An interesting article on the history of the depiction of orcs in tabletop games


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While this is all very spirited and worthwhile discussion, I do have to agree that we see what we want/expect to see in the work of others and many of you are perhaps reading too deeply into this.

The dark has been a source of fear since the days of primitive man, it represents the unknown and at the time very real threat of predation, death, and dismemberment.

As society has grown, developled, and moved forward we have carried this idea with us. The dark remains the unknown and we fear the unknown, historicaly with good reason.

Space is dark and conceals all manner of unknown phenomenon, the depths of the ocean are without light and our imagination fills that darkness with dangers and threats.

Research on psychological evolution supports the idea that we survived as a (to be honest) frail and physically inferior species due to our sense of self preservation and fear of the unknown as much as for our minds.

So yes the dark is bad...the light isn't necessarily good, but hey you can see what's coming at you.

In NO way does this translate to dark skinned peoples are bad and light skinned are good, but as mentioned above...inhuman beastial creatures of darkness speak to our instinctual fear of the monsters in the darkness and not (unless you are a deeply seated racist yourself) the hatred or discrimination of people with darker skin tones.

Just my thoughts...thanks

Shadow Lodge

you know in a million years i would never have said " i think orcs are supposed to be <insert real world race here>" until i played World of Warcraft.

in 3.5 and pathfinder i find them to be a generic enemy, a race that LOVE by the way, and had no cultural basis in reality. once i played WoW that all changed.

everyone of the "evil races" existed as some minority stereotype,

Taurens - Native Americans
Orcs - Africans
Trolls- Haitians
Undead- the exception

while the "good races" were all based on European lore and culture.
Dwarves - Scandinavian
Gnomes - Tiny white people (no clue where this lore originated)
Elves - tall sexy white people (i think they are from Celtic lore, i dont know for sure)
Human - all white races, but this is standard in all fantasy gaming. i mean watch at the LoTR movies, and play count the minorities. only Gimmley and hes is half english...

so enough with my digression from the original topic. i see major racial stereotypes but not with the Orc its self.


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I agree with AD. Seems alot to do about nothing. If the author states he had no racial motivations then why cant you take him for his word. Honeslty there are too many real racial issues in this world for us to go search for hidden racial undertones that may or may not be there in a work of fiction. If you go looking for racial injustice in every single circumstance (innocent or otherwise) then it can cause people to simply roll their eyes when a real instance of racisim is brought up... because its said about everything.

I think it wouldn't have mattered what color orcs where... someone would get offended one way or the other because of some "perceived" slight. Its just silly.


TheSideKick wrote:

you know in a million years i would never have said " i think orcs are supposed to be <insert real world race here>" until i played World of Warcraft.

in 3.5 and pathfinder i find them to be a generic enemy, a race that LOVE by the way, and had no cultural basis in reality. once i played WoW that all changed.

everyone of the "evil races" existed as some minority stereotype,

Taurens - Native Americans
Orcs - Africans
Trolls- Haitians
Undead- the exception

while the "good races" were all based on European lore and culture.
Dwarves - Scandinavian
Gnomes - Tiny white people (no clue where this lore originated)
Elves - tall sexy white people (i think they are from Celtic lore, i dont know for sure)
Human - all white races, but this is standard in all fantasy gaming. i mean watch at the LoTR movies, and play count the minorities. only Gimmley and hes is half english...

so enough with my digression from the original topic. i see major racial stereotypes but not with the Orc its self.

Elves in WOW are a dark purple. Not tall sexy white people. As far as the rest... if anything, the Horde are potrayed in a much better light then alliance. The Horde are not "Evil". They tend to be more level headed then the over zealous Alliance. They are also insanely more popular. Thrall might as well be the mascot for the whole WOW world.

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Dragonamedrake wrote:

I agree with AD. Seems alot to do about nothing. If the author states he had no racial motivations then why cant you take him for his word. Honeslty there are too many real racial issues in this world for us to go search for hidden racial undertones that may or may not be there in a work of fiction. If you go looking for racial injustice in every single circumstance (innocent or otherwise) then it can cause people to simply roll their eyes when a real instance of racisim is brought up... because its said about everything.

I think it wouldn't have mattered what color orcs where... someone would get offended one way or the other because of some "perceived" slight. Its just silly.

Leaving people (and artists/authors) with a free pass because they disclaim racism leaves things roughly where they are: subconsciously racist. This may derive from a natural distrust of things that are unfamiliar.

A few days ago my daughter (who is African-American) wanted to greet and play with some other kids at the park. The kids backed away (this is in a very white town) and ran to their parents, upset. The parents did nothing to address their reaction. My daughter looks different. Doing nothing to examine one's reaction to difference leads to unconscious racism by people of any age.

Orcs represent the "dangerous and different" in gaming, and they also did in Tolkien. Tolkien's racial beliefs were certainly not terrible in his own time, but they contain European cultural symbolism - such as "fairness" being beautiful and good - that have unfortunate effects on how we treat people who are not fair or are not slender and idealized reflections of ourselves. I don't think Tolkien should be censured or knocked for his unconscious attitudes, particularly since he tried to transcend his own time's rather poisonous racial and cultural politics. (Compare him to his contemporary, Lovecraft, or even Howard).

Most racism is not "real," in your face, racism. It's people not giving you as much consideration or identifying with you when they would with someone they accept as similar to themselves. It's racial profiling rather than outright hatred. But it grinds down the soul just the same.


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First, I wanted to thank Paizo for their response to the article and the thought they've put into it.

Second, to the OP, I wanted to just say that AD hasn't bothered reading the article under discussion. He keeps responding, though, so this may be unintentional trolling.

I don't think it's intentional, I think he's just really caught up at this point...but hasn't read the article, or Paizo's responses to it.

Third, literature is well-documented to have unintended meanings. Even authors will come out and say, "Yeah, I didn't realize I meant this at the time, but..."

As a few previous posters said, meaning and interpretation is all about context. To paint one helpless woman isn't a thing...but to make all women in your fiction helpess and blond, it then says something entirely different. That's what makes AD's comment about his own writing a straw man.

To say, "unintended meanings never occur, ever," suggests our education system is in need of a brush-up.

However, by stating "unintended meanings never occur" means ALSO that the article linked to could never be anything other than what the author says it is.

...and some of posters have certainly recharacterized it as a whining, cry in the wilderness for personal validation.

It can't be both ways. Unintentional meaning, interpretation of context and so forth, is such a well-established field that we even do it subconsciously while decrying it exists in the first place.


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LOL, my comments about my writing is a "straw man?" Seriously?

I just asked three questions. I made no assertions whatsoever.

I will remind people of the three questions I asked:

1. Is it a problem if my novel's protagonist and the people he represents are fair-skinned and the invading barbarian marauders who rape, pillage and murder at will are dark-skinned?

After you think about that one...

2. Is it a problem if my novel's protagonist and the people he represents are dark-skinned and the invading barbarian marauders who rape, pillage and murder at will are fair-skinned?

And after you think about that...

3. Is it a problem if there are ANY discernible racial differences between the victimized people and the invading barbarian marauders who rape, pillage and murder them?

And again, this is a sincere question that I wrestled with for months as I was writing the book. I would love to hear some thoughts on this.


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My two cents...

I believe that the primary issue at hand here is the issue of correlation versus causation. In the article, the author states that there is a correlation between the skin colors of the various orc groups, among other things, and racism in the tabletop games and in Tolkien's work. She basically states that, because of the fact that the orc races have dark skin tones, they are representative of real-life races, and thus any of the generalizations, stereotypes, et cetera that is attached to those orc races applies somewhat to real-life races, thus implying racism.

The problem with that claim is a commonly known logical fallacy known as the third-variable problem, which basically means that when someone claims that variable A equals variable B, they do not sufficiently consider the third, unknown variable C, which could equal B. The points brought by AD and mplindustries are pointing out this very issue by offering alternative causes, and stronger causes then the ones presented in the article in my opinion. This is especially true with the Tolkien issue, since the fact that Tolkien himself (who, if I am not mistaken is THE primary authority on his own motivations) denied any sort of correlation between his depictions and real-life races. Other valid points include ones that suggest that orcs are depicted in the way that they are due to mythological influences (especially with Tolkien, who was VERY heavily influenced by various mythologies), and the point concerning the role that darkness has on our perceptions of good and evil. None of these points were considered at all in the article, or any other alternatives for that matter, and thus imply author bias towards their own mostly unsupported conclusion.

There are also other issues; For one, the attempt to delve into the psyche of anyone and examine their "subconscious" is arrogant in my opinion, unless you have an extensive, personal knowledge of that person. I don't believe any of us here, regardless of our credentials, can legitimately say that Tolkien, or any other creator of these fictional races, were wrong in saying that they were not racist. We can say that their works may imply otherwise, but if they directly state that those works are not racist, then they are not, unless you would like to prove that they are liars, in which case, good luck with really proving their intent. And if you believe that one can be racist without intent.... well, then you are questioning their ability to control their own mental faculties (that is, they write and proofread endlessly on the very same concept and still are not able to realize what they mean), which in that case, I may make the same argument against you.

One final thing; Is it really right to say that negatively depicting fantastical, fictional beings that are colored in a certain way that is similar (but not identical) to a real-life, flesh and blood, intelligent being has a significant impact on the actual way we treat or think about the real-life person in front of us? In my opinion, intelligence is an extremely effective screen for making such nonsensical assertions, since only a crazy or very unintelligent person would assert the orc in any person. What is funny is that that would also be a a third variable logical fallacy, that is, if you were to think that a real-life person of a certain color was an orc because they looked like the depiction of an orc. Are we not doing the exact same thing, except in reverse?


Poink, that was an eloquent restatement of what I have been saying throughout this thread.

I should have approached it that way instead of snarking because I got irritated by being told to "get the hell out".

Grand Lodge

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Poink wrote:
There are also other issues; For one, the attempt to delve into the psyche of anyone and examine their "subconscious" is arrogant in my opinion, unless you have an extensive, personal knowledge of that person. I don't believe any of us here, regardless of our credentials, can legitimately say that Tolkien, or any other creator of these fictional races, were wrong in saying that they were not racist. We can say that their works may imply otherwise, but if they directly state that those works are not racist, then they are not, unless you would like to prove that they are liars, in which case, good luck with really proving their intent.

It doesn't hurt that Tolkein & Gygax are dead and can't defend their work (which doesn't seem to matter anyway because they'd either be called liars or subconscious racists). Nothing stops the armchair quarterbacks from saying whatever they want, with the occasional, out-of-context statement to back up their opinions.

-Skeld


Interesting article Vivianne, thanks for sharing it.

Shadow Lodge

Dragonamedrake wrote:
TheSideKick wrote:

you know in a million years i would never have said " i think orcs are supposed to be <insert real world race here>" until i played World of Warcraft.

in 3.5 and pathfinder i find them to be a generic enemy, a race that LOVE by the way, and had no cultural basis in reality. once i played WoW that all changed.

everyone of the "evil races" existed as some minority stereotype,

Taurens - Native Americans
Orcs - Africans
Trolls- Haitians
Undead- the exception

while the "good races" were all based on European lore and culture.
Dwarves - Scandinavian
Gnomes - Tiny white people (no clue where this lore originated)
Elves - tall sexy white people (i think they are from Celtic lore, i dont know for sure)
Human - all white races, but this is standard in all fantasy gaming. i mean watch at the LoTR movies, and play count the minorities. only Gimmley and hes is half english...

so enough with my digression from the original topic. i see major racial stereotypes but not with the Orc its self.

Elves in WOW are a dark purple. Not tall sexy white people. As far as the rest... if anything, the Horde are potrayed in a much better light then alliance. The Horde are not "Evil". They tend to be more level headed then the over zealous Alliance. They are also insanely more popular. Thrall might as well be the mascot for the whole WOW world.

actually elves range from purple, to light pink (white)


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AD, in response to your three questions, I think the concept raised earlier about an author representing every member of group in the same manner applies here. There would be no problems with whatever color was chosen for the two groups in conflict, but there would be a problem if every member of the group was represented in the same way, either good or evil. Without individuality and variety in a cultural group the story would seem shallow, but I suspect your writing has more depth than that, especially if you wrestled with those ideas for months.


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Skeld wrote: wrote:
It doesn't hurt that Tolkein & Gygax are dead and can't defend their work (which doesn't seem to matter anyway because they'd either be called liars or subconscious racists). Nothing stops the armchair quarterbacks from saying whatever they want, with the occasional, out-of-context statement to back up their opinions.

I agree, and what is even worse is that we (as in those who do not agree that they/their works were racist) have to defend them, and that even if they express a direct opinion on the subject, they are then considered to not be "in-tune" with their own subconscious, or just flat liars of the first degree. Really, there should be no room for controversy after a statement like that, unless there is blaring evidence to the contrary somewhere down the line. See Clinton, Bill & Lewinsky, Monica or LBJ, Secret Service agent.

AD: I got irritated as well, but I guess my Craft(Theory) check roll turned out to be better. :)

Your comments really are the basis for my post.


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Jeff Erwin wrote:
Leaving people (and artists/authors) with a free pass because they disclaim racism leaves things roughly where they are: subconsciously racist.

Well stated.

Jeff Erwin wrote:
I don't think Tolkien should be censured or knocked for his unconscious attitudes, particularly since he tried to transcend his own time's rather poisonous racial and cultural politics. (Compare him to his contemporary, Lovecraft, or even Howard).
I don't think anyone is arguing we should do this. As argued in the linked article, the point of looking at this isn't to condemn Tolkien, but rather to understand how societal narratives regarding race can influence the fantasy worlds we imagine and roleplay in.
Feminist Bees wrote:
We need to learn and understand how systems of oppression makes themselves invisible, and how certain tools and ideas can make visible these systems.

The point isn't to say that Tolkien is a bad dude, but rather to understand the pressures that led him writing the way he did so that we can try to avoid them in the future.

Poink wrote:
There are also other issues; For one, the attempt to delve into the psyche of anyone and examine their "subconscious" is arrogant in my opinion, unless you have an extensive, personal knowledge of that person.

The existence of unconscious biases is established fact. Consider that orchestras switching to using blind auditions increased the rate of women being hired (Goldin & Rouse, 1997). Even though those conducting the auditions weren't intentionally excluding women, when they didn't know the gender of the auditioners, women were more likely to be hired. Or consider that having a "white-sounding" name on your resume can make you more likely to receive a callback for an interview (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2003).


Bombadil wrote:
AD, in response to your three questions, I think the concept raised earlier about an author representing every member of group in the same manner applies here. There would be no problems with whatever color was chosen for the two groups in conflict, but there would be a problem if every member of the group was represented in the same way, either good or evil. Without individuality and variety in a cultural group the story would seem shallow, but I suspect your writing has more depth than that, especially if you wrestled with those ideas for months.

Bombadil, when we look at history we see that invasions of one culture by another routinely led to massive genocidal behavior by entire armies. In fact in many cases armies were gathered with the promise of rape and pillage being their reward for risking death in the endeavor.

So if we say that depicting an invading army as wantonly pillaging, raping and killing the victims is a "problem" is that saying that we cannot write a novel that depicts actual human behavior in a factual and historical manner? Because to do so is "racist?"


Poink wrote: wrote:
There are also other issues; For one, the attempt to delve into the psyche of anyone and examine their "subconscious" is arrogant in my opinion, unless you have an extensive, personal knowledge of that person.
Vivianne Laflamme wrote: wrote:
The existence of unconscious biases is established fact. Consider that orchestras switching to using blind auditions increased the rate of women being hired (Goldin & Rouse, 1997). Even though those conducting the auditions weren't intentionally excluding women, when they didn't know the gender of the auditioners, women were more likely to be hired. Or consider that having a "white-sounding" name on your resume can make you more likely to receive a callback for an interview (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2003).

There is a massive difference in those examples and our discussion here: those are tightly controlled experiments with statistical analysis. I hesitate to say even then that that automatically qualifies them as legitimate, but it is certainly more legitimate than just some blind psycho-analysis. Also, you took that sentence out of context, I was referring to studying the subconscious of people in times past, not live psychological studies.

Also, there has been established problems with applying the results of studies for an ethnic group to an individual from that group, i.e. you can't really say that all orchestral employers are individually biased against women with that study. It's known as the ecological fallacy.

EDIT: Added my quote for clarification.


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Poink wrote:
Also, there has been established problems with applying the results of studies for an ethnic group to an individual from that group, i.e. you can't really say that all orchestral employers are individually biased against women with that study. It's known as the ecological fallacy.

I don't think that Vivianne intends the studies to demonstrate that all orchestral employees are biased. The citation just seems to reference that a subconscious bias is possible.

(Although come to think of it the study doesn't necessarily prove that the bias is subconscious, it could be conscious and deliberate but I like to have more faith in the human race than that).

Shadow Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Dustin Ashe wrote:

Good find. This article delineates one of the main problems I have with the depiction of orcs and other "evil" humanoids in RPGs. I can't understand how a species that can use tools and language and has the capacity of forethought and hindsight could be universally evil. Or even mostly evil. Wouldn't they be able to choose just like any human?

I understand that some players don't want to wade into moral uncertainty. It's not convenient to have to stop and ask, "Are you a good orc or a bad orc?" all the time. But, wait, don't we ask them to do this all the time for human, elf, and dwarf villains?

In the campaign I run, races don't have alignment. Rule of thumb is this: If it can speak, it can be any alignment. They have to stop and ask questions.

Sorry if this is a bit of an aside but something I was mulling over involving Orcs in particular for my home game involving the aforementioned trope of always CE Orcs.

One of the concepts I have recently been playing with is the idea that evil as we see it is an aspiring concept for them and that eternal torment is to them a heaven. Like to an Orc tribe that worships Nurgal the sun is a hateful thing, expressing itself through hate (to the orcs scorching their eyes and leaving them weak) but also strengthening them in various ways including granting them powers like sorcerer bloodlines, wizard specialty schools, clerical powers, fire, and potentially a cure to their weakness (especially in pathfinder where an orc can have sun bleached eyes which eliminates the light sensitivity). Now pile on top of this many of the inherent problems that could occur with orcs on a basic societal level like limited resources due to their lack of organization, often resource scare living areas, and massive fertility and growth rates and you could see how hate and pain become key tools to their society. Pain helps cull those too weak to survive and gives the group more food, raiding culls their numbers while providing resources they need and helping determine who will lead, and their atrocities help both defend them from external threats who fear their reprisal while also granting them a sort of "culling threshold" which causes these external threats to seek reprisal against them once they become too successful and reduces their numbers to a sustainable level.

To them things that hurt them make them stronger and they see that strength as a loving response and therefore seek to bring it about on others to show their love in return. Now if we assume something like this is true, that to them they have learned to express themselves through external harm then the concept of them as evil to humans makes sense. Hell to them if harm in its various stages is how they believe one shows care then the abyss might be the greatest thing they could imagine, a world in which harm and destruction are the norm and encouraged by their lords.

Now this does not mean that their wouldn't be outliers in their culture but by and large they would be to Orc society what a sociopath is to human society, a dangerous aberration that could cause a lot of harm to the order and society of their people. I mean if Orcs have the capacity to replace their numbers as fast as they seem to in most fiction could you imagine how quickly they would spiral out of control into starvation if they weren't in regular bloody conflicts which kept their numbers in check?

Honestly the idea of a race who's evil alignment keeps them from killing the world due to sheer population balloon and resource destruction to keep up with it might be just as interesting as one in which anyone can be any alignment.


AD wrote:
So if we say that depicting an invading army as wantonly pillaging, raping and killing the victims is a "problem" is that saying that we cannot write a novel that depicts actual human behavior in a factual and historical manner? Because to do so is "racist?"

AD, that's misrepresenting what I said and you know you're doing it, I emphasized the word EVERY and I'm doing so again, because you failed to include that key point in your response. In my opinion the story will be Shallow if EVERY member of an entire army has the same mindset, and that doesn't represent a single army in the history of this planet. Suggesting there is no individuality and variety of opinions in ANY group of people would be a display of pure ignorance. People are individuals and if your story fails to represent them that way then it isn't very good.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Bombadil wrote:
AD wrote:
So if we say that depicting an invading army as wantonly pillaging, raping and killing the victims is a "problem" is that saying that we cannot write a novel that depicts actual human behavior in a factual and historical manner? Because to do so is "racist?"
AD, that's misrepresenting what I said and you know you're doing it, I emphasized the word EVERY and I'm doing so again, because you failed to include that key point in your response. In my opinion the story will be Shallow if EVERY member of an entire army has the same mindset, and that doesn't represent a single army in the history of this planet. Suggesting there is no individuality and variety of opinions in ANY group of people would be a display of pure ignorance. People are individuals and if your story fails to represent them that way then it isn't very good.

So in order for a story to be 'good' it must represent and highlight the 'good guys' in the evil invading army?

I should also point out that every army in history has done its damnest to elimitate the concept of individuals and variety of mindset within its ranks. So such individiduals would be exceedingly rare, and likely not make an actual impact on the whole, assuming the vast majority share that unmovable mindset and behavior.


Kolokotroni wrote:
So in order for a story to be 'good' it must represent and highlight the 'good guys' in the evil invading army?

Again, misrepresentation of another person's comments, where did I say you must highlight good guys in the bad army, that's you jumping to conclusions. Show individuality, maybe one barbarian doesn't like the killing, but does it to feed his family back home, while the guy next to him enjoys spilling blood, those are very different individuals.

It has Nothing to do with overall impact on the army as a whole, again another jump to conclusions, and to suggest that members of an army don't still retain individuality in thought is foolish, some dudes get brainwashed, but not even close to all of them.

Grand Lodge

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Vivianne Laflamme wrote:

Link

I thought this was an interesting article. It traces the history of orcs in fantasy games back through Tolkien. It talks about the tropes and real-world ideas which have influenced depiction of orcs and to what extent these influences continue today.

There's some interesting facts I was unaware of. For example, my mental image of orcs gives them very green skin like nothing we see in the real world, possibly due to too much Warcraft :P I didn't know that in some older depictions, orcs were described with a wider variety of skin colors, including some found in the real world!

I feel a little mislead by the subject of the thread, and the OP description. I'm also curious why it's in the Pathfinder RPG forum and not the off-topic forum, since it really doesn't have anything to do with the Pathfinder RPG system.

The article is a pretty interesting way to introduce people to the basics of feminist theory, racism, and other topics using familiar fantasy creatures to illustrate the examples. If you're struggling with the concept of privilege, for example, it may be easier to understand if you use non-personal examples (how fantasy creatures are described) instead of more emotionally charged personal examples (how you are treated). This does that.

...but this article isn't really about orcs. Or the history of orcs. Or about the history of orcs in fantasy games (it only gives two examples, D&D and Warhammer). It certainly isn't about orcs in tabletop games (which includes a wide-range of non-fantasy settings). If you're looking for the history of Orcs ... Wikipedia does a better job than this article.

So maybe a better title would be "an interesting introduction and illustration of social theory using fantasy creatures as an example"?

For the record, I also totally disagree with the author's statement in the comments at the end:

The Linked Article wrote:
"... D&D has a problem, and that problem takes the form of inherently and recognizably evil humanoids. The problem with conceptualizing races as evil is that you have to articulate it through some sort of reasoning about inherent evil, and the reasoning presented above relies on correspondence with real world racism. I would say the most obvious way to avoid this is to get reject the whole idea of "evil races" from the game.

Conceptualizing fictional, fantasy races as inherently evil does not rely on correspondence with real world racism. It's totally ok to have monsters who are just ... monsters. And there's no reason those monsters can't be humanoid (unless you think that humanoids are inherently superior than quadrupeds).

Actually, I think the worst thing you can do is to mix your monsters with people. If orcs are just people with a different culture and a pair of tusks, if elves are just people with pointy ears and a love of trees, then you're opening the door to a lot of unfortunate implications.

I also think it's totally ok to depict fantasy monsters differently in different gaming systems because they're all set in different worlds with different histories (and none of them are real). Warcraft orcs are, for example, totally different than Eberron orcs, who are totally different than Shadowrun orcs.

For example, I'm totally ok with good drown in the Forgotten Realms, where the only reason they are evil is because of the god they're forced to worship. I'm also totally ok with always evil drow on Golarion, where drow are literally created by elves being so evil that they physically transform into something else. Two different depictions of the same concept. I like them both.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Bombadil wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
So in order for a story to be 'good' it must represent and highlight the 'good guys' in the evil invading army?

Again, misrepresentation of another person's comments, where did I say you must highlight good guys in the bad army, that's you jumping to conclusions. Show individuality, maybe one barbarian doesn't like the killing, but does it to feed his family back home, while the guy next to him enjoys spilling blood, those are very different individuals.

It has Nothing to do with overall impact on the army as a whole, again another jump to conclusions, and to suggest that members of an army don't still retain individuality in thought is foolish, some dudes get brainwashed, but not even close to all of them.

I am not misrepresenting you, that is why I put 'good guys' in quotes. You are saying that in order for a story to be good, there MUST be a representation of the 'not so bad' guys in the evil army. However if the story isnt ABOUT the evil army, but instead about those opposing it, there isnt an available perspective to demonstrate those individuals. To those being invaded, the army is one massive unified killing/maurauding machine.

People being conquered by the roman empire at its height, didnt see the roman army as individuals. They saw the singular machine of war that was rome. And it seems to me you are saying that a story told from their perspective must be 'not very good' regardless of its other qualities.


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Bombadil wrote:


AD, that's misrepresenting what I said and you know you're doing it, I emphasized the word EVERY and I'm doing so again, because you failed to include that key point in your response. In my opinion the story will be Shallow if EVERY member of an entire army has the same mindset, and that doesn't represent a single army in the history of this planet. Suggesting there is no individuality and variety of opinions in ANY group of people would be a display of pure ignorance. People are individuals and if your story fails to represent them that way then it isn't very good.

I can assure you that I am being entirely sincere and am not intentionally misrepresenting anything you say. I am sincerely asking how a writer can depict a conflict of cultures in modern literature without running aground on the shoals of supposed conscious or unconscious racism. It is very easy for people to point to a story and say "SEE, RACISM". What I am looking for is how to write in such a way that such an accusation is not warranted.

So, back to my question. In the case of the invading army, those are not protagonists, and the army itself is intentionally depicted as a massive invading evil force intent on the destruction of the victims they are invading. There are no individual depictions of the thoughts, motivations or even actions of individual invading marauders. They came, they saw, they conquered.

Is simply writing a story with an invading army that rapes and pillages their victims impossible to do in a non-racist manner UNLESS I deliberately create some "good guy" invaders for the specific purpose of avoiding accusations of racism?


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Bombadil wrote: wrote:

Again, misrepresentation of another person's comments, where did I say you must highlight good guys in the bad army, that's you jumping to conclusions. Show individuality, maybe one barbarian doesn't like the killing, but does it to feed his family back home, while the guy next to him enjoys spilling blood, those are very different individuals.

It has Nothing to do with overall impact on the army as a whole, again another jump to conclusions, and to suggest that members of an army don't still retain individuality in thought is foolish, some dudes get brainwashed, but not even close to all of them

So, then it is okay for him to have an army of bad guys in general, as long as he portrays that not all of the individuals in that army are of the same mindset? Or, as you put it, showcase their "individuality"? That is not only highly unusual to expect that, but unnecessary. If you only wish to consider the color of the skin of the people in his army to real-life people as related to the actions they perform, you can do that, but you will be missing the trees for the forest. He does not need to do that, and I would not diminish his work in any way for not doing that. Isn't it the job of the individual, the reader, to draw conclusions that make sense? To say that the author's work would either be of low-quality or racist for not portraying the ideals/thoughts/motivations of some individuals in a predominantly evil army that happens to have some attribute that is somewhat similar to a real-life race is nonsensical. But, as the Burger King slogan goes, have it your way.

Sovereign Court Contributor

Kolokotroni wrote:
Bombadil wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
So in order for a story to be 'good' it must represent and highlight the 'good guys' in the evil invading army?

Again, misrepresentation of another person's comments, where did I say you must highlight good guys in the bad army, that's you jumping to conclusions. Show individuality, maybe one barbarian doesn't like the killing, but does it to feed his family back home, while the guy next to him enjoys spilling blood, those are very different individuals.

It has Nothing to do with overall impact on the army as a whole, again another jump to conclusions, and to suggest that members of an army don't still retain individuality in thought is foolish, some dudes get brainwashed, but not even close to all of them.

I am not misrepresenting you, that is why I put 'good guys' in quotes. You are saying that in order for a story to be good, there MUST be a representation of the 'not so bad' guys in the evil army. However if the story isnt ABOUT the evil army, but instead about those opposing it, there isnt an available perspective to demonstrate those individuals. To those being invaded, the army is one massive unified killing/maurauding machine.

People being conquered by the roman empire at its height, didnt see the roman army as individuals. They saw the singular machine of war that was rome. And it seems to me you are saying that a story told from their perspective must be 'not very good' regardless of its other qualities.

That's not exactly true. Native Welsh tradition remembers the emperors under Welsh names; the army as a whole may have been represented in general terms, but individual actors in the surviving folklore (chiefly the Triads) had distinctive personalities, e.g., Casnar Wledig, Cassanauth, Ulkassar, and Gloyw ("Caesar," Carausius, Julius Caesar, and Claudius). They aren't evil cyphers, either, or they wouldn't be claimed as ancestors.


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Re: "Why aren't Drow albino, it would make more sense!"
A: It would make more sense in the real world, where you can't see in the dark and production of melanin to block UV rays equires energy that could be utilized elsewhere. But in D&D Land, things that live underground can see in the dark. They have black-and-white darkvision, which is usually only good out to 60 ft. (beyond which everything still looks dark). A dark-skinned creature in D&D Land, viewed with darkvision, will be invisible against the darkness of the background -- unless that background is within 60 ft. (An albino drow would be starkly contrasted against the dark background and be an easy target.)

And what if the background is closer than 60 ft. or 90 ft. or whatever the darkvision range? Well, a lot of rocks are gray, and a lot of underground D&D monsters are gray-skinned. Like orcs.

Sovereign Court Contributor

Kirth Gersen wrote:

Re: "Why aren't Drow albino, it would make more sense!"

A: It would make more sense in the real world, where you can't see in the dark and production of melanin to block UV rays equires energy that could be utilized elsewhere. But in D&D Land, things that live underground can see in the dark. They have black-and-white darkvision, which is only good out to 60 ft. (beyond which everything still looks dark). A dark-skinned creature in D&D Land, viewed with darkvision, will be invisible against the darkness of the background -- unless that background is within 60 ft. (An albino drow would be starkly contrasted against the dark background and be an easy target.)

And what if the background is closer than 60 ft., within darkvision range? Well, a lot of rocks are gray, and a lot of underground D&D monsters are gray-skinned. Like orcs.

Good point.


Granted, "infravision" didn't work that way when Gygax made up the drow; based on their jet-black skin and white hair, I can only assume he was thinking of a photographic negative of a (presumably) pale-skinned, raven-haired elf. But in terms of "why didn't 3.0 or 3.5 or PF change it!", the answer I gave makes sense.


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Poink wrote:
My two cents...

There are a number of problems here. First, the article I wrote wasn't making an argument from statistical inference, therefor, it has nothing to do with correlation versus causation. Nowhere do I chart some sort of statistical relationship between orc skin color and racism in tabletop games. I take it as fact that we live in a society where racism is deeply embedded into our culture, and from there I launch an analysis of correspondence between fantasy race as it is made intelligible through "real world" racist discourse.

So, all this concern over causality and statistical inference is very misplaced.

Second, I never "attempt to delve into the psyche of anyone and examine their 'subconscious.'" In fact, I think I pointed avoid discussing anything remotely close to the psychological or moral make up of Tolkien, or the writers of table-top games. I don't attempt to delve the psyche of others for two reasons. First, it is usually and unproductive venture, as it individualizes the problem. The racism of the 1950s is not simply in the mind of Tolkien, and therefor any attempt to talk about racism of the 1950s would require us to go beyond Tolkien. Second, discussions over whether someone is "really" a racist through psychoanalysis (or whatnot), is such a needless discussion, and distracts from the subject of racism.

And yes

Poink wrote:
One final thing; Is it really right to say that negatively depicting fantastical, fictional beings that are colored in a certain way that is similar (but not identical) to a real-life, flesh and blood, intelligent being has a significant impact on the actual way we treat or think about the real-life person in front of us? In my opinion, intelligence is an extremely effective screen for making such nonsensical assertions, since only a crazy or very unintelligent person would assert the orc in any person. What is funny is that that would also be a a third variable logical fallacy, that is, if you were to think that a real-life person of a certain color was an orc because they looked like the depiction of an orc. Are we not doing the exact same thing, except in reverse?

I'm not sure if you even got the end of my article or the introductory article "Let's Play a Feminist Game," as I specifically outline why these kinds of discussion are important. I don't quote understand what you've interpreted, but I fail to see how it connects with my arguments.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Dragonamedrake wrote:
I agree with AD. Seems alot to do about nothing. If the author states he had no racial motivations then why cant you take him for his word.

Because if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, has webbed feet like a duck, smells like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the owner can claim that's a dog all she likes, but it won't change my opinion of what's swimming in the local pond.


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LazarX wrote:
Dragonamedrake wrote:
I agree with AD. Seems alot to do about nothing. If the author states he had no racial motivations then why cant you take him for his word.
Because if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, has webbed feet like a duck, smells like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the owner can claim that's a dog all she likes, but it won't change my opinion of what's swimming in the local pond.

Yep, even if it's actually not a duck, and you only THINK it looks like a duck, walks like a duck etc.


Adamantine Dragon wrote:
Yep, even if it's actually not a duck, and you only THINK it looks like a duck, walks like a duck etc.

Geese are ducks! Muscovy ducks aren't ducks!


This "it looks like a duck" thing actually goes back to Poink's "Third variable fallacy". It also involves what sort of filters a person has in place between reality and their internal idea of the world.


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Some seriously paranoid, thought policey stuff goin on in this thread.

Jeff Erwin wrote:
Leaving people (and artists/authors) with a free pass because they disclaim racism leaves things roughly where they are: subconsciously racist.

<facepalm>


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Kryzbyn wrote:

Some seriously paranoid, thought policey stuff goin on in this thread.

Jeff Erwin wrote:
Leaving people (and artists/authors) with a free pass because they disclaim racism leaves things roughly where they are: subconsciously racist.
<facepalm>

I wish it was just in this thread....

There was a comment above that I challenged where it was stated as a matter of fact that if someone PERCEIVED racism, then racism was present. Period. End of discussion.


Kolo wrote:
You are saying that in order for a story to be good, there MUST be a representation of the 'not so bad' guys in the evil army. However if the story isnt ABOUT the evil army, but instead about those opposing it, there isnt an available perspective to demonstrate those individuals. To those being invaded, the army is one massive unified killing/maurauding machine.

This is close to what I'm expressing, but you still have to drop the 'not so bad' and replace it with the word 'individual', that's very important to the discussion and a point that is still being missed, it's not about good or bad, it's individuals. Let's tie that back to Tolkien and orcs for the purpose of this thread, (even though my point was made only as constructive criticism to AD about his questions on human groups because I felt bad that no one had responded to him on what was a valid question for an author to be asking). Merry and Pippin escape from the orcs into Fangwood because the orcs start arguing, one wants to eat the hobbit's legs, the other says No, we're following orders and bringing them back unharmed as captives. Two very different individuals in the same army, both being portrayed as evil, but the individuality of those characters makes the orcs seem much more believable as a group to me the reader.

In regards to the invading army appearing as an unified group to the people being assaulted, Yes, I'm sure that is the case throughout history and I agree with that statement, but that has nothing to do with the comments about true individuality in that group. An author has the luxury of multiple perspectives and I do believe good writing doesn't ignore the ability to use those multiple perspectives.

AD wrote:
I am sincerely asking how a writer can depict a conflict of cultures in modern literature without running aground on the shoals of supposed conscious or unconscious racism.

We need to make a basic assumption here first, the conflict is not about racism. In that case, I think that showing motivations for war other than racism would be the way to achieve that goal. Per the modern era, the motivation of economics for war is much more powerful than racism, but still some individuals will embody racism in that conflict.

AD wrote:
Is simply writing a story with an invading army that rapes and pillages their victims impossible to do in a non-racist manner UNLESS I deliberately create some "good guy" invaders for the specific purpose of avoiding accusations of racism?

Again with the 'good guy' thing in the bad army, No, this isn't required. But if this is just about avoiding racism accusations, then show that another motive is stronger, such as greed, otherwise the accusations are likely to fly, Heck, they'll probably fly anyways, but at least you can point to the true motivation as depicted in the story. If you show a motivation in the story, you'll spend less time telling people what the motivation was later.

Poink wrote:
So, then it is okay for him to have an army of bad guys in general, as long as he portrays that not all of the individuals in that army are of the same mindset? Or, as you put it, showcase their "individuality"? That is not only highly unusual to expect that, but unnecessary.

Tolkien did exactly that, and with monsters rather than humans, see the comments above about the orcs. I don't see where you can claim in good faith that it would be 'highly unusual'.

Poink wrote:
If you only wish to consider the color of the skin of the people in his army to real-life people as related to the actions they perform, you can do that, but you will be missing the trees for the forest….To say that the author's work would either be of low-quality or racist for not portraying the ideals/thoughts/motivations of some individuals in a predominantly evil army that happens to have some attribute that is somewhat similar to a real-life race is nonsensical. But, as the Burger King slogan goes, have it your way.

I never suggested anything even remotely close to this regarding racism, and I even said that color would not be a problem. Your insinuation is rude and immature and shows that you failed to read my post and try to understand it. I responded to AD about what would be a perceived problem for me in regards to his three questions and never was racism a part of that. I took the time to read your post and even favorited it, because I considered the valid points it offered, show me the same consideration if you want to have worthwhile dialogue. You, sir, owe me an apology.


Bombadil, let me see if I can really nail this thing down in such a way that there is no doubt about what I am asking.

Let us assume that the invading army in question is from a culture that is a despotic, totalitarian, empire-building machine. The people of that culture are nationalistic to the extreme and are convinced that their culture, and race, is the "chosen of God." Let's further stipulate that the culture in question is rabidly, fundamentally, deliberately racist, and that the people of that culture view any other race or culture as "less than human."

Now, an army of people raised, indoctrinated, even brainwashed in that fashion invade a peaceful, pastoral country that is far less technologically advanced than the invading marauders. The marauding forces deliberately take no prisoners in battle, torture and then murder any grown male who survives the invasion, rape all the women repeatedly and then enslave the surviving women and children. All in the name of race, god and country.

That's the invading army. They are racist in the extreme.

Now, is there any way to tell that story without the author being racist?


Kirth Gersen wrote:
Granted, "infravision" didn't work that way when Gygax made up the drow; based on their jet-black skin and white hair, I can only assume he was thinking of a photographic negative of a (presumably) pale-skinned, raven-haired elf. But in terms of "why didn't 3.0 or 3.5 or PF change it!", the answer I gave makes sense.

Perhaps. I've also heard that the Drow were based on Burrough's "Black Martians", who are apparently a subterranean race of goddess-worshipping black-skinned Martians who periodically raid the surface world.


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Annabel wrote: wrote:

There are a number of problems here. First, the article I wrote wasn't making an argument from statistical inference, therefor, it has nothing to do with correlation versus causation. Nowhere do I chart some sort of statistical relationship between orc skin color and racism in tabletop games. I take it as fact that we live in a society where racism is deeply embedded into our culture, and from there I launch an analysis of correspondence between fantasy race as it is made intelligible through "real world" racist discourse.

So, all this concern over causality and statistical inference is very misplaced.

Actually, correlation versus causation plays a part in other forms of logical analysis, not just statistical inference. You clearly try to prove the idea that there is a problem with these tabletop games in that they infer an evil mindset just from the race (and, as you apply it to real-world racism, their skin color), in this case orcs. So, if A equals race/skin color, and B equals "evilness," you are trying to say "in tabletop games, these races are depicted as evil because of their skin color." In other words, A equals B. However, your basis is incorrect in that A does not equal B (skin color is not the reason for evilness), but it is the C, or unknown, variable. See other reasons in my original post.

One thing that is interesting is that you say you believe that our culture is deeply imbedded with racism. This, to me, means that you may already be quite biased on the issue of the prevalence of racism, since you already take it for granted in such a wide scope. If that is the case, then a more objective viewer may not interpret the skin color of these evil beings, the orcs, as being any sort of indicator of a negative portrayal of a specific race. They just are not looking for racism in everything, nor do they expect racism in everything.

Annabel wrote:
Second, I never "attempt to delve into the psyche of anyone and examine their 'subconscious.'" In fact, I think I pointed avoid discussing anything remotely close to the psychological or moral make up of Tolkien, or the writers of table-top games. I don't attempt to delve the psyche of others for two reasons. First, it is usually and unproductive venture, as it individualizes the problem. The racism of the 1950s is not simply in the mind of Tolkien, and therefor any attempt to talk about racism of the 1950s would require us to go beyond Tolkien. Second, discussions over whether someone is "really" a racist through psychoanalysis (or whatnot), is such a needless discussion, and distracts from the subject of racism.

I believe that if you attempt to portray a personal creation of a creator in any way that is contrary to their explicit intent, and then claim that is what they really "meant" to do on a conscious/subconscious level, then you are trying to examine them. You do, in fact, say that orcs in Tolkien's world are a "racial allegory," when he explicitly stated that they are not. There was no hidden racial meaning in his orcs. And when referring to Gygax's depiction, you wrote

Quote:
Whether conscious of it or not, this depiction of orcs depends, as much as Tolkien's orcs, on the articulation of inferiority through racialist discourse. That is to say, orc descriptions are articulated through racism that organizes bodies hierarchically by characteristics such as skin and hair color.

[...]

Quote:
However, there is something deeper to this "lack of offense." These "extra" descriptions go beyond the skin to justify, not describe. They "make up" the reasons to justify racism. The predominantly white roleplay consumer struggles to see the racism inherent to these kinds of descriptions because we never have to struggle against their authoritative powers. We are white, and therefor we easily rebuke the assignment of moral depravity based on skin color.

Here you state that this was at least a subconscious translation on Gygax's part to portray evilness as a result of race(ism), when there really is no justification in doing so. As I said before, A does not equal B, and it is clear to me you are examining them, just not as directly as some others.

To Bombadil: I did not read your post til after I wrote this, but forgive me for my claim. I somehow got the notion that you were trying to make the point that AD's lack of consideration on the part of the individual in the evil army would be portraying the entire army as doing what they did because they were of a certain race, and would thus be undesirable because of its racist portrayal. I got very confused. :(


AD - Yes, the story and the author are two different entities. 'A' does not equal 'B' in this case, even if they do turn out to be the same.

That's a different question than I answered earlier, I provided feedback to your three questions in regards to a story you were writing:

AD wrote:

1. Is it a problem if my novel's protagonist and the people he represents are fair-skinned and the invading barbarian marauders who rape, pillage and murder at will are dark-skinned?

After you think about that one...

2. Is it a problem if my novel's protagonist and the people he represents are dark-skinned and the invading barbarian marauders who rape, pillage and murder at will are fair-skinned?

And after you think about that...

3. Is it a problem if there are ANY discernible racial differences between the victimized people and the invading barbarian marauders who rape, pillage and murder them?

And again, this is a sincere question that I wrestled with for months as I was writing the book. I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

You asked for thoughts on this and I provided my chief thought: that I would be more concerned with a story that lacked depth from generalizing the bad guys, rather than be concerned with the color of skin. I even said that I didn't think your story would lack depth as you wrestled with those concepts in your original three questions. It was a response from one creative writer to another, not an attempt to argue.


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Adamantine Dragon wrote:

Bombadil, let me see if I can really nail this thing down in such a way that there is no doubt about what I am asking.

Let us assume that the invading army in question is from a culture that is a despotic, totalitarian, empire-building machine. The people of that culture are nationalistic to the extreme and are convinced that their culture, and race, is the "chosen of God." Let's further stipulate that the culture in question is rabidly, fundamentally, deliberately racist, and that the people of that culture view any other race or culture as "less than human."

Now, an army of people raised, indoctrinated, even brainwashed in that fashion invade a peaceful, pastoral country that is far less technologically advanced than the invading marauders. The marauding forces deliberately take no prisoners in battle, torture and then murder any grown male who survives the invasion, rape all the women repeatedly and then enslave the surviving women and children. All in the name of race, god and country.

That's the invading army. They are racist in the extreme.

Now, is there any way to tell that story without the author being racist?

Well, the simplest way would be to make them the same race. At least by modern standards. (Think English occupation of Ireland. Or various modern African conflicts. In either case the racial differences appear minor from our perspective, but were huge to those involved.)

But, especially if you're going to cast the two societies as different races that reflect modern racial tension, you're going to be addressing racism. The more consciously you do it the better the outcome is likely to be.
The appearance will be different depending on whether you make the heroes or the villains match the traditionally oppressed race, but still, by your choice to write about a racist conflict, you're going to have to address racism.

Now, as several people have already suggested, some humanizing interaction with individuals on the evil side will help a lot. Also, not portraying your good side as pure and morally superior in all ways. You'll see more of them and your heroes can still be really good guys, but at least some of the good side can easily be bigoted and vengeful and willing to use evil against evil.

But really, you're planning to make one side as close to inhuman monsters as you can, not give or at least not show any redeeming features, you're considering making them black men invading the peaceful innocent white heroes territory, murdering them and raping their women and you're wondering if people will think it racist?
All you need to add is one of them yelling "Where the white women at?"


Vod Canockers wrote:


See, I've always taken Drow (which I never cared for) to be black like India Ink, not the natural skin tone. It was one of the most unnatural skin colors of all the humanoids. This is close. Although perhaps a bit glossier, like that of a Blackwidow spider.

I as well. I didn't mean to imply that drow were brownskinned. I too prefer them to have the jet black skin color and truly hate the generations that have followed, like the blueberries of everquest, to the latest in Neverwinter, where they are the brown skinned race. In WotSQ the Faerzess mythal changed their flesh from the brown skin to unnaturally black, as well as giving them darkvision, etc. to adapt to cavern life.


thejeff wrote:

But really, you're planning to make one side as close to inhuman monsters as you can, not give or at least not show any redeeming features, you're considering making them black men invading the peaceful innocent white heroes territory, murdering them and raping their women and you're wondering if people will think it racist?

All you need to add is one of them yelling "Where the white women at?"

.... and if I make the invaders red-headed and fair-skinned and the innocent victims black-skinned and black-haired? Does that change the calculus?


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Adamantine Dragon wrote:

Bombadil, let me see if I can really nail this thing down in such a way that there is no doubt about what I am asking.

Let us assume that the invading army in question is from a culture that is a despotic, totalitarian, empire-building machine. The people of that culture are nationalistic to the extreme and are convinced that their culture, and race, is the "chosen of God." Let's further stipulate that the culture in question is rabidly, fundamentally, deliberately racist, and that the people of that culture view any other race or culture as "less than human."

Now, an army of people raised, indoctrinated, even brainwashed in that fashion invade a peaceful, pastoral country that is far less technologically advanced than the invading marauders. The marauding forces deliberately take no prisoners in battle, torture and then murder any grown male who survives the invasion, rape all the women repeatedly and then enslave the surviving women and children. All in the name of race, god and country.

That's the invading army. They are racist in the extreme.

Now, is there any way to tell that story without the author being racist?

It sounds to me that you have just described a group of White Humans led by Paladins who are getting ready to invade the Orcs mountain home. . .


Bombadil wrote:


You asked for thoughts on this and I provided my chief thought: that I would be more concerned with a story that lacked depth from generalizing the bad guys, rather than be concerned with the color of skin. I even said that I didn't think your story would lack depth as you wrestled with those concepts in your original three questions. It was a response from one creative writer to another, not an attempt to argue.

Bombadil, I know it must be hard to believe, but I am not in any way, shape or form trying to argue with you. I haven't attempted to rebut anything you have said. I've only tried to clarify the question to get to what I want to learn. In fact I have gone to great lengths to tell you that I am sincerely and honestly seeking your opinion because I respect it.

This isn't some internet rhetorical point-scoring game I'm playing. I'm dead serious. This is a real problem that I really want to know if I've addressed reasonably.


Nathanael Love wrote:


It sounds to me that you have just described a group of White Humans led by Paladins who are getting ready to invade the Orcs mountain home. . .

That would be a morally similar situation. It's more like an army that is led by someone who believes that the only way to achieve total peace is through total conquest, and that any other culture is weak and needs to be crushed out of existence to be replaced by the one true culture.

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