Orcs are green-skinned, with heavy brows and jutting, tusked jaws. Both the males and females are large and muscular, though the females are slightly smaller.
Neither the males nor females are conventionally attractive, but the females are portrayed as overtly un-sexy and -feminine. This is exemplified by their jokes, most of which directly refer to their lack of femininity:
“Darn, I need my chest waxed again!”
“I have no respect for people with small piercings. I say go full hog. Put a spear through your head.”
“I’m very feminine. And I’ll beat the crap out of ANYONE who disagrees!”
“What’s estrogen? Can you eat it?”
“Man. I think that boar meat’s comin back on me. I gotta hit the can. Anyone have a hearthstone?”
“Get between me and my food, and you’ll lose a hand.”
I agree with Elizabeth Langer that the Orc females are simultaneously “unattractive and hypersexualized” (98): their jokes refer to stereotypical feminine things – body waxing and piercing, passivity/aggression, estrogen, daintiness with food – but in decidedly unfeminine ways.
Interestingly, both the Orc male and female dances allude to hip-hop: the males perform MC Hammer’s moves from “U Can’t Touch This” and the females dance like the women in the video for Juvenile’s “Back that Azz Up.” These are really the only Black representations for the Orcs, though.
In the context of WoW, this isn’t unusual – as you can see, most of the avatars speak Standard American English – but it is a divergence from other texts’ depictions of orcs. In the Lord of the Rings films and the Warhammer games, the orcs speak Cockney, a variety of English that’s long been associated with the working class and consequently derided. (Give My Fair Lady another viewing, to see what I mean.) This linguistic representation of classism aligns with the broader characteristics of the orcs in Tolkien (/Jackson). In Middle-earth, orcs aren’t a distinct species; they’re elves that have gone over to Sauron’s dark side and have been physically, mentally, and morally deformed by evil. They are, to quote Tof, “primative [sic], bestial, tribal, simple-minded, easily fooled, ferocious, even fearless in battle but also cowardly, treasonous and feckless.” The same is basically true in the Warhammer universe. But Warcraft‘s Orcs avoid these classist stereotypes. More about this below.
The Orcs’ main city, Orgrimmar, is a fortress with a strong expression of brutalism. There is a mixture of medieval elements such as the bastion turrets and wooden merlons used in some portions of the exterior curtain wall.
They’re reformed sinners. Orcs are, since Tolkien, the traditional Bad Guys in high fantasy; and in the first two Warcraft games, this representation holds true. With Warcraft III and WoW, however, Blizzard altered the Orcs’ narrative considerably. Here’s what Chris Metzen says about them:
We put out a game called Warcraft III a few years ago, and one of the things I really wanted to do was take orcs, who are the perennial bad-guy race — the dark, subhuman, barbarous race in most fantasy — and I wanted to take our orcs and spin ’em. They’re still green and tusked and very brutal — the visual of them plays to the archetype, so it’s very familiar for someone coming to the setting. But we started to take them on a route where, what if they weren’t innately evil? They’re looking for identity. They’ve been roughed up, and now they’re trying to become this noble thing again. <http://about-creativity.com/2008/04/an-interview-with-chris-metzen-part-1.php>
The lore on the Orcs explains that their temporary evilness was the result of manipulation and possession by the nefarious demon Kil’Jaeden. Thus, their worst crime, their genocide against their former neighbors, the Draenei, is meant to be read as a forgivable offense. After they were defeated by the Alliance at the end of the Second War, the remaining Orcs were put in internment camps to languish, where they were rescued and reunited by the Moses-like Thrall. In the narrative context of WoW, the playable Orcs [8. I emphasize “playable” because there are various NPC Orc tribes that are still in league with the Burning Legion and are regarded as evil. There are a handful of similarly evil splinter groups of other races, too, actually, which I read as evidence that Blizzard is trying to avoid essentialist readings of Warcraft‘s races. I don’t think they succeed – players still only have access to the races in limited, structured ways – but the attempt is worth noting.] are presented as a band of survivors that are trying to live down their dark past.
They’re Spartans. Like the Klingons of Star Trek – also sometime-enemies/sometime-friends of the Federation’s protagonists – the Orcs have a Spartan warrior culture: they’re students of the art of war, adherents to a strict code of honor, etc. Some of their clans even follow the practice of drowning sickly babies. Here’s the way their WoWWiki entry puts it:
For an orc, skill in battle brings great honor. It is the concept of personal honor that pervades orcish society, a concept that has made the race more cohesive and more of a threat to their adversaries in the Alliance. The concept of honor pervades all echelons of orcish society. Even the naming of an orc is temporary until he has performed a rite of passage. Once an orc has brought honor to his name and the name of his clan, the elders give him a second name based upon his deed.