In defence of playing as a human in RPGs


– Karly Taylor

You know the drill: you’ve been waiting for this game all year long. Maybe you were even following it’s progress in development religiously. You like to think of yourself as a role playing aficionado; you can cave spelunk and dungeon crawl around Skyrim with the best of them, searching every nook and cranny for precious loot, maybe even back tracking a few times because your OCD flares up toward the end of the dungeon and *maybe* you didn’t check that dark crevice as closely as you thought. The devs could’ve hidden the best weapon in the whole game there, damnit!

If we go any deeper we may find a Balrog.

The best loot is at Balrog depth.

But I digress. The day of release is upon you. You took the day off work or school, or both. Your pizza will arrive at your doorstep in a few hours. You head to your nearest game store, and safely procure your copy of the latest and greatest RPG. It’s finally in your hands. Back at your home base, you install the game, and begin. As with all roleplaying games, you begin at the character creator screen, and there are always (disclaimer: not always) a ton of options to choose from.

You’re going to be here for hours, you think to yourself. You’ve got your assortment of typical D&D classes – ranger, wizard, paladin, etc. – maybe a few backgrounds to choose from. But before you can reach the character creator to begin crafting your adventurer that will likely see over a hundred hours in this world with you, you have to choose a race. Do you want to be a graceful elf? A sturdy dwarf? A sneaky halfling? A brutish half-orc? Damn, so many choices! You’re definitely going to be here for a while. Good thing you have pizza.

Buffs include self loathing and dehydration.

Buffs include self loathing and dehydration.

Not all RPGs will do this, mind you. Sometimes, you’re defaulted to a single race, but are still able to choose other aspects to make the character as unique as possible. And that race is a human. *A human protagonist* in a *fantasy setting*. You’re either a fan of this formula, nodding your head and not really seeing the point of this article, or you’re rolling your eyes right now at the idea. Who wants to be a boring, vanilla human in a rich fantasy setting?

A popular argument for this that I frequently see is that you’re a human every day of your life, why not jump at the opportunity to be something different for once? Isn’t that the point of playing video games – escapism? To be fair, I’ve come across some great roleplayers over the years, of both the human and non-human playing variety.

At the same time, I’ve met a lot of gamers who like to self-insert themselves into the world they’re playing, so that they can better immerse themselves. Awesome. Everybody is different and plays roleplaying games – and video games in general – for different reasons. Not every self-insert used a human, and not every roleplayer chose a non-human. People rarely fit into neat little boxes in real life, so why should a virtual life be any different?

I’ve also seen a lot shaming in gaming forums for people who chose a human character, following with declarations such as “*I* would never play a human in a fantasy game unless I’m *forced* to,” that have a tangible air of smug superiority. I’ve seen this more often than not in Bioware’s Dragon Age forum and Blizzard’s World of Warcraft section of the internet. That’s where the line should be drawn. If you’re a fan of playing an elf or a dwarf, more power to you.

"After we defeat this dragon I'm going to stab all the human players right in the dick for being unoriginal."

“After we defeat this dragon I’m going to stab all the human players right in the dick for being unoriginal.”

Maybe you like the sound of the in-game culture, or the stats you get with the character. It’s totally fine, because the entire point of picking up a game like this is to play how you want to play. But choosing to play a human isn’t necessarily “the boring choice” in comparison. Unless the game is, for some reason, a perfect replica of our world and our society that somehow is accommodating all these elves and dwarves.

Humans in roleplaying games are likely to have different cultures, religions and societies, that can be just as creative and unique as the ones set out for the other races. In fact, sometimes more effort has to be put into making the humans sound like a plausible race in these universes, where most – I don’t want to say all, but most – games are happy to use the cliche “elves are skilled archers and live in the woods for their millennia-long life spans,” and “dwarves live underground and are super greedy and like to mine stuff and drink beer all the time.”

There’s nothing wrong with a cliche. As a friend of mine puts it (and I frequently like to use this because of how true I find it to be), cliches are often cliches for a reason – because they’re good, and people enjoy them. Calling it a cliche doesn’t, by default, make it a bad thing. Show me in the official gamer handbook where it says so and I’ll issue you a formal written apology complete with photos of me salting up my socks and eating them.

You can’t really take the high ground of feeling superior to someone who chose to play as a human if you’re playing a wood elf ranger or a dwarven warrior with a huge two-handed axe. We’re all a little bit vanilla sometimes guys, it’s okay to admit it! But picking a non-human doesn’t automatically make you more unique than the next person.

Oh, you're an Wood Elf with a bow? How unique.

Oh, you’re a wood elf with a bow? How unique.

In fact, chances are, hundreds of other people who picked up the game chose the exact same race/class combination you did. Congratulations, you’re a unique individual – just like everybody else!

Karly chose to be a human on Twitter, you can totally follow her @puckishrogue94 and don’t forget to follow @load_screen and like us on Facebook.

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