Being a human in RPGs isn’t boring

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Imagine that you are leading a team of game designers working on a role-playing game. They devote thousands of hours to this project, making sure each animation is smooth, the story is interesting, and the environments feel real. Or maybe you’re designing a new tabletop role-playing game, so the monster list should be long and the classes and encounters should be balanced.


Would you like to devote your team’s precious time and energy to developing a playable human race? This is the question that has been on my mind for months.

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We’ve all heard the complaints: why should a player choose to be a human when they could be something as fantastic and extraordinary as a magical elf or a dragonborn? This criticism and others like it are not unfounded. Fiction is meant to take us out of our day-to-day lives, and the fantasy and science fiction genres are particularly suited to this because of the ignorance of worlds, their difference from ours. So, in your own dream of escape, why choose to be what you need to be every day?


The undeniable truth is that no matter what we think, the people who write and design that content choose to include humans. And thank goodness they do, because it provides players with something essential that you might not have thought of: a way to experience their own identity.

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Guild Wars 2 - Human Concept Art Within Divinity's Reach

In the real world, many people are trapped in one way or another. Some people are trapped by their own gender. Others are trapped by social norms or the opinions of their friends or family members. Some people are trapped by religion or cultural traditions. Others are trapped in one place, with or without bars. They are the kind of people who aspire to be free.


RPGs can offer this freedom. There are no rules about who or what you can be, where you can go or how you can get there. This is especially true in tabletop RPGs, where players need to fully embody their character as they play.

The changes may seem tiny or unimportant to some people, but they can make all the difference. People who reconsider their gender identity may experiment with new pronouns or an unfamiliar gender. Those who question their sexuality can try romanticizing a member of the same sex to see how he feels.

Of course, you could say that all of this is possible even if you play as a dwarf, gnome, alien, or some other fantastic creature. It is, of course. There’s a reason we resonate so strongly with characters we can relate to, however. Women have been pushing for more female representation, people of color for more people of color, trans people for more trans people, in our media for years because exposure breeds understanding. Maybe even a big change.



An ax wielding human barbarian in Dungeons & Dragons

Having a race of humans provides a foundation in something familiar. Everything else, from the environment to social roles to magic, might be totally alien, but we would still be able to see ourselves in the game through humanity. From a game design perspective, this can even be used as a shortcut to help a player understand the world and history of the game.

Are humans oppressed? This will arouse negative emotions in the player towards the oppressors of humanity.

Do humans have cultural markings that we recognize, such as medieval clothing? Many players will quickly expect characteristics and values ​​from these humans.


Or, you can even take it a step further by subverting a player’s expectations of humanity. Take the example of medieval dress; maybe the player assumes, because of their clothes, that these characters will be snobbish and tense. You could subvert their expectations by giving humans an obscene and vulgar culture.

For people who need a safe space to experiment with their gender, sexuality, or even just their hair color, playing a human will be more like her. them who makes the change, not just a fictional character.


Dragon Age 4 - Human Mage Art Promo

There’s a reason we know words like “self-insertion”. People are naturally inclined to play self-representing characters, whether it’s through looks, personality, or both. While you can create a character of a different race, such as an elf or a dwarf, who still have your personality traits, they won’t necessarily share your physical characteristics. Many people see their physical appearance as a big part of who they are, for better or for worse.


The phrase “self-insertion” can make you cringe. This is because our culture was quick to shame those who escape their daily lives by projecting themselves into fiction. Whether it’s a fanfiction, movie, video game, or whatever, an “auto-insert” character is considered a marker of bad writing.

Business-created content aside for a moment, is it really that bad when a fan does? After all, it’s their free time and their content, whether it’s a game they own or a story they are writing. In the case of video games and tabletop RPGs, it can even help a player get excited about the game and encourage them to engage in the story.


And, in the case of someone exploring their identity, it can be a useful way to overcome their emotions. Maybe writing a fan fiction about a character with abandonment issues helps someone get over the fact that they’re adopted. Perhaps writing about a gay character in a world where sexuality is not stigmatized helps the author overcome the rejections he has experienced in his own life.

The most powerful part of video games is the immersion you experience. The ability to forget that these characters, places and battles are not real. Have you ever felt real grief at the death of a character? Or real anger when your mission plan didn’t work out? This means that the creators have done their job. Whether a player uses the human race in a fantasy or sci-fi world to create a different version of themselves or not, we should all understand their desire to connect more deeply with the characters they control.


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