On the problem of killing orcs, etc.

ezekiel

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I would disagree with that kind of analysis, because I think people are smart enough to separate real life and fantasy worlds, to realise the pertinent distinctions between the two, and to think/act accordingly. However I'm interested to see what other people think about this kind of critique?
I think--this is me hypothesizing, not knowing--that part of the response is that it doesn't have to be "about" real things. It's that this stuff is too much like the literal, real stories actual land-stealing, local-killing, culture-erasing groups have used. Orcs are too much like the way native populations have been characterized as subhuman. "The locals worship evil gods, and we must prevent that or it will destroy everything" wasn't far off from (for example) the Conquistador perspective on local religious practice in Central and South America. Even if the people telling these stories mean nothing bad by it, they perpetuate narratives that really did--and, sometimes, still do--valorize and defend the oppression of real people. Consider, for example, the unfortunate implications behind James Cameron's Avatar narrative, which is a sci-fi Dances with Wolves (and part of a long trend of stories filled with unfortunate implications)--we don't need to write stories this way, and we can write stories that are as interesting (or maybe even more interesting, since they're so rarely told) that don't do that stuff. That, for me, is a big part of facing some of these questions head-on and making a decision about them, because it leads, as Tolkien might have said, to "many a song...unheard by man or elves." :p

Further, even if people can enforce nice clean conscious separations between things, there's at least some wiggle room that thinking about beings in this way..."smooths" the path for thinking about other things in similar ways. Condensing moral problems to flat, simple things. Solving your problems with violence whenever it becomes inconvenient to solve them without violence. That sort of thing. This is already a serious problem in politics, religion, science...basically everything important in the world. One aspect of "decolonization"--such as, "is it really okay to have human-like beings that are morally okay to hurt and kill?"--is that it rejects having unexamined flat, simple answers. Maybe the answer really is that simple, but you know why it's that simple, and you know what the consequences of that simplicity are.

This is (one reason) why I'm not so keen on really really dark games. I do think that the things we play, the ways we behave toward fictional people, contribute to the ways we behave toward real people. It's not deterministic. It's not a "play six hours of DOOM 2016 and you'll SHOOT YOUR OWN GRANDMOTHER." That's sensationalism and entirely unhelpful. However, I do believe that, much as what we eat slowly shapes our future health, what we play-act slowly shapes our opinions. Hence, I always strive for characters that seek peaceful solutions, that regret violence and seek to address its consequences even when it was entirely justified. Building up those habits when I'm just playing around will, I hope, contribute to me exercising similar habits when I'm not playing around and things are deadly serious. Asking those questions, and reflecting on the answers (or lack thereof), is part of what makes us better and fuller people.
 

ESkemp

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A really interesting question here, and one which got raised on the other "is D&D colonialist, etc." thread is whether creating a setting in which creatures (e.g. Orcs) are innately Evil and therefore can be killed without qualm is itself a bad thing.

Some people on the other "D&D is bad" thread seemed to think that it was, I think because they believed that it showed a desire on the part of the DM to make murder unproblematic, or to make colonialism justifiable (as if I land on a continent of evil murder-monsters, setting up a town and killing the lot of them is obviously a lot more justifiable than if I land on a continent of ordinary people and do the same).

I would disagree with that kind of analysis, because I think people are smart enough to separate real life and fantasy worlds, to realise the pertinent distinctions between the two, and to think/act accordingly. However I'm interested to see what other people think about this kind of critique?
I would argue it's a problematic thing, and also that it's okay to like problematic things as long as you recognize that they're problematic. D&D's basically problematic at its core: it romanticizes lethal force used in the pursuit of avarice, but ultimately it's not a bad thing to play D&D as long as you and your group realize that these aren't motives you should aspire to.

Though it's definitely a bad thing if it's not what your players want and that's what they get anyway. If you have a player who really doesn't like the idea that the universe has a level of justified racism in it, no amount of "but unlike different cultures in reality, they really are thoroughly innately evil" will make it enjoyable to that player to kill orcs that are easily recognized as The Bad Race. That's what we would call "digging yourself in deeper."
 

WistfulD

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is whether creating a setting in which creatures (e.g. Orcs) are innately Evil and therefore can be killed without qualm is itself a bad thing.
...
I would disagree with that kind of analysis, because I think people are smart enough to separate real life and fantasy worlds, to realise the pertinent distinctions between the two, and to think/act accordingly. However I'm interested to see what other people think about this kind of critique?
That it's how most threads I've seen on the subject about game ethics start to burn down. It can quickly divert into a one-true-wayist 'I'm playing my game more ethically than you' mentality.

As has been mentioned, D&D has inherent problematic traits. Many of them what I will call action-movie traits (violence is usually a reasonable solution, after a brief justification the designated 'bad guys' are relatively fair game to slay). Perhaps there's an inherent level of "bad" in that reductionist urge, but I will not single out D&D as specifically worse than all the other many IPs which do the same (including, as has been mentioned, blasting the enemy ships in Space Invaders, or the like).

Where it gets disjointed and inconsistent is where the game has, at times, deliberately played to two different levels on these questions/subverted itself. The KotB being a great example -- we're just playing a silly little dungeon module, with humanoid opponents as the 'bad guys' (why are they the bad guys? Don't think about it too much!) -- and then they have children (and are thus 'real-personed').

It can get very customized from "black hats and white hats and nothing else". But the more you go away from that, the more you have to state that's not how things are being done, rather than "Orcs are no different than dwarves morally speaking, shame on you for not immediately assuming that would be the case when none of the information available to you the player suggests that's how things roll here! Why, we don't even use alignment at all because we believe in moral relativism!" after failing to describe what's normal in any given campaign setting or even the table.
This, to me, sounds like a 'gotcha,' and the number of times I've seen this done well in planned, written fiction is relatively small. Doing so in a unplanned, evolving TTRPG campaign seems like, if not an inherently bad idea, something I would suggest only with the utmost of caution. 'This is the way the world works; oop, that wasn't true at all, it's really this,' has the potential to be good or bad if it's something like 'you're really in a VR environment,' something like, 'these moral shortcuts I suggested were acceptable?, well they really aren't, you've retroactively been the bad guy the whole time,' is nearly a recipe for disaster.
 
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Afterburner

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Within the last year I had a player burn down a peasant village so he could recover the nails, plow blades, axe heads, etc out of the ashes to sell for scrap metal. He di not kill the inhabiting villagers first. They ran to the next village over, told the story of the atrocity, and when the player showed up with a bunch of ash and soot covered scrap metal to sell he was promptly apprehend by the authorities and treated to rather summary justice. The whole thing rather rocked me back on my heels. I was not at all expecting such behavior and had not seen it in some years either. But it is still out there. The prevalence of the term "murderhobo" as used to describe current players in some campaigns should also be taken as evidence of this.
Doesn't sound like the alignment of the villagers was a factor in the player's decision to torch the village.
 

The Watcher

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You come across a mindflayer who's just watching the sunset. He tells you that he's sated for the evening and means you no harm, and plans on moving out of your territory before he feeds again. So he's not going to hurt you or anyone you care about.
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"Sir, I am going to have to ask you when and where you last fed."
 
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Elfwine

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A really interesting question here, and one which got raised on the other "is D&D colonialist, etc." thread is whether creating a setting in which creatures (e.g. Orcs) are innately Evil and therefore can be killed without qualm is itself a bad thing.
I don't think that creating a setting in which some creatures are "innately Evil" is inherently a bad thing, but I think it can be done in ways that are.

"There are some orcs guarding a pie. Since they're orcs it's okay to kill them and take their pie." is entirely different than "There are some orcs raiding a village. Since they're attacking the villagers it's okay to kill them.", IMO, in any way I can grapple with effectively.

This, to me, sounds like a 'gotcha,' and the number of times I've seen this done well in planned, written fiction is relatively small. Doing so in a unplanned, evolving TTRPG campaign seems like, if not an inherently bad idea, something I would suggest only with the utmost of caution. 'This is the way the world works; oop, that wasn't true at all, it's really this,' has the potential to be good or bad if it's something like 'you're really in a VR environment,' something like, 'these moral shortcuts I suggested were acceptable?, well they really aren't, you've retroactively been the bad guy the whole time,' is nearly a recipe for disaster.
Yeah. I think it's okay to be complicated as long as you know it's complicated going in, but "Your character's beliefs about what is true may or may not actually be supported by what you find out" is important to me if there's even the possibility of a trick being used.
 
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mindstalk

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"There are some orcs guarding a pie. Since they're orcs it's okay to kill them and take their pie." is entirely different than "There are some orcs raiding a village. Since they're attacking the villagers it's okay to kill them.", IMO, in any way I can grapple with effectively.
Or conversely, "there are some Buffy vampires guarding a pie." Totally okay to kill them and take their pie, though maybe you should worry about what's in the pie. Once again, "looks human and grows up like humans" seems the discomfort line; for different reasons, vampires and dragons fall on the other side of the line.

***

But one can make orcs more complicated! One version of Tolkien orcs is that they come from warped elves. An early version of Tolkien elves is that they reincarnated into new elf babies, with full memories, rather than the later "Valar conjure up a new adult body for the dead elf." Combine the two and you have orcs who reincarnate into their children, so that "orc baby" is actually a 1000 year old war criminal who'll poison you at the first opportunity.

*Unless* it's an actual orc baby with brand new orc -- elf? -- spirit as must happen for population growth to happen. One that might grow up decently if not raised by orcs, and maybe if not in a body prone to anger or with a taint of shoulder archdevil. I said it got complicated!

Of course, revolving door death like that makes the morality of dying/killing itself more complicated; arguably it makes killing less like murder and more like assault and random transportation. You could even have orcs be casually violent because it's just a game to them, they'll come back, what you mean you don't?
 

Elfwine

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Or conversely, "there are some Buffy vampires guarding a pie." Totally okay to kill them and take their pie, though maybe you should worry about what's in the pie. Once again, "looks human and grows up like humans" seems the discomfort line; for different reasons, vampires and dragons fall on the other side of the line.
I'm not really troubled by treating orcs as closer to vampires than to Celts and Zulus and Huns (pick a group, any group), but that takes extra emphasis on what orcs do compared to how - well, I have no real problem with the idea that vampirism destroys one's sense of right and wrong.

But one can make orcs more complicated! One version of Tolkien orcs is that they come from warped elves. An early version of Tolkien elves is that they reincarnated into new elf babies, with full memories, rather than the later "Valar conjure up a new adult body for the dead elf." Combine the two and you have orcs who reincarnate into their children, so that "orc baby" is actually a 1000 year old war criminal who'll poison you at the first opportunity.

*Unless* it's an actual orc baby with brand new orc -- elf? -- spirit as must happen for population growth to happen. One that might grow up decently if not raised by orcs, and maybe if not in a body prone to anger or with a taint of shoulder archdevil. I said it got complicated!
I think things like this are what needs discussing, more than "is having orcs be treated differently inherently bad", though that may be my perspective.

If orcs aren't "basically human", how does that show? What do they do that we don't/don't that we do?

If orcs are evil, why are orcs evil? What makes orcs suffer from that, and what if anything could be done about it? If

Not as in let's take over the thread, just that if you're going to use "this is evil" as an objective reality - it does need answers that actually answer anything.
 
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vitruvian

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I'm not really troubled by treating orcs as closer to vampires than to Celts and Zulus and Huns (pick a group, any group), but that takes extra emphasis on what orcs do compared to how - well, I have no real problem with the idea that vampirism destroys one's sense of right and wrong.



I think things like this are what needs discussing, more than "is having orcs be treated differently inherently bad", though that may be my perspective.

If orcs aren't "basically human", how does that show? What do they do that we don't/don't that we do?

If orcs are evil, why are orcs evil? What makes orcs suffer from that, and what if anything could be done about it? If

Not as in let's take over the thread, just that if you're going to use "this is evil" as an objective reality - it does need answers that actually answer anything.
Well, they could be actual demonic/undead spiritform ogre monsters that ascend into our world from the realm of Orcus, with either no real existence other than to fulfill the aims of the (evil) god of the dead (making D&D Orcus a bit more like the original Roman deity in this instance), or a manifestation of mankind's evil thoughts and tendencies, or perhaps the spirits of the dishonored and evil dead given bestial new forms in order to ravage the land of the living, with or without (due to the Lethe) much if any memory of their former human lives. You could even put a fine point on their nature by having their forms dissolve into a nasty sulfurous mess shortly upon being slain. And best of all, this wouldn't even require changing their game statistics at all, other than to change their type or even just note that they're a special kind of 'humanoid'. You wouldn't even need to get rid of half-orcs necessarily, although this change to orcs would probably bring back the nasty implications about the how of their conception and put them under a similar shadow of suspicion to that suffered by tieflings, even though raised by humans.

But all of this would probably be too big a change for most, to the extent some would feel they weren't really recognizable as D&D's orcs any longer.
 

Elfwine

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But all of this would probably be too big a change for most, to the extent some would feel they weren't really recognizable as D&D's orcs any longer.
Is that a disadvantage?

Leaving aside people who aren't part of this discussion or ones like it as people who are making their own ways of doing things, I'm not sure how many people want both "orcs pretty much like they are now" and "orcs are innately evil".
 
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