Do orcs in gaming display parallels to colonialist propaganda?
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  1. #1
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    Do orcs in gaming display parallels to colonialist propaganda?

    So I see people online claiming that orcs (or drow or any other savage humanoid race) often unconsciously represent cruel stereotypes of people of color and promote a colonialist narrative. I also see plenty of people claiming that orcs do not and never have represented racial minorities, and that even suggesting such is itself racist. This question is very much politicized. How much truth is there to this assumption? Are there any academic analyses of such comparisons? Is there an ironclad argument either way?
    Last edited by BoxCrayonTales; Wednesday, 6th March, 2019 at 01:51 AM.
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  2. #2
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    You've done some editing so I'm going to back off a bit.

    My answer is still "No."

    But when you start addressing something as broad as "gaming", things get complicated.
    Last edited by Celebrim; Wednesday, 6th March, 2019 at 02:37 AM.

  3. #3
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    I have observed that the most energetic purveyors of the claim "__A__ in D&D is a symbol of __B__", where A is an evil / villainous / monstrous race and B is any real-life social-critique sin (racism, sexist, imperialist, &c) have no intentions of making a positive contribution to the gaming community - nor of playing the game themselves.

    These go-rounds are exercises in proving to their own satisfaction their superior self-righteousness. Pay them only enough attention to be sure you are not accidentally hit by somebody else's mutual Fireball contest.

    Mod Note: Folks, we have rules now against dismissing people's positions by classifying them as "virtue signalling". And don't get the idea that we cannot see the idea when you don't use those exact words. This is trying to dismiss someone because you think you know *why* they are doing an thing, and don't find that worthy. This is effectively ad hominem, and should not enter your discussion. Thanks. ~Umbran

    You and we have better things to do - collect some friends and start up a game session!
    Last edited by Umbran; Wednesday, 6th March, 2019 at 04:06 PM.
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  4. #4
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    The only time I've heard this complaint directly, it was in regards to the Martians in Space 1889, and that's a game which intentionally goes for the colonialist aesthetic.

    I see how some people might have that sort of complaint, in other sorts of games, but I don't believe that the concern is always well-founded. As long as the writer/designer/GM isn't intentionally doing it, and as long as they stop to ask themselves whether it might unintentionally be coming off that way, then it should still be possible to include savage humanoid races without them necessarily being analogous to anything. Sometimes an orc is just an orc.

  5. #5
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    Without any specific demonstration of these "claims" I couldn't begin to address them. Given the times, and the authors, it's entirely possible. In the past what we regard now as racist thinking was just thinking.

  6. #6
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    Waghalter (Lvl 7)



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    I don't think it's entirely unfair to make comparisons between colonial propaganda and how orcs or other races have been portrayed in Dungeons & Dragons. Just thinking about how many groups have been portrayed throughout American history as being brutish, immoral, less intelligent, possessing few positive traits, and being dangerous I can certainly see some parallels. I don't believe anyone who created D&D sat down and decided to use Orcs or Drow as a stand in for some real life group.

    I don't think it's unfair to characterize those players who have some problems with this as being the type who will make no positive contributions to gaming. We have had some terrible examples of gaming products that were hurtful to real life people. White Wolfe's Gypsy source book for World of Darkness comes to mind. And while I'm not super sensitive to some of these issues I can't help but think those who try to create an environment where a more diverse range of gamers feels comfortable is a good thing.
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    Eh. It can? I wouldn't argue that it generally doesn't; I'm not fond of always-evil sentient humanoids as a concept, but "faceless, human(oid) goons" is a storytelling trope for a reason, many reasons really. While I find an uncritical approach to mowing down actual living, thinking creatures troubling; I wouldn't go so far as accuse the trope as generally leading to more negative attitudes about race/nationality/culture, let alone more negative actual outcomes (namely, actual violence). We generally know that Orcs are Orcs and not, say, stand-ins for a real-world group.

    Now, some time ago on this board a person wanted to create a fascilime of our real, historical Earth, with the Orcs specifically serving as a stand-in for Mongols. Which was a... er-- well, that's a certainly a choice. Not one I would have considered intentionally supporting a very negative worldview, but as a choice it... certainly does make a statement, one that I'd consider more borderline indicative of a colonialist perspective.
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    There have been elements of some of the “always evil” races’ treatment in early FRPGs- especially D&D- that could definitely be said to echo some of the racism present in the early pulp and genre fiction that inspired the founders of the hobby. But as time has passed, those elements have been somewhat reduced, and the various races have been fleshed out a bit more realistically by subsequent game designers.

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    Thing is, depending on the campaign in question, fictionalized racism- even if it echoes the real world stuff- isn’t necessarily bad. I once had a discussion on this board about how the Drow might refer to the schism from other elves as “The War of Surface Aggression” and that their sun-dwelling cousins “senselessly” abhor their “peculiar institution“ of enslaving others.

    IOW, a straight-up reskinning of the American Civil War...except in the fantasy setting, the Drow were merely marginalized, not completely defeated. IOW, they could (literally) rise again.

    In the right hands, with the right players, that’s a virtually limitless source for plot lines.

    And Harry Turtledove did a brilliant series of novels that were essentially a retelling of the stories of WWII in a fantasy setting, right down to all the nasty racist stuff perpetrated during it.

    If nothing else, that particular brand of evil would represent a relatively fresh storyline distinct from those more common in fantasy settings- total or partial nihilism, killing all the spellcasters, killing all the non-spellcasters, etc.

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    Let's be honest here, and I think @Dannyalcatraz hits it right off, fantasy as a genre started off pretty deep into racist territory. The grand daddy's of fantasy (and a large amount of science fiction as well) weren't exactly the most tolerant of men. And, yup, I'm saying men, since the writers of spec fiction up until the latter half of the 20th century (and WELL into the latter half) were almost universally men.

    Whether you want to point to Lovecraft or Howard or Burroughs or a host of others, a lot of the initial ideas for fantasy were pretty heavily grounded in strongly racist and misogynistic tendencies. This isn't a secret. So, it's not really surprising when you can see elements of that in D&D.

    I mean, sure, Drow are just dark skinned evil elves... in BDSM gear... matriarchal, dark skinned, men hating elves in BDSM gear...

    It's not really a stretch here.

    IMO, the key is to recognize the origins of these things, don't pretend that they aren't there, but, also, as DannyA mentions, there are things that can be redeemed out of material and brought into the open.

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