A lot of what we do in roleplaying games is archetype.  Classes are based on archetypes, and even classless games often offer archetypes or similar basic concepts.  Archetypes, like stereotypes, are a quick tool (called a heuristic) that we use to make fast, cognitively inexpensive judgments.  They’re helpful for exactly that reason, and it makes it a lot easier to come up with characters, plots, and even worlds when using archetypes.

Thing is, archetypes quickly and easily become stereotypes (not using the strict psychological definition here).  Ever wondered how we end up with thousands of drow elf rangers wielding two scimitars?  Stereotypes can become restrictive and, at their worst, hateful.  On the other hand, playing with a starting point or imposing a restriction on your creation process can be extremely fruitful.

At a broader level, I’m also thinking about race and roleplaying games.  Many roleplaying games, fantasy and otherwise, offer many races, but it doesn’t seem that they really address race as an issue the way it exists in the world today.  Okay, some definitely do, and it’s not like every game needs to bring up socially responsible issues.  I’m mostly pointing that out because I’m interested in it (no preaching from me today).

My question is this: how do you archetype without stereotyping in roleplaying games?  How do you address issues that are important and charged in today’s world inside a roleplaying game?  People most often address sex in roleplaying games when they think about this question, but what about other issues like sexual violence, racial tension, and minorities?