For most MMOs political correctness ends where the gameworld begins. Customer service will quite rightly be on you like a ton of bricks should they catch you expressing yourself in a way that would see you, if not in court, then at least socially ostracized in the real world, but if you want to rag on someone for an aspect of the race they've chosen to adopt as their in-game persona then go ahead, give it your best shot.
What's more the internal politics and culture of the virtual worlds, where our characters grew up and where, by reason, they should be far more at home than we are, tend not only to allow these attitudes but to shape and often actively encourage them. In the high summer of Everquest it was not unusual for a dwarven cleric, as he sat meditating to restore the mana he'd just drained keeping the ogre warrior in his party upright, to find the self-same ogre offering him some delicious Dwarf Chops as a snack. The ogre wasn't offering any undersized slices of pigmeat, either. He meant actual pieces of an actual dwarf, chopped up and roasted with spices and garnish, quite possibly by the very ogre now handing it around the group.
|When you said "study at my feet" I didn't think you meant it literally|
Someone in the original Everquest design team thought it would be completely fine for the playable races in the world they were imagining to consider each other not only as potential allies or enemies but as a staple source of nutrition. It wasn't just a couple of items sold by an NPC for a quick giggle, like the Dwarf Pickles you could buy in Freeport, either. The original baking skill included recipes for the meat of all player races and they were widely used, too, both practically for the stat boosts they provided and for the endless opportunities they opened up for boisterous humor in the most dubious of taste. If I had a platinum piece for every time my gnome cleric was offered a gnome kabob...
|Forget the Charr/human squabble! Did no-one remember the cat/mouse thing?|
Time moves on and consenting cannibalism between playable races appears to have gone out of fashion, only to be replaced by an unreconstructed 19th century approach to racial interaction. It's a pot that's been bubbling for a while but it came to a rolling boil in Guild Wars 2, where I admit to being mildly shocked during my personal story to find the great and the good among the three Orders that aspire to what passes for the moral high ground in Tyria blithely referring to potential allies in the fight against the dragons as "lesser races".
|They're letting anyone in these days!|
The melting pot that is Lion's Arch makes for a much brighter indicator of more modern ways of thinking. Way back in beta I was gleeful to spot a Skritt citizen even though at the time I didn't quite know what it was that I was seeing. Most sentient races find a home in Lion's Arch, trading, laboring, making diplomatic representations. There's no lesser race representative on the Captain's Council now but one day, who knows?
And so to Eorzea with its moral and political infrastructure so very strongly reminiscent of Tyria's, its Grand Companies matching the Orders, its Scions of the Seventh Dawn mirroring the Pact and the overweening threat of the Garlean Empire creating the same need for unity as the Elder Dragons: here we also find a categorical divide between the superior, playable races and the inferior, non-playable beast tribes. At first the attitudes exhibited by NPCs and by implication expected of player-characters feel just as unpalatable, but as the narrative unfolds and, particularly, as side-quests deepen understanding of the milieu and the ambivalence of the settled races comes into focus, there does seem to be, if not justification then at least an explanation that rings true.
|So you say...|
Behind every beast race lowers a Primal, a kind of minor deity or force of nature. The very presence of the Primals is said to threaten the existence of Eorzea, largely because of the need for the beast tribes to expend vast amounts of aetheric crystals to summon their patron Primal. Not to mention that, when summoned, these immensely powerful entities tend to be highly inimical to all but their sponsored race, posing a direct threat to life, limb and liberty for anyone unlucky enough to be in the area at the time.
|Got any fork handles?|
Yet even with good reason to shun or fear them, many beast tribes are not just tolerated but welcomed in Eorzea's cities and towns. Goblins and Qiqirn especially seem well-integrated, respected according to their actions and personalities rather than judged purely on their race or appearance. It's a pure joy to trade with Qiqirn in their junkyards or sit in the dust as a Goblin master craftsman teaches you the basics of Materia.
For me, at least, the diversity of its races and the complexities of their interactions are one of the great pillars upon which the whole edifice of a high-fantasy virtual world rests. A wide variety of playable races is an obvious indicator when it comes to choosing one MMO over another in today's overcrowded field, but in many ways it's how the the unplayed, unplayable races are presented and developed that can end up mattering more.