“Race fails on several fronts when it comes to describing fantasy peoples like elves, dwarves and wierdo dragon people.*”
1) It implies categories that lead to all kinds of discriminatory garbage in the real world.
2) In the real world, these categories are also shaky at best when they’re examined scientifically. (NOTE: Nature>nurture fans, your science is old and busted. How do Epigenetics? This applies to recent gender-essentialist arguments about RPGs too.)
3) The idea that these differences can create extreme, measurable competence differences is contentious and probably just stupid, and attaching the term to a game template suggests that kind of garbage.
4) The transfer of this term and associated ideas/symbols has already done damage by recreating racist caricatures in fantasy “races.” Tolkien admitted that orcs were explicitly based on a racist conception of Asians. In D&D’s Mystara, humanoid cultures were openly rendered straight transfers of racist stereotypes. (Look at Orcs of Thar. God.) In Eberron, dark elves reproduce racist stereotypes about Africans. This stuff is already making gaming suck, but it doesn’t have to.
5) The same dynamic works the other way by identifying humanity with whiteness, and non-whiteness with inhumanity. Monte Cook has written about how the interplay between fantasy race and human ethnicity influenced WotC’s art direction to marginalize certain groups.
6) The ethnicities encompassed by human “race” divisions can happen within a fictional group. There are Asian and North American First Nations Atlanteans in Woundgate/World of Darkness: Mirrors, for example, and black halflings in D&D4e.
7) There are examples of fantasy peoples who are interspecies, artificially created or transformed from another type, none of which fit the term “race.” It’s stupid to stick to “race” just to appease some lame tradition of terminology that doesn’t even succeed in describing its subject properly.
* I guess I think it’s okay to discriminate against wierdo dragon people.