I went to college, so I know all about culture. I love culture. Culture is great. Culture is the best. I’m well rounded. I know about things.
That’s why I found Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, a new video game set in the world of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, so endlessly fascinating. Because culture.
Specifically, orc culture.
The orcs are an ugly, ugly people. But Shadow of Mordor taught me about their intricate, lavish culture.
I watched orcs engage in power struggles to rise through the ranks of Sauron’s army. I watched some go berserk at the sight of fire and others run away crying at the sight of bees. I learned their myriad motivations, be they social insecurity, cannibalism or just straight-up, old-school blatant racism.
It can be easy to stereotype orcs, to hide them from the cleansing rains of personhood under a singular umbrella of collective ugliness. But Shadow of Mordor refuses to paint this regal, ugly, ugly people with a single brush stroke, instead showing orcs and their culture for the gross canvas of mud brown and renal-failure yellow it is.
And it lets you just murder the hell out of it. There are orcs everywhere, orcs of all different shapes and sizes with all kinds of names and personalities, and you just kill the shit out of all of them and they die dead, each extinguished life a small subtraction from the aggregate sum of a breathing heritage.
Shadow of Mordor unapologetically lifts it’s gameplay from the Assassins Creed and Arkham series, as such moving through Mordor will feel pretty familiar to some. But in Shadow of Mordor you don’t watch henchmen from above, perched on a gargoyle, and you don’t hide from Templars amongst hordes of nuns or on discrete benches. In Shadow of Mordor all of the henchmen and Templars and gargoyles and nuns and benches are orcs. And they all have names. And you just murder their butts real good.
In fact, orc culture in Shadow of Mordor is so diverse and varied that if you play Shadow of Mordor my arch nemesis, Mozfel Half-Breed Lover, probably wouldn’t even exist in your play through. Because orcs and their culture are so expansive and distinct you’ll wind up duking it out with some other orc who loves some other gross thing. And then you’ll chop his ugly head off, just like I chopped off Mozfel’s ugly head and watched it spew thick, black, subhuman blood all over his horrified constituents, whose heads I also gave a good chopping too.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor probably should have just been called Mordor: Mordor of Mordor. You aren’t traversing Middle-Earth, you won’t be spelunking in Moria or taking in the beauty of Rivendell. You’ll be exclusively in Mordor, whose bleak and barren lands only serve to further illuminate the vivid pantheon of its indigenous, ugly people, whose throats you just slit into oblivion like nobody’s business.
The orcs in Shadow of Mordor are such a hearty people that sometimes they will even survive your violent onslaughts and overcome their cuts and bruises and handicaps, triumphing over adversity to confront you once again. And then you can just straight up feed them to a living wild animal. And if they come back again you can straight up burn them alive cause screw ’em.
I did a lot of stuff over the course of my time with Shadow of Mordor, but chief amongst them I explored and appreciated the many facets of a unique and vibrant culture, treating its practitioners with dignity and respect. Because I have been to college, so I know all about culture.