Some folks on social media, once again, seem to have more time on their hands than seems healthy and have turned their perpetually offended eyes on the fantasy creatures known as orcs. Also, as usual, the perception seems to be that it’s generally a white, western savior type pushing the idea that they’re trying to protect minorities from some perceived racism in the existence of a savage race of creatures who look nothing like, and act nothing like the minorities they’re trying to protect.
Ok, for those of you who don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy RPGs were designed to be games in which you play a hero (or sometimes villain) exploring a dangerous world full of monsters, traps, magic, and treasure. These are games of conflict, danger, war, and intrigue. They are meant to take us to worlds vastly different from our own and let us become adventurers seeking fame and glory in those worlds. Escapism, fun, teamwork, and problem solving are some of the things people get out of these games.
As these games became more popular, thankfully the community grew. Being an old gamer myself, I enjoyed seeing more of my friends become interested and over the years it’s been great to see more availability of games and ease of access. We used to have to mail order our RPG books when I was in high school because there wasn’t a store within 50 miles that carried them. Imagine wanting a book for your next campaign and having to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery. Increased popularity and demand means that I can find almost any game I want, and if I can’t get it at my local game shop I can have it shipped to me overnight.
With the addition of tons of fantastic gamers, have come a few who feel like the hobby has a problem. Now, I won’t deny there’s some bad apples in gaming. Video gaming, table top, comics, bee keeping, knitting clubs, and so on, all have their issues. I take exception when people take those bad apples and hold them up as examples of the whole. And unlike many of those hobbies, most of the material we use is completely customizable. For years we’ve been fine tuning our games to fit our needs. Every group I’ve ever known has had some form of house rules and homebrew elements to make the game better for them. It’s not like video games where you’re completely at the mercy of the developers (unless you get that rare game that allows modding). So when people have a problem with a tabletop game it boggles my mind that they demand changes to suit their own personal play style.
So, along have come the people bent on making tabletop conform to their own world view. They’ve ignored the words and intent of creators like Tolkein, Gygax, and Greenwood, and inserted their own take on things like orcs. “They’re racist stereotypes because they’re evil, savage, and not white.” That’s the general gist of pretty much everyone making this point. But, let’s step back.
Stereotypes do exist. They’re used in literature all the time. They exist in D&D and similar games. But are they racist? Let’s look at the largest D&D lore setting, The Forgotten Realms (where this whole thing started anyway). Giving you a little background in case you’re unfamiliar, Faerun (the name of the world in this setting) is home to all manner of creatures, all races, and species known to fantasy. In just the human population, you have people who look like, and have built cultures like, all the people of Earth. Including tribal, savage, barbarous cultures. And that cross section is completely devoid of any sort of racial discrimination. There are advanced cultures of Faerunians who look like Earth people from the Middle East, or Africa like the Calishites of the South West. There are bands of barbarous, savage tribal humans in the north who are white, like the clans of the northern glacial regions. And, everything in between. The Forgotten Realms has just about every type of human you can imagine, and their cultures vary widely regardless of the color of their skin.
So, if dark-skinned humans with advanced (for Faerun) civilizations exist, why would they need to use orcs as a stand in for dark-skinned humans? If there are savage white humans, dark-skinned humans, and asian humans in Faerun, why would describing orcs as savage be an indication of racism? Are the northern clans of white savage barbarians also stand-ins for earth’s minorities? There’s just no logic to it.
And, like a joke where you always know the punchline, the narrative has now changed to “tabletop is just a right wing, fascist breeding ground.” My gut says, then go away, but my brain says, what? Seriously, in all my years of gaming I’ve never seen anything to make me believe D&D encourages any kind of politics, and I’ve certainly met far more liberals than conservatives that game. It’s a preposterous notion, and shows just how seriously you can take the rest of what they’re saying.
What I have seen, in all my years, is these same sorts of people trying to topple gaming. Religious puritans screaming about how it’s satanic, leads to murder and suicide. Now the fanatics think it turns people into fascists. Instead of trying to tear it down from the outside, now they’re inside. Game designers, writers, and players. People who are meant to share our love of gaming are trying to destroy it and rebuild it because they can’t get past the misconceptions of their us or them worldview. What was once, and I truly believe still is mostly, a culture of inclusion, fun, and camaraderie, is slowly becoming a place of hostility and exclusion. When we welcomed new players to our tables, we never imagined some of those new players would turn around and try to exclude us, ironically in the name of inclusion.
The reality is, no matter what, gaming will always be here. The old texts will always be available. We can still form in groups of like minded people and play however we like. We can still teach new players to play the games we love, and if they don’t, they can go on to find tables and games they do. I, for one, won’t be turning my game into a monthly chat session where the characters just have tea parties and discuss the weather. We will continue to have games of danger where monsters, even orcs, hide in dark dungeons and deep woods to ambush adventurers seeking fame and fortune. You can play however you like. If you’re having fun, more power to you. If you come to sit at my table, I hope you’re open to an exciting adventure.
Anyway, that’s what this old guy has to say about the whole kerfluffle. If you want to hear what a professional doctor has to say about it check out this article by Dr. Christopher Ferguson https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/checkpoints/202004/no-orcs-arent-racist