It feels like a coming-out-of-the-closet moment to admit I have more than a passing knowledge of some of the games described in this Slate article about Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, I know, I seemed like a healthy, well-adjusted young lady before this. But seriously, I’m not lying when I tell you that my friends and I who participated in role-playing weren’t total dorks. For one thing, we weren’t celibate. (Mom and Dad, please disregard that last sentence!) We were the theater kids — faux suburban hip hop culture just wasn’t doing it for us. Most of us are pretty normal these days.
In any case, during my adolescence, it never really occurred to me to think about the ethics of D&D, mostly because I was a dabbler and not a hardcore fanatic. In Slate, Eric Sofge — who, as an editor at Popular Mechanics, I assume is a far more typical former role-player than I — argues that the massive killing of entire races encouraged by Gygax’s gaming system is akin to genocide. Think of the hated, dark-skinned orcs from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series; those greedy (Semitic?) dwarves; or the high-cheek boned, delicate, Northern elves. This is partly what I was drawing from when I wrote an essay back in the day on how the Harry Potter books conform to some of the more conservative identity politics of the fantasy genre. Looking back, that piece seems over-argued (after all, I enjoyed the Potter books!), but there’s definitely a there there.
By the way, if anybody wants to use this moment to also publicly confess they once role-played, I’ll be your friend forever.