Vampires? Enough, already!

I came home this evening, opened my e-mail, and saw an e-mail from StarWarsShop.com. I subscribed to their newsletter to check out some of the cool action figures they have, as well as all the other goodies that are way out of my price range.

This time was different. You see, it seems that StarWarsShop.com wanted to get an early start on Halloween this year, so they sent out an early Halloween newsletter. I opened the e-mail, and to my horror (pun intended), I saw a picture of Princess Leia as a vampire.

Vampire Princess Leia

I was utterly disgusted. First, to use Princess Leia as a vampire is just ridiculous. This was originally some sort of Halloween party invite that was turned into a product to sell. Fine, I get that. No problem with them wanting to make a buck. Then they made the pic look like it was straight from the pulp era. Fine, no worries there. But Princess Leia as a vampire?

Vampires have gone from being unique, or at least rare, monsters who scare you to being the everyday, average monster on the block. We no longer have Dracula, Nosferatu, or Strahd. Now we have entire vampire societies, roaming about. In Stargate: Atlantis, you have the Wraith, who are little more than space vampires. Even in Dragonlance, you have the Beloved of Chemosh, who are a variant of vampires in their own right. No matter how you disguise these monsters, they keep coming up as vampires.

Let’s also consider why we glorify them so much. There’s supposedly some sort of sex appeal there. Beyond physical beauty, I don’t see it. I don’t find sucking blood to be attractive – not unless you happen to be a leech. Maybe it’s the horror factor. We have been bombarded by vampires so much in the last few decades that they no longer seem to scare. It’s kind of like how you watch the evening news and are no longer shocked by a murder. Likewise, vampires just don’t scare me anymore.

Why did Lucasfilm do this? Because it was easy. Vampires sell, and making money off of this is a guarantee. Yet in the process, the Princess’ image of a strong female protagonist is tarnished. How could the Princess fall prey to the likes of a vampire? Why should a company known for its creativity resort to the most uncreative thing they could do?

There are a few lessons that we, as gamers, can learn from this. First of all, a unique monster is more memorable than several. Dracula scares me. The umpteenth vampire that Buffy slays doesn’t. This is also true of other gaming elements too. Let’s take Tasslehoff’s Magic Mouse Ring for example. As a unique magic item, the ring has a certain notoriety. When they revealed it to be one of many, the ring became lackluster.

Be true to the characters. If you have a white witch NPC who suddenly dresses in black and wears a rainbow wig, your players will look at you funny. If your dumb goblin suddenly sprouts off Shakespeare, something isn’t right.

Don’t take the easy way out. Let’s say your players are fighting against a cult dedicated to your local God of Death. Good thus far. But then the cult reveals themselves to be vampires, or sends zombies after you, etc. etc. You might as well give all your players pillows for their nap. Mix it up some. Find a new monster from your latest monster book, or invent something new. If you must use a vampire, then at least take some time to give it some unique qualities. Maybe your vampire absorbs natural light, or is blind, or is a vegetarian due to his religion.

I am very disappointed in Lucasfilm, as I expected better. Certainly, they deserve a punch in the junk from Krazy Joe of Slice of SciFi fame. However, this is part of a larger issue that permeates pop culture. We need to get away from this vampire hysteria so that they can become a monster to be afraid of again, rather than being commonplace, like goblins.

What path will you choose? Will you take the easy way out, or will you push the bounds of your creativity to come up with something unique to wow your players with?

Comments (9)

Jim RyanSeptember 25th, 2009 at 12:22 am

Our culture does seem to be lousy with vampires these days. They’re everywhere – heck, I just blogged about them today. I’m playing in an RPG about them and from that perspective it’s easy to see that people have indeed become desensitized. I can’t tell you how many times players like to just ignore basic things that make vampiric existence horrifying and just treat them as dark superheroes. I also have to say that having Princess Leia as a vampire is seriously kind of nuts. Maybe, just maybe, they could have gotten away with using Darth Tyranus because, hey, Christopher Lee WAS Dracula, but otherwise it just doesn’t work for me. Especially with the genre clash going on — there are times when crossing genres works and there are times when it doesn’t and in this case I really don’t think it does. Of course, there’s also a little bit of irony in the fact that as I was reading this article the Google ad that came up next to it was for a game featuring vampires. :)

AkiSeptember 25th, 2009 at 2:13 am

A recent Swedish movie called ‘Let the Right One In’ (you’ll probably have to contend with subtitles) took the idea of a vampire to stranger and scarier direction. It’s based on a book of the same name, but I haven’t read it. The movie has a very Swedish atmosphere (at least from my point of view as a neighboring Finn), which might be or might not be a good thing. I’d recommend the movie anyway, especially if you feel the whole vampire thing has been taking a wrong direction (which I think it has).

I saw a video about Girl Talk doting on Twilight. I haven’t even seen or read Twilight, but somehow that made me feel sad.

DanSeptember 25th, 2009 at 11:43 am

I completely agree. I’m sick-to-death of vampires in the media. Vampire TV shows, RPGs, video games, movies, books, toys, etc. The genre is absolutely flooding the market. With so many good myths and monsters to draw from, can’t we add in a little variety? And, no, werewolves don’t count, since they’ve become the generic foil for vampires and therefore just as common.

WayneSeptember 25th, 2009 at 11:59 am

I am not tired of Vampires at all, but I am tired of them being watered down. A vampire should never glitter in sunlight or be used as a simple love interest in a story. I don’t need vampires mixed in with my SciFi and I certainly don’t want to see vampire romance. Of course that is very hypocritical of me to say since I thoroughly enjoy True Blood.

ZoogkillerSeptember 26th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

In the last D&D game I ran I used an NPC that had a near fatal illness as a child. He was tall and gaunt with sunken dark ringed eyes. The characters never saw him in the daylight, and most often only in random social settings. One of the players immediately thought “vampire”. He later found out that the Duke was a human who was busy all day with running political business and belonged to a hedonistic fertility cult.
That showed me I was either influenced by the hype of the mysterious vampire, or my player was. I have made it a point to stray away from those typical descriptions.
Wayne- I totally agree about True Blood.

keithcurtisSeptember 26th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Sometimes I think Stephanie Meyers can’t win. At least she tried doing something NEW with vampires. (Note, I still haven’t read any of her books, and generally regard vampires as monsters).

Anyway, it does seem to be a craze. Our local bookstore has an entire section of shelves dedicated to Vampire Romance. Apparently, they were just as huge a phenomenon in Victorian England, so maybe this stuff comes and goes in 100+ year cycles.

Still, I agree that their inclusion in Star Wars makes about as much sense as having the Star Wars characters celebrate Christmas or drink Coke. Some things are not chocolate-and-peanut butter.

Daz Forp LebamSeptember 28th, 2009 at 9:58 am

I read somewhere once that for women the appeal of vampires is about sex and for men vampires are about power. Women understand blood in a rather different way than men do, for obvious reasons. Blood is more intimate and even sexual for women. I don’t mean that in a weird way, but it doesn’t take much understanding of the female reproductive cycle to understand the connections. Plus, women like romances more than men, because of how women’s brains work and and how they’re culturized.
That’s my 2 cents.

FreemageOctober 7th, 2009 at 11:19 am

Part of the problem, I think, is the absence of metaphor behind the monster. Lemme ‘splain.

A good fictional monster isn’t scary just because he’s got wierd powers, or does bad things. He’s also scary because he’s not really just that monster. He’s a stand-in for a more real threat, one that real people have to worry about. Alien invaders were Communists in the days of the Red Scare (once upon the time, the threat of “those who are not like us” was the provenance of the Fair Folk); werewolves are allegories for madness; Frankenstein’s monster is the embodiment of science without conscience.

The vampire legends were originally about creatures haunting the wastelands, attacking travelers and slipping into homes to drain you. In short, they were about disease (a very real threat at that time for travelers). It’s worth noting that these days, Zombies have taken over this role.

Then Stoker came along. Any serious student of literature can tell you, Dracula is a Victorian rape-metaphor. Note the way Lucy, who succumbs, must be destroyed, while Mina, who resists and only loses a touch of her virtue (ie, is only bitten once, which might be likened to a kiss) is allowed to survive. Pure Victorian mentality, there.

Dracula, more or less, was the model for vampirism until Anne Rice came along. She gave us Vampires as familial dysfunction. Particularly in Interview, you have Lestat the abusive patriarch, Louis the enabling “spouse” and Claudia the doomed victim.

Shortly thereafter, White Wolf came out with Vampire: the Masquerade, in which Vampirism was a way of talking about social stratification and stagnation, and the increasing difficulty of achieving any sort of real societal change–even the Brujah and their Anarch allies are really all part of the machine, providing a “safe” outlet for the frustrations of the younger vampires, allowing the elders to continue running the show.

In some sense, Meyers’ vampires are more fully fledged as characters–but this has diminished them, as well. They’re no longer stand-ins for anything (except, arguably, Mormonism, but as things that keep you up at night in fear, Mormons are slightly below bad bowling scores). And because of that, they’re no longer fearsome.

Which is why when an author remembers that monsters need to be something more than mere characters, they become so much more terrifying. In addition to Let The Right One In, which was mentioned earlier in these comments, I’d also recommend Strain, by del Toro (the guy behind Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies)–he’s gone back to the roots, vampires = disease, and they’re scary as SHIT.

TottenOctober 16th, 2009 at 11:04 pm

One problem that i have with Vampires in the current culture would have to be how they are now the ‘Supreme’ beings in the supernatural world in every kind of Genre that they are infecting with their downward spiral. In the ‘Underworld’ movies, the Vampires have hunted the Werewolves to near extinction. This ruins the story outright in my oppinion. The ONLY way that i could ever see that senario working would be if it was form the perspecive of the Werewolves like in the 3rd movie. A good story should have some kind of struggle in it. You can not have the main character on top of the world frying ants with a magnifying glass. The only struggle then would be a cloud. This is the problem with Vampire pop culture today. When your story is as prodictable as it has become today it makes for a dull story. Plus, you never see the Vampire die anymore. Atleast in the old (GOOD) Vampire stories they were usually the villian who would be destroyed at the end. Not the Hero out to save it.

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