Varian Wrynn (from Warcraft)

Alright.  Bitch mode.  It’s time to bring in a character I hate.  Yes I have been nice so far, and you might think me just a girl who champions lost causes, but now I venture into the realm of a character I hate.  A character so vile it must be destroyed.  Okay maybe I’m being harsh, or am I?  Varian Wrynn isn’t even an actual character.  He’s a self insert fanfic.  And it’s probably that reason that makes me hate him most.

Now it’s not that Varian necessarily has to be a bad character.  In fact if you look at what he was supposed to do, that is, be something your average rabid, hyper-masculinized foaming-at-the-mouth frat boy WoW-demographic can like, then bravo.  Fission Mucking Accomplished then.

It’s not even that a universe like Warcraft can’t deal with more big browed, punch first, ask questions later characters.  Warcraft is, at heart, Rambo with dragons.  It’s in the same vein as that 1980s commando shooter movie.

BUT, then, you have the series of commissioned novels, the endless effort to develop the universe and lore panels at Blizzcon.  I’m not going to play the same game we do with “equal rights” legislation, demanding to be treated equally but wanting special treatment.  Blizzard wants Warcraft to be treated like an honest game story, well right on then.  We’ll treat them that way, they don’t get a special pass because their focus is on game mechanics and not storytelling. They want to act like big kids, I’m going to judge them as big kids.

Now I’m not going to rant on the retconning at all.  Long standing series that are in constant motion need retcons.  Hell, Doctor Who uses retcons all the time, particularly in the form of the Daleks, and I personally love them as they’ve become.  A retcon, in and of itself, is not inherently bad.  It SHOULD be avoided, but sometimes it becomes necessary, or preferable, to keeping failed canon.

So in light of this, I will accept the retcon of Varian Wrynn as an inevitability.  This doesn’t mean I like it, nor does it give Metzen his blanket pardon for dicking around with perfectly good story material.

Varian himself has existed since Warcraft 2, as Varien.  The retcons in his story come in inserting him into stories with other major figures of the game, and crafting him into the Mary Sue of the Warcraft world.

First, Varian is the latest incarnation of a problem that is systemic in Warcraft and other media: Male stereotyping.  It’s been explained more succinctly by other writers, but the short version of the theory I ascribe to, is that just like women are “for sex”, men are “for violence”.  Every major male figure in Warcraft is a brawler, with little exception.  Even Rhonin is a swordsman and crossbow user in a long fight.  He is probably the one exception to magical exception.  Velen might count, if he DID anything besides fill in as Holy Light Macguffin and acted as his own character.  Kael’Thas turned evil.  The Lich King is evil.  Illidan went evil.  Malfurion is trapped in the Nightmare.  Warcraft has few positive outlooks on using your brains over your brawn. Even Thrall, though a shaman, is primarily known for wielding the Doomhammer and is a gladiator by training.

For continuing this tradition I already mark Varian as a misstep.  Did he REALLY have to be a carbon copy of Thrall?  Captured as a gladiator, earns the begrudging respect of his captors who want to use him as a tool, runs away and leads his people into a golden age.  Fuck.  That. Noise.

And it seems people who care about the story felt the same way.  Now I only play on RP servers.  Players there take more into consideration for convenience.  In the 2009 event “Love is in the Air”, you could look at past year’s standings when you voted for your favorite faction leader.  Sylvanas consistently won for the Horde year after year after year.  But in 2009 the Alliance saw a huge split.  In 2008 Bolvar Fordragon recieved a huge amount of votes, about the same proportion as Sylvanas gained on the Horde side (this pattern followed on both of my servers at the time, Scarlet Crusade and Wyrmrest Accord, at least for the 09 numbers), earning about 40% of the votes.  But in 2009, when Varian returned and we saw the Wrath Gate war mongering of Wrynn, Varian’s votes dropped to about 20% share, with most going to Tyrande.  People were actually going OUT OF THEIR WAY to vote AGAINST Varian.  So most of the public who cared (the roleplaying servers), rejected Metzen’s idea of an awesome faction leader.  As for the PvP or Normal servers, I couldn’t tell you.  It might not have been as big a change due to the fact most people there probably just turned it in where it was convenient for them to do so.

So for your public turning it’s back on you, Wrynn loses more points.

Add in that Wrynn is a self insert fanfic.  So now we have one faction led by a self insert fanfic, versus another faction led by a self insert fanfic.   How could this plan possibly fail?!?!

If only Varian had a friend who was a Horde race that would show he's bigotted....but where would we FIND one of those?

Where Varian failed was subtlety.  Thrall was a good incarnation of this story.  He was powerful, yes, and absurdly Mary Sue.  He was the long lost son of the good clan of Orcs; he befriended Grom Hellscream; and learned the secret ways of the shaman, becoming the second existing shaman next to Drek’Thar; even surpassing his master by communing with the spirit of Life, a nature spirit that abandoned the orcs after their communion with demons, which the four elements were much quicker to forgive.  We even had Drek saying “I never thought that the spirit of nature would return to our people, but you have done it!”.  When you hear it on paper it sounds like a bad fanfiction, but Thrall is probably the most beloved leader that Blizzard has ever created.

How did that come about? Thrall was tempered by his trials.  His life growing up as a slave taught him how evil slavery was, and his friendship with Taretha was a way for him to overlook his hatred of Humans and realize people must be viewed on an individual basis.  He ordered the Horde to NOT kill civilians anymore, to only take down military targets, and to avoid all forms of terrorism that Grom had been doing, struggling to survive.  He shows wisdom, foresight, and temper.

Varian has none of these things.  He left a knightly warrior, was enslaved, and came back bitter and vengeful.  He is so blinded by his rage that when he meets Thrall in the Undercity he even says “Every time I killed an Orc I thought to myself how much better our world would be without your kind”.  This is something you expect the SS officer at a concentration camp to say, not the savior of the Human race.  And that’s exactly what Varian was billed as; the Allaince’s Thrall.  He was to come and unite the disparate factions in the Alliance once and for all.  If this is what the Alliance is SUPPOSED to be, it’s no wonder that players wanted nothing to do with it.

Yeah that's pretty much it

It’s not like the Alliance needs help looking like the dicks of Azeroth.  They DID have the High Elves after all.  They’re the ones who put Orcs into internment camps, who kicked the Blood Elves out in favor of reconquering Human lands, and accepted the Night Elves, who until World of Warcraft were the LITERAL BOOGEYMEN of Kalimdor.  All the other races feared entering Ashenvale in case they’d be shot dead on SIGHT.  And THESE are the prime example of allies?  That was probably Onyxia’s doing!

Now we know WHY the Wrath Gate happened: Blizzard needed a story excuse to keep PvP when the Horde and Alliance keep working together, be it AQ, the Burning Legion, or the Lich King campaigns.

So their solution was to make the Alliance king a racist, xenophobic, short tempered prick.  Brilliant job there Metzen.  At the same time we were introduced to Garrosh Hellscream on the Horde side, who in the Burning Crusade was despondent over how his father was a traitor and a villain.  Apparently this didn’t encompass bloodthirsty or stupid, because Garrosh has both in spades.

The saddest day for WoW players everywhere...

The idea that just because the players beat on things in a virtual game doesn’t mean they want to see story characters who do the same thing.  Even if that was the attitude people liked, once it goes mainstream it ceases being fun.  That’s why the Overlord series or Fable aren’t popular; once you institutionalize being a dick, it stops giving you the same pleasure.

Further, in the interlude books between Wrath and Cataclysm, it isn’t Varian who must overcome his prejudices.  Malfurion asks him to put them aside to save his son Anduin, yes.  And Varian commands the joint army of Alliance and Horde to take back the Emerald Dream.  The Horde, too, is suspicious of Varian, they don’t know if they’re willing to put their lives into the hands of the racist Human king who thinks their kind is nothing but swine and has sworn a blood oath to destroy the Horde.  And how do these two sides reconcile?

The Horde sees the spirit of the wolf (the most holy animal to the Orcs) within Varian’s spirit form.  It isn’t the racist asshole who needs to change! It’s the entire ORCISH RACE that needs to get over its panty twist!  This isn’t a moral, it’s not a lesson.  “Hey, if a guy is strong enough to become Alpha Male, you really need to get over your suspicion because he’s obviously there for a good reason.  Pussy” is not character development.

What a load.  Seriously.  Even when they try to mellow the guy out, he still comes off as “what we don’t want”.

I don’t blame Varian for these failings as much as Metzen.  He should know better, but doesn’t.  What he created on accident with Thrall is failing miserably on purpose with Varian.  All of his compelling characters die, and his failed characters persist.  Varian is just the latest example.

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