I am happy to announce that a journal article I co-authored with Mia Consalvo has just been published in Games & Culture! Background Checks: Disentangling Class, Race, and Gender in CRPG Character Creators is now available as an open access article, and represents months of research we conducted on Dragon Age and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. The paper is one of many outputs of the ongoing SSHRC-funded class and games research project.
Character backgrounds are one of many elements players use to customize their protagonists in fantasy computer role-playing games. By documenting the narrative trappings, mechanical benefits, and hierarchical availability of character backgrounds in Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001) and Dragon Age: Origins (2009), this paper considers how real-world socioeconomic class markers and racial stereotypes have been repeatedly associated with fictitious races such as orcs, dwarves, and elves. Class is an understudied axis of identity in media studies and this research scrutinizes how developers construct socioeconomic class, particularly through character-creator interfaces. We begin by building a theoretical repertoire for studying identity in digital game interfaces while also scrutinizing long-established discourses of race and gender in the fantasy genre. We then analyze the hierarchies embedded in both games’ character creators, connecting them with broader gameplay and narrative themes and contextualizing them in established media stereotypes and existing scholarship.
This was a difficult paper to write as many of the topics fall outside of my day-to-day research practice, but I think it came together well (in no small part due to some amazing feedback from reviewer #1). The lineage of fantasy tropes and stereotypes—from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons—was particularly intriguing to trace, especially considering recent developments at Wizards of the Coast.
Citation: Iantorno, M., & Consalvo, M. (2023). Background Checks: Disentangling Class, Race, and Gender in CRPG Character Creators. Games and Culture, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/15554120221150342