Becoming Halfling

Racial Permeability as Ludonarrative Architecture in Critical Role

  • Mark Hines University of Kentucky


Livestreamed play of tabletop games affords a new medium for analysis of racialization for game studies. For Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (Multiple authors, 2014) actual plays, audiences can engage with racialized narratives in underappreciated ways. The actual play Critical Role (Critical Role, 2012-present) employs players’ knowledge of the genre of high fantasy to create collaborative, improvisational narratives which delve into themes of racism and bigotry. This dynamic often leads players to draw on real world political narratives and discourses in order to engage audiences’ prior knowledge and examine pertinent themes. This paper analyses one such example in the case of Nott the Brave, a character in Critical Role’s popular second campaign. Nott’s narrative arc, taking place over several hundred hours of gameplay, is a site of racialized play, problematizing simple narratives of representation and identity. This article employs textual analysis and semiotics in examining Nott’s racialization as a Goblin character. I draw heavily on Jenkins’s (2004) notion of gameplay as narrative architecture in considering the limits that racialized play allows the cast of Critical Role. In doing so, I offer insights into how tabletop roleplaying games actual plays might add nuance to debates surrounding narrative and gameplay in roleplaying games, especially as it relates to narratives of White supremacy and domination.

March 20, 2023