Race in RPG’s

When reading the essay “always_black”, I couldn’t help but be reminded of similar experiences I have had over the web that dealt with race in RPG’s (or Role Playing Games). The particular websites that stood out for me were the games I used to play as a child, mainly Runescape and Feral Heart. For those of you who don’t know, Runescape was (and still is) a popular online role playing game that was great to play because you didn’t have to download it to your computer. Feral Heart is a lesser known RPG that was targeted at a younger audience. I’ve seen my fair share of swearing and racial slurs in Runescape to be sure, but one event that stood out in particular for me happened on Feral Heart.

I was in a chat room with about 6 -7 other people, and we were waiting for more members to show up so that we could start the role play. It wasn’t uncommon for people to call each other names, but one of the members suddenly insulted another player by calling them a Jew. The chat room went quiet. I got that exact same feeling that the author of “always_black” described, uncomfortable and not quite sure how to respond. The insult wasn’t even directed at me! But how to you respond to something like that? Sure, it was probably just another kid acting up, but still. Do you choose to let it slide, or do you call them out for it?

I was even more surprised when two of the other players started laughing at the joke. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something more blatantly racist. The room broke out into an argument almost immediately. We were split down the middle, those who were offended by the “joke”, and those who found it funny. Eventually, the player apologized and we moved on.

However the situation got me thinking. How does something like that even happen? I doubt anyone would dare make that statement in public to another person. Is it possible people feel that it is okay to act that way because everyone on the internet is anonymous? There will be no repercussions in their real life, so do they not bother treating others they way they would outside of the game? Perhaps they also feel it is easier to insult others because people in RPG’s are so faceless. You can’t see them, you can’t hear their voice, and odds are you are never going to see that person again.

In a perfect world, people would treat those online the same as they do in the real world. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to make a racial slur towards another and get away with it almost anywhere on the internet nowadays.



  1. mkmattes demonstrates here how the negative side of the magic circle–by creating a separate space without consequences, it allows people to behave differently than they would otherwise. At the same, I think this is ultimately a positive example, as it did create a debate among the players, one that probably would have never come up in a face-to-face discussion. Different MMOs create different types of interaction–the one-on-one duels that always_black discusses are intensely personal, and rituals developed, as he described, to account for that. A quick death-match type game such as Call of Duty is very different–with a potential 32 players, it can be a lot more impersonal, but the interaction is still very fleeting, which leaves players more free to indulge in… less PC… comments. And a game like Feral Heart (from what I understand) draws further on the role-playing elements and skews to a different age group, which again creates a different set of expectations. A great part of digital media studies is the exploration of how and why these groups develop and why their discourses unfold as they do.

  2. I’m actually surprised, but relieved, to hear the apology following the comments. I’m not advocating the slur here at all (or any other kind), whatsoever, I just find it surprising it reached that conclusion. In the realm of online gaming, especially with other people, I don’t think it’s surprising to see or hear racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs at all. People are not in the same room, let alone the same continent at times.

    You asked, “How does something like that even happen?” I believe that some people are just plain ignorant and feel some false sense of security when they play online. They are probably miles away from the person they’re calling name and in most cases, what people say is probably untrue. I think you’re right when you say people say things because it’s anonymous and because there are no real life ‘repercussions’, per se. It’s easy for someone to utter words than to take a beating in the game. It’s also incredibly easy for someone just to be extremely asinine. That’s the way it goes, I guess, with online play. We have the ability to play with people halfway around the world, but with that, we have to deal with people’s behaviours.

    Your group there is an example of how some people can stand up to an issue within online play.

  3. I find that with the internet in general, including online games, people go with a more say first, think later, attitude. You find people, like the on you mentioned in your post, who will say things without thinking of how they could effect others. I feel this comes from the fact that on the internet, you can be as anonymous as you like, and if you say something absurd, it’s as easy as leaving (in an online game) or deleting a post (in an online forum). This leads to people not censoring them selves at the time, because they can do it later, and people not thinking about how it can make the other people there feel.

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