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When I wrote up Blizzard's reveal of the WoW: Cataclysm female Worgen last week, I was expecting (and got) a mixed bag of reactions: "Hey, that's pretty cool!" "Ew, no way I'm rolling one of those." "Lol, furries." "Man, WoW looks so dated."
All of those are perfectly valid responses and opinions, mind you - like it or not, it's your prerogative to have one. However, I also saw several responses that I hadn't expected, which gave me a moment's pause: "WTF Blizzard those aren't real werewolves at all!"
Really, guys? Ignoring the whole concept of "real werewolves" for a moment, do we actually want all of our fantasy elements looking exactly the same in every single piece of fiction out there? I don't think that we do. Are Cataclysm's Worgen cursed men and women who shapeshift between their human forms and a bestial wolfish body? Yes? Okay, they're werewolves.
The whole "those aren't real X" spiel is similar to the snide sentiments that I've seen aimed at the absurdly popular Twilight books: Edward Cullen et al suck because they're not real vampires! No, they suck because they're shallow characters in poorly written books - whether or not they're "real" vampires has nothing to do with it.
Do we really want every vampire to be Bela Lugosi in Dracula, and every werewolf to be Lon Chaney in The Wolf Man? Perhaps we expect creators to go down the check list to make sure they've got everything just right. "Drinks blood, check. Vaporizes in the sunlight, check. Sleeps in a coffin, check. Turns into a bat, check. Obsessed with counting? Ooh, we missed that one - let's go watch Sesame Street reruns for inspiration."
Trying to find new spins on old concepts shouldn't be (and isn't) necessary, but it shouldn't be condemned, either. Just because the execution is flawed doesn't mean that the idea of a vegetarian vampire who glitters like Lady Gaga when exposed to sunlight couldn't be interesting if done correctly.
The weird part, though, is that we nerds actually seem pretty accepting of different takes on other fantasy archetypes - what is it about vampires and werewolves that we hold so sacrosanct?
Don't believe me? Well, what do you think an orc is? Is it a pallid, twisted and craven being that lives in darkness and seeks to despoil all beauty, a la Tolkien? Is it a Proud Warrior Race "noble savage" that relishes battle and lives for honor, like in Warcraft, or is it a brutish soccer-hooligan who fights just for the sake of fighting, as seen in Warhammer? Do they say "Waaaagh," "Dabu," or do they speak the Black Speech?
What about trolls: do they live below bridges, or do they live on message board forums? Do they ask you riddles, or do they turn to stone in the daytime? No, surely they're tribal and Jamaican! Perhaps they have brightly-colored hair and gemstones embedded in their bellies, but then again, perhaps not.
Elves might be truly immortal, but maybe they just live much longer than mere humans. Are they ethereal and beautiful, woodsy and wise, or are they feral and cruel with a tendency to live underground and dual-wield scimitars? These elves here dance on mailboxes, but these elves over here make toys for Santa Claus and make delicious cookies.
And how about dwarves? Are they all short, stocky humanoids with thick beards and Scottish accents who prize stonework, craftsmanship and their beer, or are they ... er, okay, maybe that's a bad example.
The sameness of dwarves aside, my point stands: Why is it that everyone is okay with reworking old concepts from beloved nerd classics most of the time, but these vampires and werewolves really get some nerds steamed?
Perhaps it isn't the different interpretation at all, but rather the medium in which they're being interpreted. That is, we hate Edward Cullen not because he's a vegetarian vampire who sparkles in the sunlight, but because he's a vegetarian vampire who sparkles in the sunlight in an obscenely popular book aimed at young girls that isn't particularly good. If Edward made his debut in Blade or Buffy or Angel, maybe geeks would have been all over that.
For that matter, maybe some gamers hate WoW's Worgen because they hate WoW. Hey, if you do, that's totally your right. Say that you don't like the design, or that you think they're just furry-bait, or that you'd never roll one, fine.
But don't say they're not werewolves.
John Funk can't decide what class to make his Worgen.