Orcs, Ancestry, Racism and Ugh.
It's true. We demonize our enemies. The purpose of propaganda is that it makes it easier to dispatch those you do not approve of into the great unknown. But! If you were to go back in time to the very white and unenlightened age of 1982 and asked my group of D&D players what race a black person was or an Asian or Native American. We would have looked at you as if you were stupid and said, "Ah, human. Duh."
Subhumanoids existed as punching bags so we didn't have to deal with the moral complexity of attacking other humans for XP. Believe it or not, but in my gaming group there was an unwritten rule that you did not kill other humanoids, not unless they were truly asking for it. Subhumanoids were a dime a dozen. You could stack up their skulls and not feel bad about it. The orc in particular was an embodiment of everything puerile - stupidity, viciousness, meanness, disgust - it felt good to rid the world of them. Evil incarnate was a big part of the fantasy of the game.
Saying that subhumanoids are a stand in for ethnic minorities, pretty much dehumanizes everyone. It tells ethnic minorites that they are little more than monsters to be dispatched for the entertainment of ethnic majorities. Is ethnic majority even a term? Okay - white people - and it tells white people that if you enjoyed nearly any fantasy from before the 21st century you were revelling in a genocidal dream of wiping out anyone who does not resemble yourself.
You love Tolkein? Surprise! You're a racist!
And isn't that what the world needs now? More racists?
Because eventually that is the end result of such thinking. Just like any slur, you can only use it so many times against your enemies before they embrace it as their own.
The same peril seems to follow the matter of removing the word Race from the game. Sure - Race - is an ugly word, but removing it doesn't actually solve the problem of racism. If anything it may make matters worse. Sure it sanitizes the look of the game but it also removes that baseline which qualifies all humans as being equals and deserving of preferential treatment over subhumanoids. Changing race to ancestry only tightens the barriers which separate people. According to Ancestry.com (which my sister put me up to) I am...
42% English/Wales/Northwestern Europe
1% Indigenous North American
If I were to fixate on any one of these ancestries - historically speaking - it would put me bitterly at odds with all the others. On the whole, I'd rather just be human.
So how do we deal with orcs?
How do we deal with this which has been blazing around the internet recently...
Well, I'm not sure where it came from but I'm guessing it is 5e or possibly 3e from the layout. I also suspect it was written with the best of intentions, somebody trying to figure out a way of turning the orc from a monster into a playable race. Indoctrinated is a key word here. It implies that the orc is a victim of its culture, a bit like a pit bull who has been trained to fight but could actually be a sweet loveable dog if raised right. The second paragraph is the problem child. This one harps on the idea that breeding is largely inescapable, that even with the best of intentions it is hard to change the nature of the beast.
Welcome to the world outside humanity.
In theory, any wild creature can be domesticated, but not over the course of one lifetime. Foxes can be turned into pets, but it takes three or four generations to breed out their vicious feral nature. Doing so also turns them into something other than a fox. Physically they change. If I remember right, their legs get shorter and their faces less angular, the fur poofier. Dogs are already domesticated, but they are not free from their breeds and it is absolutely uncanny how accurately a breed description can predict the personality of a dog. I own a westie, I didn't teach him how to be a stubborn yet loveable well-spring of attitude. That came with the package. Everything written about westies fits him perfectly and I had nothing to do with it. So there is some truth to the impact of breeding. Humans, however, I like to think are different. We have intelligence on our side. Unlike canines we have the capacity of self-change, complexity, of turning ourselves into something vastly different from what we were over a couple of years rather than generations.
(any excuse to pop in a picture of my dog)
Orcs are not humans. They are not supposed to be smart or domesticated. If anything, orcs should be like foxes who will continue to be just what their nature demands of them until somehow that nature is bred out or they become intelligent enough to change themselves. To turn an orc into a playable race which isn't the embodiement of evil, you literally need to create a new race. For me, this is what the half-orc should have been. Not necessarily a human/orc hybird but a species of orc which long ago separated from its porcine kin to become something different, something obviously related and yet still quite distant.
In truth, the more I think about it the less problem I have with "Roleplaying An Orc." It reminds me of B'Elanna Torres from Star Trek Voyager who if you know was half-klingon.
(and if you are reading this blog, yeah you know :-)
Orcs and Klingons. Klingons and Orcs. They're basically the same thing, although I like to think that Klingons are smarter and with better sanitary habits (yet somewhat lacking in the pig-nose department). But was it so wrong that B'Elanna often struggled with her warlike Klingon heritage? It did make for a couple of interesting episodes. Likewise, it could also make for some interesting games. Who are we to say that she should not exist? That klingons and humans should not mix? Or that klingons should not be allowed to be what they are and be offensive in appearance only?
Of course, that is not what the internet is about these days. This latest outrage really seems to be about people needing to vent their frustrations by revelling in some morally justified hatred.
Let's hope they don't burn down the house while doing so.
More from Roll of the Dice...