While organizations and groups burn themselves with fence-sitting and fake apoliticism, there is some good news in the gaming industry. Not only have numerous companies and websites come out in support of Black Lives Matter and against bigotry and police brutality, but now one of the biggest publishers has joined the movement.
Wizards of the Coast have decided to not only show solidarity for social justice but also to combat bigotry and racism within their products.
Before we mention three significant changes they’ve made, we have to say we’re a little shocked. It’s not that WotC hasn’t championed diversity before – it’s that WotC has been inconsistent in their allyship and materials.
Not to mention, WotC is owned by Hasbro, which has an even worse track record when it comes to ethics in game publishing.
Still, Wizards of the Coast made three significant moves recently that showed they’re willing to back up their words with actions. Hopefully, these are the tip of the iceberg and that their products are headed toward more inclusive directions.
The first big move was for WotC to remove cards from their Gatherer database. Each of these cards either had offensive depictions or racist insinuations.
Some were cards that alluded to race wars and supremacy of the color white over others, like “Jihad” and “Crusade.” Others, like “Stone-Throwing Devils,” presented racist stereotypes or depicted enslavement.
Most cards were printed during the early years of the game in the ’90s, although one was as recent as 2010. Of particular note were those from the Arabian Nights set, which was already problematic because of its Orientalist depiction of the Middle East.
WotC stated that, while the references will remain in their database, their artwork has been removed. Also, the cards are banned from all sanctioned tournaments and will never be printed again.
Although some people think this is move is extreme, it wouldn’t be the first time WotC changed their cards. During the ’90s, the remnants of the Satanic Panic pressured the company to remove specific imagery from their cards.
The difference, of course, being that removing so-called “satanic” images to please ultra-conservative Christian groups is not the same as getting rid of racist cards because they’re offensive.
The next happening occurred a week later when WotC came out in support of diversity in Dungeons & Dragons. This statement was more than just words as the company highlighted upcoming changes in reprints and new rules.
WotC stated that it had hired sensitivity readers to help with its revisions and new product. Troublesome books that contained ethnic and racial stereotypes, like Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation, would have those passages changed for future printings.
Also, the company wanted to focus on hiring more diverse staff so that new projects would highlight unique perspectives and avoid the pitfalls of the past.
WotC would also address the problem of the “evil race” trope, particularly those that tread on racist stereotypes or depictions. New books would make races complex culturally and morally and find ways to change their representations.
Similarly, D&D would have an optional supplement that would allow for greater player control over character creation. Of particular note, the idea that every race has inherent bonuses would be challenged, meaning that all elves, dwarfs, half-orcs, etc. are not the same.
In other words, just like Humans have great diversity and variety, so would the rest of the fantasy races.
The final move happened mere days after the revelation of D&D when WotC announced it would cut ties with a controversial artist.
Terese Nielsen, who’s created artwork for MtG since 1996, has become a divisive issue in the gaming community. In 2018, people began to notice her behavior on Twitter, when she started following alt-right and conspiracy theorists and liking racist tweets.
When called on this behavior, Nielsen immediately cut ties with those previous behaviors, but her questionable behavior lingered and was inconsistent.
She offered a vague response about her time “excommunicated” because of her behavior, but never addressed accusations of being a TERF. Nielsen would release another statement supporting LGBTQ+ rights but would follow that post up by gifting artwork to a racist QAnon channel.
WotC remained silent as they continued to include Nielsen on projects until a significant controversy arose. When a non-binary player made a statement against Nielsen (by writing pro-trans comments on their cards), officials tried to have the cards removed from the tournament.
WotC appeared to be censoring supporters of LGBTQ+ rights over a supposedly bigoted artist, and the ensuing backlash was strong enough to bring the debate over Nielsen back into the spotlight.
Due to the pandemic, the topic was relatively silent, but once WotC began promoting the delayed and new products, Nielsen was again an important issue. It was then that WotC declared that, other than some contracted artwork in an upcoming release, all ties with the artist were severed.
MtG would no longer hire artists with problematic histories or world views.
While these moves are appreciated, the real question is how far will WotC go and will they continue to change their business model and product.
Are these the beginning of a company beginning to take responsibility and form an ethical business model? Or are they performative gestures meant to placate during a time of civil unrest, only to fade if the movements fade?
Time will only tell, but hopefully, WotC will continue on this path and remain “woke.”
UPDATE: Since this article was published, WotC recently cut ties with another problematic artist.
In response to allegations of sexual misconduct and predation by Noah Bradley, who’d been an artist for MtG and D&D since 2012, the company issued a statement. WotC announced they would no longer commission artwork from Bradley, and they would remove his contributions from all future reprints.
We applaud WotC as they continue to clean the house of bigotry and sexual predators among their staff, as well as in their artwork, mechanics, and world-building.