Shadow of Mordor allows you to play a zombie(?) bonded with the forger of the rings of power as a wraith and run around and kill orcs. A lot of orcs.
Yes. Celebrimbor. He's your wraith buddy. Gollum shows up also. Ah, the joys of licensed property. I think if they released a game, and had no tie-ins, people would complain. For me, seeing stuff like that yanks me right out of the game. It is the exact same thing with putting Drizzt into a computer game or module.
I wonder, are people daft? Let me try this another way. Do you know anyone in your actual life, who would encounter a known NPC of a licensed property, like Elminster or Drizzt, in a module or computer game, who would react by going "How cool!" It's the Dungeon Masters Non-Player Character on maximum overdrive.
Maybe I just don't know those people. Maybe it's a thing. I don't like it.
That's not even what we're talking about today. We're talking about lousy orcs.
The Orc and the JockSo, what does the orc do all day?
The orc depicted in the game are visually designed after Peter Jackson's orcs from the films, not the "squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types" of Tolkien's myth. They appear comforting visually—not disturbingly like asians.
But the game involves you running around orc dominated areas. You spend a lot of time observing orcs as you sneak around. What does the orc do all day?
Apparently his best impression of that guy who beat you up in high school, with a healthy dose of being a sh^&bird.
That's not to say there isn't a high degree of creativity and menace in individual orcs. Each can be promoted if they kill you, and they independently engage in power struggles and get promoted all on their own. Some random orc that got in a lucky stab on you can end up a warchief. And once promoted, they all gain certain personality traits. Some rhyme or sing, others are cowards, and still other braggarts. This is by far the best part of the game.
But for the most part, you're sneaking about listening to orcs. What do orcs do? They drink (grog which you can poison to make them fight each other), they brag, they piss, and they pick on "pinkskins".
So if you're not interacting with the orcs, they act just like stereotypical jocks picking on nerds. Is this because the game is written by programmers? PERHAPS. Whatever the reason, the braggadocio comes off as false. (I'd like to say as an aside, I'm talking only about their actions while you're in stealth. When you actually engage them and the captains, they say some neat things and act in some cool ways.)
But what is the solution? It is a problem that goes beyond this gam, and extends into the entire realm of evil and disposable bad guys. How do you have disposable bad guys? Aren't they people too?
Tolkien himself even struggled with this, revisioning the origin of the orcs over and over, struggling to come up with something that made sense. Even by the time of his death, he had failed to come up with a satisfactory solution.
The question is, what does evil look like when it isn't being evil? All too often our conceptions of evil have more to do with our own psychological fears and failings then actual representations of evil. Personally, I spent a lot of time around people who acted somewhat similarly to the orcs in Mordor (though not quite as craven or cruel) and the conception leaves me feeling less like the orcs are evil, and more like my protagonist is a social reject, which I cannot imagine was the intent.
Not everyone was unpopular/unhappy in high school/college.
What does real, palpable, detects as glowing purple evil do on its day off?
Evil on VacationThe problem, is, of course, subjective morality. No one, besides the deranged, actually believes that they are committing acts of evil. Even the most unstable acts done by people are simply rational responses from their perspective. What does real, vicious, evil do when nobody is looking?
Well, here are some ideas on that front:
- Evil doesn't create. It can only corrupt or destroy.
- Evil is external and inimical to this plane or force of reality (which still leads to the question of how they spend their free time.)
- Natural unstoppable forces that care nothing for human concerns or morality (earthquakes or old ones)
- They are extremists regarding race or outlook. (Nobody cries when you kill a Nazi or Dalek/space nazi)
- Living weapons (which then give ground to explore what it is a living weapon does in free time)
The whole point is to have faceless mooks you can murder without consequence. But is that of value? Philosophically, what is the problem with accepting that the people you are killing are, you know, actually people?
Probably that probe is a little complex for blowing off steam during a game of some sort, but it doesn't have to be. Gnolls can have little gnoll babies and be hostile to humans. And then you can kill the gnolls. And even they have their own culture, you don't have to respect them. But you don't have to take the extra step and justify them as being irredeemably evil. You could just, you know, be ok with being a murdering douchebag.
One of the changes I've noticed since implementing On the Non-Player Character in all of my games is that some groups and players will leverage social skills to move through the dungeon/adventure instead of combat. It provides another mechanical cog that allows the players to interact with the world in a meaningful way. Literally, due to it being a mechanical objective interface for social conflict, players can leverage that power and talk the bad guy into at the very least not being hostile to the party.
It doesn't stop the bad guys from being jerks, of course, and sometimes they end up being killed anyway, for very good reasons like "I want your magic item." and "Well, I guess you are worth some experience."