Monday, April 27, 2020

Monsters in the Closets

As I've mentioned before, I used to play Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games quite a lot in my younger days. I only really stopped playing fairly frequently about a decade ago. I've been meaning to get back into the hobby for some time now, but I have a habit of allowing things to get in the way. Not the least of which being a general exasperation with the community of gamers in general. The reasons for this are twofold; one is that, like any other group large enough to have entered the cultural consciousness, the gaming community is too large to not have a sizable number of assholes in it. The other reason is that despite years of working to be a less judgmental person, assholes still get on my nerves.

But I also find that I have a relatively low tolerance for drama. And while I don't find cross-generational drama to be worse than any other flavor, I can still do without it. And so when the "Orcs are racist" drama ramps up (which it does on a seemingly annual basis), I find myself rolling my eyes and wondering why I ever put up with this nonsense.

Part of the problem with Orcs is the way that people portray them in their individual games, and have for nearly the entirety of the hobby. Orcs are basically the equivalent of Stormtroopers in Star Wars, or other garden-variety Faceless Minions. The only real purpose they serve, from a narrative point of view, is to be mown down like grass so that the heroes can look like super-tough guys (and gals) in the process. This tends to mean that they have two basic traits; they're utterly incompetent and they're aggressive to the point of vacuity. While Orcs are, from time to time, portrayed as cowardly and willing to run for the hills with the least provocation, the image of waves upon waves of Orcs climbing over the bodies of their fallen comrades, seemingly each somehow thinking that they're going to be the one who brings down the guy who killed the last fifty who just tried the same thing, is common. And so Dungeons and Dragons, which, the complaints of same gamers notwithstanding, does actually respond to the player base, had tended, over the years to describe Orcs in the game manuals in ways that line up with them being Chaotic Vicious.

Because it's common for cultures, Western and otherwise, to portray out-groups in dehumanizing terms, the dehumanization of Orcs (who, recall, are not human to begin with) is often seen as a parallel.

There is always a tendency for the more activist holders of a given worldview to understand the wrong-thinking to be unintelligent, credulous or immoral. Feeling that the unintelligent and the credulous can be saved, or at least rendered less harmful, if the information they can access is controlled, leads to an understanding of the immoral as devious puppetmasters who must be censored, or possibly silenced, for the good of society at large. People who view themselves as intelligent and discerning, however, view their own thought leaders as visionaries.

Accordingly, with the benefit of enough distance, you can see similarities. And the "Orcs are racist" trope reminds me quite strongly of the Satanic Panic of the early 1980s, just without the media coverage. Both presume that somewhere in the Dungeons and Dragons design bullpen, one or more hateful people are dedicated to using a pseudo-medievalist adventure game as a means of subverting the morals of the trusting or dim-witted. In 1980s it was Satanists, looking to recruit more Witches and Warlocks to the cause via the in-game use of magic spells. In the 2010s, it's racists, looking to keep alive the idea of "they're different, and that's bad" through uncharitable portrayals of fictional monsters. Both look ridiculous to those outside the worldview, and both see the ridicule as a tool of the immoral other to hide their nefarious schemes.

No comments: