I was thinking about this because some article about negative stereotypes in video games was all “Black folks are too stupid to use magic in Elder Scrolls” as one of the several examples.
Just how bad are the starting racial and gender based stat tweaks?
There are no racial (or gendered) limits in any stats. All Races can eventually get 100s in all stats (except for Luck; that shit is hard, yo).
The differences in racial and gender based stats can be overcome within a single level with a little bit of effort and determination.
Racial and gender bonuses may reflect the base societal norms within each “race”. As they are quickly overcome and virtually irrelevant among adventurers, these stat differences say more about the values held by each fictional culture rather than what the developers believe to be the inherent strengths and weaknesses within various races and genders. (Crit theory says I’m 100% right about this, too, because it’s my opinion, and my critical opinion is more meaningful than creative intent)
All of that being said, I’m not really a big fan of systems that alter base stats on whether someone is playing as male or female. Usually, though, base stats are fixed for that character for the rest of the game, outside of magical items. Most systems don’t have any mechanism for a female character to overcome that -2 STR or whatever. But at least with most of the Elder Scrolls entries I’ve played, when a female character goes out and swings a sword for awhile, the game says “Well, since she’s been out there swinging a sword, clearly she’s gotten stronger.”
Racial stat traits or restrictions are more understandable when we’re not talking about the difference between a white guy and an asian or black but rather all whites, blacks, asians, whatever vs. hominid things with non-human morphology. Khajit used to not be able to wear boots, because they were uncomfortable on their kitty feet, until Oblivion (where the restriction would’ve broken the thieves guild and Knights of Nine quest lines).
The real problem is the uselessness of cultural understanding as a mechanic within the Elder Scrolls. I’ve been playing as a high elven linguistic anthropologist in Daggerfall on and off for maybe 3 years now, and while I’ve got a full suit of elven armor, elven blunt weapons and dwarven edged weapons, I still can’t start the main quest because I’m only level 2. At best, all of that cultural understanding merely allows her to improve her backstab and critical strike skills on the 1 out of every 10 orcs who aren’t immediately hostile. “I strike you down in the name of the most benevolent Mara!”