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Are orcs racist? Dungeons and Dragons, ethnocentrism, anxiety, and the depiction of “evil” monsters

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Recent years have seen debate about whether depictions of inherently evil monster races such as orcs in role playing games or literature/movies such as Lord of the Rings could be considered racist. Although such decisions may be subjective, little data has been produced to inform the debate regarding how critical an issue this is. In particular, does consuming such material relate to racism in the real world, or do a majority of individuals, particularly people of color, consider such depictions racist? The current study sought to address these issues in a sample of 308 adults (38.2% non-White) a subset of whom (17%) were players of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was not associated with greater ethnocentrism (one facet of racism) attitudes. Only 10.2% found a depiction of orc monsters as inherently evil to be offensive. However, when later asked the blunter question of whether the same depiction was racist, the number jumped to 34.0%, with women particularly inclined to endorse this position. This suggests asking people about racism may prime them to see racism in material they hadn’t previously found to be offensive. Neither participant race nor history playing the D&D game was associated with perceptions of offensiveness or racism.

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  1. The sitcom Community has an overlapping, illustrative example. One episode of the show became controversial due to an Asian American character who dressed as a drow elf from the D&D game. Drow have black skin and white hair and many considered an Asian American dressing as a drow to be akin to.


  2. This number exceeds to preregistered sample of 200, though due to online recruitment, participation was a bit organic. Recruitment was not continued beyond 200 due to concerns regarding statistical significance, and no examination of data occurred during the recruitment period.


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Correspondence to Christopher J. Ferguson.

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Ferguson, C.J. Are orcs racist? Dungeons and Dragons, ethnocentrism, anxiety, and the depiction of “evil” monsters. Curr Psychol 42, 12400–12408 (2023).

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