Pandaren Race "Not a Joke"
For those who have perhaps been living under a rock for the last ten days or so, Blizzard finally announced that World of Warcraft would be expanding again. Called "Mists of Pandaria", the expansion introduces the Monk class and alternate ways of leveling. While the entire concept of Pandaria is creating a heap of buzz around the 'Net, nothing has created quite the firestorm of controversy as much as the introduction of the Pandaren race which many have likened to "Kung Fu Panda" comes to MMOs.
Earlier in the week, Blizzard's Chris Metzen had this to say in an interview with Gamefront:
There’s no way we’re gonna build an expansion set based on an April Fools Joke. What you guys may not know is, our senior art director, Sam Didier, started drawing these guys years ago. It was just a passion project for him, and he painted all sorts of pictures of these guys and nobody really thought we would really include them in Warcraft — it was just what he loved drawing. And so he had crazy panda shamans and his artwork was off the hook. And I remember, was it in Warcraft III, we included Chen Stormstout in Frozen Throne, maybe, in the Orc campaign? Was it after that? I can’t remember anymore. But these guys are not a joke. This is an idea that we’ve been thinking about for years. It’s one of our favorite flavors of Warcraft. It’s not ultimately really silly, it’s just a little lighter.
Yet even with that clarification, the argument continues. In many ways it's rather sad that Metzen and the rest of the Blizzard team have felt the need to even make statements like this. Yet it's not like the Pandaren haven't been fully embedded within the lore of World of Warcraft for a long time. In fact, WoWWiki.com has this to say about the Pandaren:
The pandaren started as a creation of the Blizzard artist Samwise Didier and an April Fool's joke, but they got a massive response from Warcraft fans. In the first BlizzCast episode launched on Jan. 10, 2008, Samwise recalled the process to the creation of the Pandaren April Fool's page: "But so we put that up in there and everyone was like “Oh my God! A PANDA RACE? That’s kind of cool!” And I’m like “Are you kidding me, really? You want to see pandas in Warcraft III or whatever?”" Soon, they were included in the Warcraft III expansion and Chris Metzen began to write them into the game lore. Due to this popularity, pandaren were rumored to be the new playable Alliance race to be introduced in the Burning Crusade expansion.
So, really, it's not as if they're unheard of in WoW.
Then there are the conspiracy theories. Don your tin foil hats now.
Many who grew up watching the DreamWork's Kung Fu Panda films believe that somehow Blizzard is attempting to capitalize on the movies. Others opine that the gaming giant is sucking up to their new Chinese customers. Still others say that it "ruins the immersion" for them. And you can bet that those aren't the only conspiracy theories floating around out there either.
Blizzard is simply capitalizing on its own rich lore. Even if Mists could be construed as pandering somewhat to their Chinese players, why the hell not? It's not as if Western players have a lock on World of Warcraft. WoW is one of the truly worldwide games that has taken in players from just about every country in the world, the Chinese being a significant percentage of their subscribers, I'm sure.
Those who are honest about the WoW community should also admit that everything Blizzard does, whether it's a new expansion or nerfing classes or adding microtransaction vanity items, kicks up a poop storm of controversy in the community. Yet even with all the kvetching, moaning and groaning, the players keep coming back for more.
So why all the fuss? Pandarens are part of WoW's lore. Why does Blizzard even have to call their inclusion "serious as a heart attack"? Why not Pandaren? What makes them any less 'real' than, say, sparkling ghost horses or gnomes or elves with two-foot pointed ears?