Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part II: They're Not Human

This is the complement to my previous article, “Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part I: A Species Built for Racial Terror.” In the previous article, we learned how racist myths from the British academy and army fueled JRR Tolkien’s creation of orcs as an analogue for Asian people. Today I want to look at what happens to orcs as we follow Lord of the Rings’s influence into modern media. When Dungeons & Dragons and its descendants introduced orcs to the United States of America, orcs gained new ethnic dimensions and encountered new and visceral depths of criminalization and dehumanization. In the conclusion to this piece, I suggest several new directions in which gamers of all ethnicities might take the orcs they design or play, to rework this symbol of racist degeneracy into the vanguard of decolonization.

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Less of a Question, More of a Comment

If you attend panels or presentations, ever, I need you to read this article because, best case scenario, I need you to help protect me from “less of a question, more of a comment” guy. Worst case scenario, you are “less of a question, more of a comment” guy. Let’s talk about panels in general, panels about diversity and identity topics in particular, and how you as an audience member can make choices and ask questions which improve that experience for both panelists and audience. I’ll also answer some questions we both did and didn’t get to at PAX East’s “Designing Asian Settings and Themes in Analog Games” panel.

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The Fortune Cookie Incident

This is a story about a racist role-playing game I encountered at Dreamation 2019. This game exemplifies how racist expressions draw on public-facing and commercially available cultural expressions: in this case food, cinema, and sport. It is also a story about the man who designed and facilitated the game, but I wish it didn’t have to be. I want to focus on what he did, not who he is, because he now realizes the thing he made harms Asians and he wants to improve.

I don’t know whether he’ll succeed, though, because he wrote a game about fortune cookies.

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Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part I: A Species Built for Racial Terror

This is the first installment of a two-article series about the racist origins, nature, and ramifications of orcs, a malevolent humanoid species from English author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Middle-earth fantasy setting. I started researching this article with the hypothesis that a collection of negative assumptions about people of color in general, common among the British of Tolkien’s time, gave rise to orcs. I was wrong. Drawing on the most hateful stereotypes he knew, JRR Tolkien explicitly and purposefully crafted orcs as a detrimental depiction of Asian people specifically. Part I, below, traces the long histories of the racist fears and ideologies which motivated Tolkien. Part II will explore how later fantasists have adapted the orcish concept to express different harmful cultural stereotypes; and draw parallels between the challenges of rehabilitating orcs’ portrayals and of decolonizing one’s own relationship to one’s cultural stereotypes.

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Thousand Arrows and Sensitivity, Part II: Dragon King's Gambit

I hope you enjoyed Part I of my series on Thousand Arrows, sensitivity, and respect. Here, Part II addresses issues specific to our 900-backer stretch goal, “Dragon King’s Gambit.” In this campaign, a sea monster attack in December 1592 forces the Imjin War’s Chinese, Korean, and Japanese combatants to work together against a common enemy. It draws on historical, literary, and religious sources: I wouldn’t call it fantasy, but it features folkloric and legendary entities important to East Asian religious practice.

While we’re unlikely to unlock DKG, its subject matter has generated some concern above and beyond the core game. My previous post on best practices for historical gaming governs my take on the Imjin War. But I want to go a little further and break down some of the reasons why folks might worry more about DKG than about core Thousand Arrows, as well as why I think DKG is important nonetheless.

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Best Practices for Historical Gaming

I’d like to share some principles I follow when I work with historical and real-world settings, either in play or in design. For shorthand, I’m going to refer to them as “historical,” but many of these principles also apply to games set on contemporary Earth. This article refers to choices I made in Thousand Arrows, but it isn’t really about Thousand Arrows, so you still get a proper Imjin War-focused Part II later on.

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Thousand Arrows and Sensitivity, Part I: the Core Game

So, Thousand Arrows is on Kickstarter! Thousand Arrows is a tabletop role-playing game about samurai action and tragedy in the Japanese Warring States Period, powered by the Apocalypse. I’ve gotten some questions from the Internet about sensitivity, respect, and appropriation in the game. I’ve broken my answers into what I project to be two blog posts. This first one addresses issues which affect the core game of Thousand Arrows.

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