I am hoping that the news is either false or will be walked back. I am typing this late after work so I don’t have time to do too much digging. Even if it is walked back / not legit the question itself is still worth asking.
Are Half-Elves racist?
This declaration, removing Half-Elves for being racist shows exactly why “species” was and is a worse term than Race/Ancestry/Lineage/heritage/literally-anything-else for what we call Elves, Dwarves and the like.
Wizards of the Coast, and I fear the RPG community generally has forgotten what fantasy is for, what it does, why we have it as a different genre from science-fiction to be begin with. It is only if we know what fantasy is for, that we can have coherent values concerning it.
What is fantasy?
Sc-Fi asks “what if.”
Fantasy does also, but it asks a very specific “what if”. What if the spiritual or otherwise incorporeal parts of being human could somehow be seen?
A classic example of this is the Patronus Spell from Harry Potter. Depression and anxiety are real but incorporeal. The Dementers Harry faces take that incorporeal experience humans have and make it physical.
What is one way to push back against despair? To recenter ourselves in what is positive, what calls us to be our best selves, what brings us joy. To not let the despair-narrative be the only narrative we listen to.
Recalling a powerful happy memory is what Harry does to summon the Patronus. The Patronus physicalizes an incorporeal solution to an incorporeal problem.
We do this, because sometimes we need these exaggerated parables to remind us of what is not seen.
There are other examples. The Sword in the Stone is fantasy, but there are people who have had responsibilities thrust upon them out of nowhere. Merlin may be fantasy, as are his prophecies. But there have been real political rulers that have tried to outrun their fate in morally destructive ways. In fact the “slaughter of the innocents” in Le More de Arthur is meant to harkin back to the biblical narrative. It also can harkin back or forward to numerous political movements. There may not be a painting that ages in its owner’s place (Picture of Dorian Grey) but our culture is in fact obsessed with denying aging and death in any way possible.
Fantasy physicalizes the incorporeal.
Why have half-elves?
Let’s keep in mind that that if Half-elves are racist, Spock is racist and most of science-fiction, including science fiction that helped paved the way for racial inclusion in media, is now racist.
People caught between cultures exist. But their experience, of itself, is incorporeal. There are people who aren’t immigrants, but for whatever reason, be it their moderate political beliefs in a polarized time, their love of hobbies that are ‘out of sync’ for what is popular in their religion, etc. feel that they are caught between two worlds.
I am a conservative Christian. I play D&D. I am caught, given things are how they are, between two worlds.
The Half-Elf and the Half-Orc exaggerate and physicalize this feeling of not belonging anywhere.
But you can only see that if you don’t view Elves and Orcs as “species.” They are not species. They are powerful metaphors for what numerous people from many walks of life experience. The woke talk so much about “visibility.”
Visibility is EXACTLY what fantasy is for!!!
Feel like an outcast? Play a half-orc amongst humans. Take your invisible experience and make it visible.
Fantasy uses bold, stark, over-the-top and unrealistic examples. But these metaphors have power. And we as a human race need them.
I know to some I sound like a conservative having a fit over nothing when I rail against the term “species.”
But I think there is something at stake. One of the most important fantasy brands in our culture is at risk for forgetting what fantasy is. And that can only cheapen us all. It is calling elves a “species” that makes them racist. The solution is actually causing the problem
The Woke-ization of RPGs needs to Stop
Right now the RPG community, like the rest of american culture, is developing an orthodoxy about race, sexuality and gender. The proposed orthodoxy is not true, and in addition to the real world harm it causes, this woke agenda will have real consequences for fantasy. It matters that we stand up to it.
Believe it or not, one of the reasons are started developing RPG systems (I am aware this might sound paranoid) was because I suspected that there might be a need to have RPG Systems that are not controlled by Woke corporations, that one day the culture war would damage even Fantasy.
Guess I was somewhat right. Check out Shadiversity’s Cogent System or my Under a Hostile Sun RPGs if you want RPGs that understand what roleplaying is for.
My RPGs are 0% woke AND 0% jerk. I don’t introduce themes that have no purpose being there to push my political worldview. I don’t go for cheap conservative shock value. I hope both right and left can enjoy my games.
We are in danger of the phenomenon of “red brands” and “blue brands” coming for RPGs, which will damage Fantasy’s ability to speak on timeless truths.