Let Me Teach You How to Play Orc House

Imagine it is 2003 and you are 12. The early 2000s are plump with online doll makers, blocks of anime on Adult Swim, and—most importantly—Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. You have just discovered forums, and you are deep into LotR's online community. You talk to old nerd men, and with those old nerd men, you argue if Tom Bombadil's absence in the film trilogy really did anyone a disservice. You are a child, and you memorize all of Merry and Pippin's lines about smoking and drinking and recite them to your parents, who are borderline horrified but glad that, at least, you are smart (ish).

What would you do, then, for fun with your friends? You all like LotR because you are not PREPS, but the merchandise isn't really doing it for you. What are you going to do with a plastic Ringwraith? Why would you purchase a LotR video game where you can't even play as a hobbit? 

It's the weekend, your friend's parents are gone, and you have solid plans to order Papa John's with extra garlic sauce. High on your freedom and intent on staying indoors, you begin a soft version of LARPing. Slowly, seamlessly, and without ever realizing it's happening, Orc House is born.

Here are the rules:

  • You are in a house
    • It is occupied by orcs
  • Those orcs are orcs unfit for battle, which means they are mostly:
    • Blind
    • And, sometimes, hard of hearing
  • You must move around the house without the orcs catching you
    • But the orcs are in your imagination, so there's no actual obstacle
      • Except for your mind

I need to clear a misconception right away: when I use the word "play," that doesn't mean that Orc House was a game to be enjoyed. Orc House was not fun. Orc House was a waking nightmare.

For one, the orcs were unpredictable. If someone whispered, "They heard us!" then it meant the rest of us had to react like they had, holding our breaths and imagining what they'd do if they did find us. We played at Emily's house, because it was the biggest, but big houses mean less stacks and piles and nooks to hide away in. The rooms were open with lots of floor space (that's probably why the orcs camped out there). We'd wait in terror, exposed on the tile of the kitchen floor with our bodies frozen and bent until someone else whispered, "They forgot about us." And then you could breathe, quietly, and scuttle away.

Prior to Orc House, I can remember group huddles before we'd play imagination games, like: Okay, my bed is the Hogwarts Express and we have to run to catch it or Pretend on the walk home from school, we accidentally activate the Jumanji board and have to fight giant mosquitos. But Orc House feels less like we planned it, and more like it happened to us. Like a crime. Orc House is like a crime.

Do you get it? Do you understand now? Are you teary-eyed just thinking about it?

When I talk about Orc House, I notice looks of repulsion mixed with light sympathy. Most people don't understand that while I was ducked in front of the basement door with an eye on the TV room (where most of the orcs were), I was on the verge of a fucking panic attack. Or that when I signaled Grace to crawl my way S L O W L Y, I was certain her life was in my hands and that if I made a misstep, I could kill my best friend.

Then, just last month, I saw Don't Breathe. The plot: three thieves (Rocky, Alex, and MONEY) break into a blind veteran's house to steal his money (no relation) and then quickly realize they are outmatched because the veteran is ruthless

Leading up to Don't Breathe, I felt distinctly sure that it would wreck me. It didn't. It was fine. But while I watched Jack's kid from Lost ducking around corners to avoid a blind veteran / murderer, it reawakened a fear in me that had—for nearly fifteen years—been dormant. Don't Breathe reminded me that it doesn't matter if you can see and your attacker can't, because if you're caught, that mother fucker is going to pop your head off. 

I bet Fede played some version of Orc House where something that couldn't see you could kill you, and he's been so torn by this childhood game that he had to make a movie about it. I get it. Fede gets it. 

You know who doesn't get it? Peter Jackson. Peter Jackson wasted his time with The Hobbit movies. All of that money and all of those resources, and he tossed them to the wind to get Benedict Cumberbatch in a green suit making dragon noises and Martin Freeman telling rape jokes. Sure, singing dwarves doing dishes is extensively charming, but also: Orc House. Wasn't Guillermo del Toro writing? Ugh, Guillermo would do a fantastic Orc House. He gets it. I get it. Do you get it?