Another perspective on the Orc problem


Active Member
Most people have heard of Dungeons & Dragons these days. It used to be a weird pastime of geeks only, though it inspired a few Reefer Madness panic type movies in the mainstream. Decades later it has become pretty much mainstream itself. The modern idea of 'orcs' of course has been shaped by Tolkien even if the word originates from ancient times (ultimately the Roman god 'Orcus'). But one of the major vehicles for promulgating the image of Orc-kind has been the Dungeons & Dragons subculture.

Fast forward to the Internet era, and we've got online webcomics with all sorts of settings. Several very good ones use a D&D derived fantasy world, to the point of lampooning D&D game mechanics on a regular basis as well as telling their individual stories. A leading example is The Order of the Stick (also known as OOTS for short), a world explicitly based on D&D game rules, though free to bend or ignore the rules to tell the story. The long, slow development of this world-story is difficult to summarize. It's worth a read if you aren't familiar with it, but with more than a decade of back-log, it will take a while. :)

The crucial issues that bring this into the discussion here are the workings of the 'spiritual economy' of a D&D world. "Gods" are typically seen as farmers of souls in D&D worlds, trying to cultivate mortals in the 'material plane' to bolster their spiritual power in the other 'planes'. The OOTS world is the same, with a special twist that you ought to read the comic to appreciate. Just recently because of the nature of the story, the characters in the comic itself have become very 'genre-savvy' and begun arguing the fairness of these arrangements, and the fairness of the way the 'cannon fodder' races (not just orcs, but goblins, trolls, etc.) get treated in the ecosystem. This has naturally provoked some similar discussions among the fan-base. You can explore the forums on the OOTS home site, it's a huge place with many debates of some of these issues. But I want to direct your attention to the discussion on TV Tropes discussion forum devoted to OOTS. Just a few days ago a pretty heated discussion broke out, roughly here, with Tolkien-style orcs contrasted with the variations such as "Blizzard-style" (World of Warcraft) and the Warhammer races. Inevitably, the topic of 'crypto-racism' has come up. Making a purely evil, nasty race in a fantasy setting is just a proxy for real-world racism according to some. The problem of 'redeemability' is not so explicitly discussed as it is here, but it's clearly an issue underlying the 'fairness problem' of having an entire species/race exist just to be fodder for the good guys.

Even without explicit 'theological' concerns, the different sides of the debates kind of mirror the struggle Tolkien was going through about the nature of orcs...


Well-Known Member
Even without explicit 'theological' concerns, the different sides of the debates kind of mirror the struggle Tolkien was going through about the nature of orcs...
At its core it is a "nature vs. nurture" debate. With more and more voices on the "woke" side nowadays stating that "Nature" or "Biology" itself is racist or even (I have seen such statements) fascist. Historically it goes as far as geneticists being persecuted in the Soviet Union.
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