 50 years. Jeremy Crawford says he hopes that not just "D&D" but all fantasy games can start expanding that vision.
Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF YEAH YEAH YEAHS SONG, "DRAGON QUEEN")
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