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Do orcs in gaming display parallels to colonialist propaganda?

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Bedrockgames said:
its the sort of thing you need to be educated into believing before you will generally see it as a problem.
I don't think this is a question of belief. It seems fairly self-evident to me. But nor do I necessarily view it as a problem - it just is. You seem to be implying that it is somehow...unnecessary?...undesirable?...to discover the roots of ideas; which elements comprise the signs in our heads, and why?

I find ideas which inform the aetiology of the Orc to be fascinating.

Don't you think the OP's question was rather rhetorical?
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
I don't think this is a question of belief. It seems fairly self-evident to me. But nor do I necessarily view it as a problem - it just is. You seem to be implying that it is somehow...unnecessary?...undesirable?...to discover the roots of ideas; which elements comprise the signs in our heads, and why?

I find ideas which inform the aetiology of the Orc to be fascinating.
I am sure to do find it fascinating. I think most people just see an orc.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Because 'colonialist propaganda parrallel' isn't something that most people think when they see an image of a D&D orc for the first time. You have to go back into the different editions, you have to go back all the way to Tolkien.
1. Maybe “most people” don’t notice it, but that doesn’t negate its presence. Most people didn’t notice the coelacanths were still alive until 50 or so years ago.
2. Doug McCrae (disappointingly) just a few hours ago posted an exemplar from 5Ed in post #475. Things are better, but not as good as they could be.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that anyone here was making accusations, or put words in your or anyone's mouths.

I was just trying to draw what I feel is a similar example of a stereotype or trope used to create something new, in a different context and more recent history. And if this was viewed as more or less problematic.
Well, considering the only actual accusation of racism was of HPL- whose racism is pretty much not in question- the way you phrased your question was...awkward.
 

Riley37

Villager
Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that anyone here was making accusations, or put words in your or anyone's mouths.

I was just trying to draw what I feel is a similar example of a stereotype or trope used to create something new, in a different context and more recent history. And if this was viewed as more or less problematic.
Thanks. My opinion and I hope Hussar agrees:

Any examination of tropes - in D&D, in Firefly, and elsewhere - will be a LOT easier and a LOT safer, if you consciously and carefully refrain from raising the question of which authors we do or don't designate as racist. If you wanna call out Lovecraft (or the author of the RaHoWa TRPG) as racist, then that's low-hanging fruit, but otherwise, that question generally leads to derails, and to "How dare you accuse that author of being a BAD PERSON", and so forth, which doesn't actually help us make TRPG less toxic for those who are harmed by real-world racism.

It also makes people scared that even participants in the conversation will be Called Out, and dog piled, and condemned as a racist. Bedrockgames has (repeatedly) mentioned Twitter, where sometimes people mix legitimate concerns with the savage joy of taking down a target in a pack attack. (Or so I hear.)

I would love to have a face-to-face conversation with Mr. Whedon, perhaps over a beer, about his use of certain tropes involving race and gender. Same with JRRT, and with Kipling, if they were still alive. I'd like to have those conversations in a way which results in them saying "You have a point, and I'll be more careful about that, next time I create a work of fiction which delights and inspires you". Since those are not available options, let's just discuss the imagery, but not as a "Good Witch or Bad Witch" judgement. We can include context - yes, it matters that the British Empire enriched people such as JRRT, at the widespread expense of people who looked like his description of Bill Ferny's neighbor - without torches and pitchforks.
 

Hussar

Hero
Because 'colonialist propaganda parrallel' isn't something that most people think when they see an image of a D&D orc for the first time. You have to go back into the different editions, you have to go back all the way to Tolkien. And while you think it is a clear line, I find it a lot less clear (for the reason I stated). I do think this is fine tooth comb territory because its the sort of thing you need to be educated into believing before you will generally see it as a problem. And this is just one corner of the discussion. This concept gets applied to all kinds of things in media and games. And I think the constant searching to find the problematic elements and purify them, is creating a much more complicated landscape for people who want to be creative. And part of that landscape is a divide between the people with an advanced education and those who don't have one (. Remember the original question was whether evil orcs are a colonialist or racist trope. I don't think they are. And I think to make that case, you really have to dig deep into the history of the orc as a concept (and I don't find the case particularly convincing).

And I am not saying don't make more interesting orcs. By all means do so. But if someone makes a game with an evil goblinoid creature, is it really that bad of a thing? Again, content does not equal the message. And what happens when all of our RPGs are virtuous? Do you really think it is going to change anything substantive about the culture and society?
I'm going to have to jump on you here a bit BRG. Sorry.

What and who are "most people"? That's a really indefensible position to take. I mean, the problems with fantasy and race are well documented and go back decades. This isn't some new idea that's just sprung out. You can go all the way back to the 60's and the original criticisms of Tolkien and find examples of people seeing the problem.

Arguing that "most people" don't have a problem is pretty much precisely the problem when we're talking about issues with minorities.

Can you have a game with an evil goblinoid? Of course you can. Knock yourself out.

Now, should you have a game where the goblinoids are only evil because they are goblinoids, live in small tribal groups on the fringe of civilization and are constantly attacking that civilization while being described in terms that are directly linked to racist depictions of minorities?

Probably not.
 
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Riley37

Villager
Hello, Bedrockgames. For clarity and context: I’m not calling you a racist. I didn’t even need you telling me about your marriage, or how you’ve voted (which, by the way, I discourage, because how each of us votes is “political”, it’s quite literally political). I’m not calling for torches and pitchforks. There’s a Monty Python line, “We have found a witch! May we burn her?”. I leave “We have found a racist! May we ban him?” to the mods. If you were on Twitter, your fear of pack-attack Call Outs would make sense, but this isn’t Twitter; again, because EnWorld has active moderation.

I gave you the advice which you found annoying, to make a point, which you apparently missed. What we’re calling for, AS AN ACTUAL OUTCOME, is no different than what you’d already do, because you were raised not to use racial slurs.

Further advice: don’t drink rubbing alcohol as a beverage. You already weren’t gonna do that, right? But there’s a warning labels on bottles of rubbing alcohol which says “Not for internal use”. Because SOME people do that, and it’s a problem. Also: there ARE gamers who WOULD encourage Danny to play up the savage, physical aspects of his half-orc characters, without considering how that might land on a sore spot. I’ve met those gamers at conventions. You’re not one of them. They still exist.

Because 'colonialist propaganda parrallel' isn't something that most people think when they see an image of a D&D orc for the first time.
That’s true. Most people don’t think about it.
Also, *most* fans of the football team in Washington DC don’t think about whether the name of that team sounds like colonialist propaganda.
People who have actually been called by that name, however, tend to think about it. Some of those people apply a “fine-toothed comb” to the history of that word.

And what happens when all of our RPGs are virtuous? Do you really think it is going to change anything substantive about the culture and society?
Now THAT is an important question!

Sometimes change happens systematically, for example the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Sometimes change happens gradually, piece by piece, person by person. If you don’t know the story of Derek Black, look him up.
I know one person whose experience of D&D was changed, because WOTC chose “virtuous” for 5E D&D.
He’s a black man, who walked into a gaming store to try 5E (back when it was new). I was hosting Adventurer’s League. He told me that he wanted to play a human cleric. When I showed him the “Human” pages in the 5E Player’s Handbook, which list various kinds of human, he asked if the setting included “humans” who looked like he did. So I pointed out the paragraph on Rashemi, and the illustrations on page 70 and 112.

His face lit up with joy. He said “Okay, that’s where my character is from.” He stayed for the session, and he came back the following week.

That one gamer’s experience was “substantive”.

He still gets turned down for jobs, he still gets pulled over by police, people still look away if he walks hand in hand with a white woman. I can’t change those things. I do what I can, where I can. Welcoming him to D&D matters to me.
 

Riley37

Villager
And, shifting back to the orcs, they were created from tortured/corrupted elves. But both still fill the literary trope of "savage" or "barbarian". So I think this is a pretty good example to compare to.
Here's a significant difference, in the course of that comparison:

In JRRT's setting, when Morgoth tortures and corrupts elves, their physical appearance changes.

On the input side: elves are "the fairest creatures in Arda". The Quenya word "Vanyar", translated as "fair", refers to their light-coloured hair. When their eye color is mentioned, it's gray. Some Elves have brown hair, but JRRT wrote, in these words, "no Elf had absolute black hair".

On the output side: we've already quoted physical descriptions and established which human populations match those descriptions.

Meanwhile, in the 'Verse, the process which tortures and corrupts ordinary humans into Reavers changes their minds, and NOT their physical appearance. In the episode "Bushwacked", we see a person on both ends of the process. I could have played that character, because in the 'Verse, an ordinary humans can have black hair, and as a Reaver will still have black hair.

I could not play an elf whom Morgoth corrupts into an orc, because no Elf ever has my hair color. I could only play the output side of that process. Apparently the process which turns a good person into a bad person, also makes a fair-haired person look... more like me? Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it?

Whedon took a trope which was common in Westerns, and *made it not about race*. IMO that's a good change.
 

Libramarian

Villager
As to the first quote, do you often ask strangers their ethnicity? Do you often ask anyone their ethnicity? How often do you ask white friends, "So, where are you from?" and when they say, "England", or whatever country, do you then repeat the question until you drill down where their ancestors were born? Do you do this repeatedly?

Because, that's what happens when you are Asian in many Western countries. Saying, "I'm Canadian" is apparently never quite good enough.

So, yeah, I wouldn't blame anyone for getting incredibly offended when strangers somehow feel that they are entitled to ask my ethnicity.
Just skimming through the thread - Canadian white people ask each other about their ethnic background all the time. Actually they seem more interested in this topic the higher status they are. Just a couple weeks ago I went to lunch with my boss and his boss who flew in from Montreal - a department director in the federal government - and we started talking about our ethnic backgrounds and he (my boss's boss) shared his Ancestry DNA test results. I found it a slightly odd topic of conversation tbh, but they didn't seem to at all.

Wrt to Orcs...I'm pretty sure I find the concept of an inimical "savage" race - cunning but incorrigibly and mercilessly warlike - to be kinda scary and cool *independent* of its real-world historical associations. That is to say, if we were on an alternate Earth where every civilization developed technologically at exactly the same rate and colonialism never happened and we never recognized and developed language and stereotypes for this distinction between civilized races and savage/barbarian races, I *think* I would still find it an interesting concept for fantasy roleplaying. Maybe more interesting.
 

Libramarian

Villager
Here's a significant difference, in the course of that comparison:

In JRRT's setting, when Morgoth tortures and corrupts elves, their physical appearance changes.

On the input side: elves are "the fairest creatures in Arda". The Quenya word "Vanyar", translated as "fair", refers to their light-coloured hair. When their eye color is mentioned, it's gray. Some Elves have brown hair, but JRRT wrote, in these words, "no Elf had absolute black hair".

On the output side: we've already quoted physical descriptions and established which human populations match those descriptions.

Meanwhile, in the 'Verse, the process which tortures and corrupts ordinary humans into Reavers changes their minds, and NOT their physical appearance. In the episode "Bushwacked", we see a person on both ends of the process. I could have played that character, because in the 'Verse, an ordinary humans can have black hair, and as a Reaver will still have black hair.

I could not play an elf whom Morgoth corrupts into an orc, because no Elf ever has my hair color. I could only play the output side of that process. Apparently the process which turns a good person into a bad person, also makes a fair-haired person look... more like me? Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it?
I think the association between fairness and beauty (and beauty and goodness) runs deeper than racism. Last I checked it's considered scientifically plausible that blond hair, blue eyes and even pale skin evolved primarily due to sexual selection rather than any environmental advantage.
 

Hussar

Hero
I think the association between fairness and beauty (and beauty and goodness) runs deeper than racism. Last I checked it's considered scientifically plausible that blond hair, blue eyes and even pale skin evolved primarily due to sexual selection rather than any environmental advantage.
Well, I guess the question to ask would then be, do we see the same association between fairness and goodness in other societies where there is much less variation than in Northern Europe?

IOW, are there fairy tales and myths in, say, Kenyan or Native American cultures where being fair skinned is equated with goodness?
 

Riley37

Villager
Just skimming through the thread - Canadian white people ask each other about their ethnic background all the time. Actually they seem more interested in this topic the higher status they are.
People whose ancestry and features have never put them on the short end of a power dynamic, are comfortable exploring the minor variations within their genetic common ground... and that's different from the comfort level of those whose ancestors would have (in the USA) been on the short end of the Internment of 1941, or the Naturalization Act of 1790 (which restricted citizenship to "any alien, being a free white person"). Rather predictable, actually. Meanwhile, anyone among the bosses who was less white, would get a reminder of their outlier status. "We're all Aryan here, but who's Nordic and who's Persian? Oh, all of us excepting you, Carlos, no offense meant."

Wrt to Orcs...I'm pretty sure I find the concept of an inimical "savage" race - cunning but incorrigibly and mercilessly warlike - to be kinda scary and cool *independent* of its real-world historical associations. That is to say, if we were on an alternate Earth where every civilization developed technologically at exactly the same rate and colonialism never happened and we never recognized and developed language and stereotypes for this distinction between civilized races and savage/barbarian races, I *think* I would still find it an interesting concept for fantasy roleplaying. Maybe more interesting.
Yes, would still be an interesting concept, kinda like the Warrior class in Niven's "Mote in God's Eye". (Deadly warriors, tactically sharp, not as useful for farming or engineering.)

In that alternate universe, we would have no grounds for concern about whether our fantasy stories were adding insult to injury. No one would adapt Andrew Jackson's famous saying about Indians into an equivalent opinion about goblins, because Andrew Jackson's saying would not be part of our history. If you can bring us a copy of that universe's version of D&D, please do!
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
People whose ancestry and features have never put them on the short end of a power dynamic, are comfortable exploring the minor variations within their genetic common ground... and that's different from the comfort level of those whose ancestors would have (in the USA) been on the short end of the Internment of 1941, or the Naturalization Act of 1790 (which restricted citizenship to "any alien, being a free white person"). Rather predictable, actually. Meanwhile, anyone among the bosses who was less white, would get a reminder of their outlier status. "We're all Aryan here, but who's Nordic and who's Persian? Oh, all of us excepting you, Carlos, no offense meant."
Caveat: in the USA, even certain Caucasian Europeans have faced their own versions of bigotry. “Irish Need Not Apply” signs were popular, once upon a time. And Eastern Europeans were not so well received when they first started coming to these shores in big numbers.

Not saying it was equivalent to the mistreatment of nonwhites, but it was still of a similar nature- the prejudice of imagined innate superiority.
 

Riley37

Villager
I think the association between fairness and beauty (and beauty and goodness) runs deeper than racism.
You have your opinion, I have mine. I say that the association between fair-skinned people and good people, runs EXACTLY as deep as racism.

If I showed you 100 photos of people, chosen randomly from the 7 billion humans, and asked you to sort them, in order, from Best Human to Worst Human... and you acted on that association... then you would sort those 100 photos from fairest and best person, to darkest and worst person.

If you assess Carol Bundy as fairer, and prettier, and in turn *a better person*, than Harriet Tubman, then we'll just have to disagree.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Hello, Bedrockgames. For clarity and context: I’m not calling you a racist. I didn’t even need you telling me about your marriage, or how you’ve voted (which, by the way, I discourage, because how each of us votes is “political”, it’s quite literally political). I’m not calling for torches and pitchforks. There’s a Monty Python line, “We have found a witch! May we burn her?”. I leave “We have found a racist! May we ban him?” to the mods. If you were on Twitter, your fear of pack-attack Call Outs would make sense, but this isn’t Twitter; again, because EnWorld has active moderation.
These kinds of conversations tend to make their way onto twitter, so I figured the clarifications were important.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Now, should you have a game where the goblinoids are only evil because they are goblinoids, live in small tribal groups on the fringe of civilization and are constantly attacking that civilization while being described in terms that are directly linked to racist depictions of minorities?
.
I wasn't arguing it this way. I was just saying an evil goblin (which could have any cultural features the writer thinks are interesting). Heck they could be based off the Nazis if you want them to. I wasn't even thinking about what cultural details would yet be involved (I think as long as the cultural details are incidental it is fine, if you are trying to paint an image of all people who share a cultural trait as evil, then sure it is bad------but most inspiration is going to come from some real world cultures just by the nature of human creativity)
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
I'm going to have to jump on you here a bit BRG. Sorry.

What and who are "most people"? That's a really indefensible position to take. I mean, the problems with fantasy and race are well documented and go back decades. This isn't some new idea that's just sprung out. You can go all the way back to the 60's and the original criticisms of Tolkien and find examples of people seeing the problem.
By most people I am stating an opinion: I think most people don't really notice this stuff. I could be wrong. But it is just based on my impression talking to people. Again, I get that you are pointing to an academic debate on this topic, but most people are not steeped in that debate. And I think often times in academics mountains get made out of mole hills. Maybe people were saying Tolkien was racist in the 60s, I do recall there being an essay by MM calling Tolkien Fascist, which I think isn't a very valid argument and the kind of academic argument I have in mind when I am skeptical (there was a similar argument among film critics when we were kids labeling movies where heroes used guns as fascist----even Robocop got the label). I think sometimes these hyper critical lenses find problems most people don't really see (which is why I say this is something you need to squint to observe and why I call it taking a fine tooth comb). By the way, I am not talking about other aspects of S&S. Obviously if you read HPL and if you read Conan, the racial stuff is way more obvious and troubling (like I said, I noticed that about Lovecraft when I was a kid reading him). I think Howard, at least in my experience is not nearly as bad as Lovecraft, but the stuff is still there. With Tolkien, none of it feels intentional at all. And a lot of it, like the eye description and 'swarthy' bit, feel like they could be pointing to other things. I think we are just starting to repeat ourselves. But in the case of orcs, I just don't think it is the closed case you believe it to be, and I think most people really do just see a green skinned monster and don't think of it as stand-in for another race (and certainly most people don't have colonialist propaganda in mind unless they've read a lot of criticism that invokes things like colonialism and orientalism). This is one of these things that I just think requires a bit of training to become aware of.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Arguing that "most people" don't have a problem is pretty much precisely the problem when we're talking about issues with minorities.
.
I am including everyone in that most people. Again, I think this has a lot more to do with educational background. One thing that frequently surprises me about this is how often people in minority groups have a very different opinion about this stuff than I might think if I just went by this thread. So this isn't about just listening to white people or something. But again, at the end of the day, i think we have to weigh what different people say, and still retain our own mind and decision making about it.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
That’s true. Most people don’t think about it.
Also, *most* fans of the football team in Washington DC don’t think about whether the name of that team sounds like colonialist propaganda.
People who have actually been called by that name, however, tend to think about it. Some of those people apply a “fine-toothed comb” to the history of that word.

I don't watch football so this isn't an issue I follow much (for example I don't know what the opinion of the team name is among Native Americans in polls). But I see a clear difference here. This is a team name that is using an actual ethnic slur of a real people as its name. If orcs were instead called something like that as their name, sure that would be pretty hard to ignore. Instead we are going by two lines in a description from tolkien, and again, it isn't clear to me if he was pointing to an actual race or not in that description. I just think it is a lot more murky.
 
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