The Orcs of 'Shadow of War' Face a Fate Worse Than Death


#1

Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/j5j5xb/the-orcs-of-shadow-of-war-face-a-fate-worse-than-death-middle-earth-lord-of-the-rings-enslavement-lootboxes

#2

That Bruz stuff is wild. It feels super emotionally manipulative on the part of the developer. I haven’t played the game so i can’t be sure, but from what I read it almost feels like they made him a character you liked almost specifically so the moment you broke his mind you would feel…idk what exactly, but something.


#3

It’s definitely purposeful, but I don’t know if Bruz is ever supposed to be liked. He definitely becomes a comic relief but I feel like his characterization never really goes away from “I love killing things, but now I’m going to be funny while I do it.” This is weirdly contrasted to the other orcs that never get more than a line or two but still ooze more personality than Bruz. The orcs with hobbies and other jobs like the bards or the alchemists just feel more real which makes it all the more hard-hitting when you accidentally turn them into screaming dolls that will forever haunt you throughout the game. Cameron and Austin certainly still have valid points in this article, but I think Bruz was done rather poorly.


#4

I think you nail it on the head when you say that someone on the team addressed the issue in the authored narrative parts of the game, but they didn’t consider the meaning the actual interactive parts of the game carried. It’s hard to view any of this as subversive when the player is incentivized to keep engaging with the system in order to keep leveling up, to keep getting loot, to just consume and consume and consume.

I believe someone came up with a term for that dissonance once, but I don’t wish to invoke its specter, for fear that some angry god smites me down.


#5

I’m glad to see the Bruz stuff being addressed. I watched a few LP’s and was really disgusted when the player just saw that as funny that he “Lost his mind.” “He just went crazy haha!”


#6

I feel like this might have been a first use of this format on the site? I have to say that I really enjoyed it and would look forward to more work like this in the future if it was something y’all were interested in, especially as an outlet for thoughts on a game that might not fit super well into the tight Waypoint Radio schedules.

The interaction between procedural generation and authored narrative is an interesting one & something that I hadn’t really considered in those terms. Food for thought for me.


#7

@robowitch That format was actually used before when the two of them talked about race in Watch Dogs 2.


#8

I have found a point of view that allows me to play Shadow of War, and I encourage anyone who is struggling with the really troubling subject matter to consider adopting it.

Imagine that you are in an alternate reality where the Tolkien mythos were written from the evil point of view. Melkor was a deeply creative guy, totally stifled by Eru and the other Ainur. He and a bunch of the Noldor went over to Middle-earth to do their own thing, and yeah the elves ended up being a little gross looking but what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own spawning pit is their own business.

Down through the ages, whenever someone finally set up a really rad volcano or made a really big dragon, some elf lord would come along and topple or slay it, and if that failed a host of angels would do it for them.

Today even the last bastion of culture, Mordor, is just a wasteland with orcs struggling to farm enough mud to live. There are whispers that Sauron is returning, and this time he’s going to take back everything that has been lost.

Shadow of War is the “Grendel” from that alternate universe.


#9

Reading through this I found myself second guessing the popular bit of armchair game design of speculating what kinds of games would be good with the nemesis system. How much of this ugliness is inherent to the system and how much is the dressing around it. does it change if you replace the orcs with just soldiers and not a race of grunts that map so easily onto a history of real world racism and slavery? is it inherent in all of the in universe death and ressurection? is it just because the violence and body horror aesthetic of this game is so darn ghoulish?maybe all the grossness actually stemming from the domination rather than the nemesis system? Austin’s point seem to argue that is not all of it. I don’t have concrete answers, I would like to think you could still use something like the Nemesis system and maintain the dignity and humanity of the enemies, but I’d be interested in y’alls thoughts


#10

What’s the name of that article?


#11

#12

Oh wow, this article captures everything I felt about WD2 and why I ultimately felt cold about it. But that’s enough derailing from me.


#13

I think it’d be real difficult to use the nemesis system as is in Morder (ie: domination) with humans. It would be very difficult to break away from the slavery angle and using orcs, even with the analogues that Tolkien orcs have, allows people to better ignore the problems that stem from the domination and nemesis system. I think without the domination aspect, the nemesis system would actually work quite well in other games. Something that allows one to be able to create new stories with characters and share them much like XCOM did could be huge for some open-world games.


#14

I liked the format of this article as well.
As for the content, fuck, the gamification of enslavement is some dark, dark shit. I get that it wasn’t intentional, there’s no one sitting in a meeting saying “how can we normalize slavery” BUT without the proper context, and from what i’ve seen and heard about this game there isn’t one, this can only go in dark direction.
Maybe there is some kind of self realization at the end of Shadow of Mordor, a kind of “I have become the monster” moment?

Today I was thinking about Papers, Please. It’s a very different game, but gamifies border control politics in such a way that to progress in the game you have to de-humanize immigrants to variables that must be quickly processed. All of this is with the very specific goal of making the player think about the process they are going through, why they ended up thinking the way they do, what that says about humanity, etc.
Contrast and compare to Mordor where if there is any greater intention to making enslavement a game mechanic other than a murder and conquer simulator, it’s hidden too deep to notice.


#15

Worth thinking about how even Papers, Please, with its very careful handling of self-criticism, had its own cadre of people cheering “glory to arstotzka” all across the internet and talking about the most efficient ways to process the most people in the shortest time.


#16

yeah, bruz seemed like your standard “funny violent asshole” and gets mad that you dont give him the fort and goes uruk Spartacus on your ass. then elf hitler fucks him up as an example.


#17

Having not played neither game, I don’t have a lot to add, but wow, this was a good read.