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Mythology, science and videogames: How an Orc is Born

Inês Garcia, and Tiago Cruz, wrote a paper about the creation of monsters! Well, about a specific monster - an Orc! Tiago Cruz translated this article into english in order to be available to a broader audience.


This article was first redacted to be presented on the Archives of Anatomy Official Journal of the Portuguese Anatomical Society and was accompanied with a presentation during the congress where it was published.

 Monsters have the ability to keep themselves meaningful throughout the ages being used a lot today in the videogames industry. The monster that was selected to be a subject was the Orc, created by J. R. R. Tolkien and later made famous in several board and videogames, become mostly famous in World of Warcraft from Blizzard Entertainment.

The monster thematic has been a fertile territory in several areas from the classic period until the present day. Always present, the monster appears in the contemporaneousness as the main figure in the audiovisual universe and in video games and its deformed appearance is always infertile territory to analyze and compare in scientific terms, through the study of certain anomalies present in humans and animals.

The monster to analyze is called Orc and became familiar through the universe of JRR Tolkien, is characterized as a markedly bizarre and threatening aspect warrior. Since the publication of Tolkien’s works, these creatures have become fictional elements almost always present in fantasy and Role-Playing Games. Around the 80’s of the twentieth century was introduced another archetype of the creature by the famous war game of miniatures of board Warhammer and later adapted to the universe of the world-known videogame World of Warcraft.

Based on the version of the creature promoted by the videogame World  of Warcraft, we proposed to make a comparison between his presented physiognomy and certain anomalies that arise in the human being and in the apes. A comparison is made especially at the level of the head having a skeletal abnormality called prognathism and also in the body, whose appearance is associated with acromegaly or gigantism.

The choice of this version of the creature for a more detailed analysis is based on two reasons. The first for social reasons: this videogame is a worldwide phenomenon of popularity, because the game was launched on November 23, 2004 and reached more than 12 million subscribers assets and after almost 10 years after its launch, continues with around 3 million subscribers and the second because the adopted version is the one that best suits this type of comparative analysis.

Materials and Methods

The approach of this analysis is in two aspects along with the illustrations elaborated by the co-author of this article – Inês Garcia.

The first aspect is Monster Framing and Characterization, where we presented the creature, since it emerged from Tolkien’s universe and it was spread as one of the most common representations of it. We also decided to analyze the creature amongst other videogames but specifically in World of Warcraft. Then we proceeded to the second aspect of this article is to point out and compare this creature in the field of science based on its physical characteristics, and anomalies at the level of the head (Prognathism) and body (gigantism and acromegalia).

The Orc in Fantasy

Orc or Ork is a term referring to a breed of human mythological creatures, generally described as barbaric, aggressive, or repulsive. As already mentioned, this creature became familiar through the universe of Tolkien.

According to the indication of the archaic English dictionaries, the registration of the word Orc appears as a derivation from the Latin Orcus, synonym of hellish ogre or demon. Orcus was a deity from the underworld of Roman mythology, also known as Pluto. Just as the underworld is imbued with negative and frightening connotations, these creatures also bear this inheritance.

In the world of Tolkien, the Orcs are warriors of markedly aberrant appearance with facial features characteristic of apes and wild boars to which some gigantism is associated. The color of their skin presents a range of tones ranging from shades of green to brown, gray and red. They are very powerful and powerful (compared to humans, in fantasy universes).

Since the publication of Tolkien’s works, the Orcs have become elements of fiction, almost always present in fantasy and RPG games. By the 1980 ‘s  another creature’s archetype was introduced, by the now famous miniature board game Warhammer Fantasy Battle, better known as Warhammer or its sci-fi counterpart Warhammer 40k. The version of the creature introduced by the Warhammer universe became so popular that it began to be used as a canon in many other fantasy universes, other games of the same genre and still in the sphere of videogames, as is the case of the World  universe  of Warcraft and others that later emerged.

The Orc in theWorld of Warcraft video game

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) where players from all over the world live together, explore and  enture assuming roles of heroes or champions in the history of this universe by choosing a faction and subsequently a race and a class to create each own unique character to their liking. There are two factions that are rivals, being in permanent combat, to Horde and the Alliance. Within these factions exist several races available, being our chosen creature (the Orc), part of the Horde faction. In this universe the Orcs take on a more important role. Initially they were introduced as a race of brute monsters, but their evolution gave them more of a role of noble savages or honorable warriors. In this type of videogame this race originates from the planet Draenor and most of its clans was manipulated and betrayed by one of its greater spiritual leaders, so that they would become slaves of a force of demon-like beings that conquered all of planets in their path, known as The Burning Legion.

In physical terms, the appearance of the Orcs in Warcraft is also a humanoid, prodigiously muscled, somewhat similar to simian anatomy, with rather large body ends as well as broad noses, mouths with large canines. There are several tribes of Orcs, with various shades of skin, however, the Orcs of the Horde are mostly green due to corruption of their demonic overlords. However, the ones that managed to hide when the Burning Legion controlled the majority of the clans kept their original colors: brown and orange hues.

Anatomical Deformations: Prognathism

As previously described, the Orc of the Warcraft universe has a similar appearance to the human, but with a much more prominent musculature.  This article will focus in greater depth on the analysis of the creature’s head where we will undoubtedly find a prominent jaw, from which large teeth protrude (as you can see below).

This disproportionality of the lower jaw in the creature indicates that he suffers from a skeletal anomaly which, in reality, corresponds to prognathism. However, we cannot fail to point out that although it is a real anomaly, it is represented in the fantastic creature with a certain hyperbolic tone, of exaggeration of reality.

In general terms, the prognosis is an anomaly that significantly disturbs the harmony of the face, which is considered to be a facial deformation of the face. It is an orofacial change that can be cause malocclusion of the frontal crossbite dental sector, also makes the incisors of the lower jaw locate ahead of the upper incisive in the mouth occlusion. This situation happens when the mandible presents an inadequate growth, being greater than the one of the maxillae. At the dental level the Orc presents six lower incisors and two canines in each hemi-arcade whereas in the human species there are four incisors and two mandibular canines.

This alteration also denominated of mandible of Habsburg or mandible of Austria comes from an excess of mandibular growth, of genetic origin or combined with a deficit of growth of the upper jaw, and is considered as one of the most problematic deformities of the face.

The word prognathism means projection (pro) of the jaws, existing in both the upper jaw and the mandible, (usually referring to mandibular prognathism). To this designation was added the Greek word “gnatos”  which means “bone of the chin,” “jawbone” or mandible, precisely because of the greater visual impact that the prognathism mandibular causes.

The Orc presenting this type of mandible has a lower protruding lower lip than the upper lip (which has eversion of the lip) and also a bulky and prominent foramen, which gives the individual an always angry appearance (thus contributing to its expressions of unfriendliness  and threatening demeanor), in some cases a hard appearance of warrior / fighter. This particular hard-fighting, war-like feature may have been one of the reasons why the Orc was prognostically represented in the Warcraft universe, precisely because its function is closely linked to violence and a more arduous lifestyle.

Changed Proportions

In terms of proportion and functionality, all structures are essential for good face development. However, when it is altered or deformed, it can have serious consequences not only in terms of growth but also in terms of function. In a prognathic individual there are features that immediately call attention, such as: the inverse relationship of the two dental arches, with a variable position of the jaw relative to the maxilla. However, there may be a wide range of situations such as a mere undershot, (with the dental arches in the same horizontal plane), an undershot (with supra-occlusionwhere the lower incisors can overlap the upper incisors), and a prognathism with infra occlusion (where the plane of the lower incisors moves away from the plane of the upper incisors).

Looking at the face of an Orc, we noticed that there is a maxillary crowding resulting from the lack of space in the said arch, which in the specific case of prognathism, is increased in the mandible, conditioning the presence of interdental spaces. This described crowding is superior, having a smaller jaw, which can result in crowding. The overlapping of the upper dental arch and the difficulty in maintaining the labial closure indicate that the type of prognathism presented seems to be that a prognathism with supra-occlusion.

With the obvious advancement of the mandible, an integral part of the lower third of the face and an apparent reduction of the middle third of the face appear. In addition to skeletal changes, the lining tissues also undergo changes in their configuration: depending on the ability to open or close the mouth, the tissues surrounding the mouth opening seem more or less immobile.

Prognathism in apes

The prognathism in the apes is referred to because there are similar traits in the creature addressed. Compared to humans, apes have a type of “facial” prognathism, where the face projects anteriorly beyond the upper part of the skull, hence the prognathism double-jaw in the apes is much more pronounced, making it clear the reason for the comparison of this creature of the Warcraft universe.

Thus, in the apes the prognathism is accentuated as the animal is older, in the course of growth, with a greater facial development relative to the cranial development. In comparative terms, the lowest degree of progeny in the apes is always superior with in comparison with humans, being, the chimpanzees are the most similar to the man for presenting less prognathism. Baboons have a greater prognathism bi-maxillary, having a pointed shape on the face, similar to the dog’s muzzle. In the Orangutan, the prognathism bi-maxillary is also quite considerable, and its incisors reach triple volume relative to human incisors. It also has other characteristics such as: a great obliquity of the face with respect to the skull, (very pronounced in the ape and little in humans) and still a large volume of the face with respect to the skull, (in the case of humans the volume of the cranial box is not exceeded). In terms of dentition, the teeth of apes are much larger compared to humans: chimpanzees, for example, have sharp, pronounced canines that are used in defense mechanisms.

The reason for being disproportionate: Acromegaly

As already mentioned, in terms of appearance the Orcs are humanoid with a protruding jaw. But beyond these obvious physical traits, this creature is quite broad, muscular, and its extremities clearly disproportionate to the rest of the body, and it has already been described that this creature suffers from a disproportionality in the lower jaw: an anomaly called prognathism.

In addition to this anomalous characteristic, the Orc presents yet another: the disproportionate extremities disease, Acromegalia.

There are some cases where prognathism is a consequence and one of them is precisely acromegaly. This disease is almost always caused by a pituitary adenoma. Excess growth hormone produces gigantism if it occurs prior to the closure of the conjugation cartilages that bind the epiphyses to the bone diaphyses.

After this stage acromegaly develops: the hands increase in size, the fingers increase in diameter, the feet also grow, especially in width, also giving rise to the extremities of the distal phalanges. The face becomes more “rude” as the bones and breasts of the skull increase. It also increases the cephalic perimeter. The mandible becomes more prominent, causing prognathism and malocclusion, and the interdental spaces increase.

There is also macroglossia, such as hypertrophy of the pharynx and larynx which causes a guttural voice. Increases bone mass, thickening of the skin, and hyperhidrosis (causing more sweating).

In the case of acromegaly, as already mentioned, the changes take place already in the adult phase and the growth intensifies in terms of thickness, thickening the extremities of the body, whereas in the case of gigantism the growth is harmonious, proportional.


In the Orcs there is also the possibility of gigantism, and since in a culture in which physical force is considered essential, one who has larger dimensions is seen as venerable and generally exhibits a better physical condition, unlike the human case in which gigantism by provoking a height higher than the human body is accustomed to, creates weaknesses in bone and joint, since the weight supported tends to be excessive.

Most likely, the team that developed this creature’s version for the World game of Warcraft may have taken into account all these particularities, (salient jaw, disproportionate ends, hardened skin), for the development of its version of Orc. Although it is only an assumption, it is perfectly clear and plausible to take advantage of all these characteristics that make a lot of sense to the monster in context: they all give it a threatening, imposing and warlike countenance.

Due to the medium in which these creatures subsist in the fantasy (a hostile, desolate environment, with extreme climatic conditions) being organized in clans and tribes, it is necessary that they develop all these described physical characteristics , as well as an imposing size to be able to perform functions that allowed for their survival in the environment (such as hunting, collecting scarce resources: wood, minerals, water) in large quantities quickly and efficiently. There is also a need to protect your community from other wild creatures that may jeopardize its continuity. A comparison can be made here with the subsistence of tribes in the wilder regions of Africa, where the stronger individuals reach a higher position (such as the African tribe Massai and the Zulus).


Monsters are elements that are always present in our imagination, whether in antiquity or nowadays. Nowadays they appear in diverse areas being in great expansion in the universe of the video games.

The creature approached, the Orc, in addition to the various versions it possesses in the various universes where it is mentioned, presents a humanoid aspect, generally described as barbaric and aggressive.

The anatomical features translate into s Modification of facial growth (maxillary clutter, mandibular prognathism, tapered canines and crossbite) and members (with acromegalic appearance).

Finally, the images presented aim to demonstrate the proximity between Art as Scientific Illustration / Concept Art, video games and Anatomical Science, proving that in the making of a fantastic creature, this Art-Science-Game connection is always an asset.

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