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Culture War(hammer 40K) by Kenton Kilgore
For quite a while in the United States (where the Jungle is based), there has been a culture war going on, and over the last few years, it has grown more and more strident. If you’ve spent more than five minutes on Facebook, Twitter, or just about any other social media, you know what I’m talking about. I had hoped that it would stay away from Warhammer 40K, but that appears more and more unlikely.
The culture war spilled over into gaming with 2014’s Gamergate, which was, depending on whom you believed, either about misogyny and the harassment of female video game designers; or about ethics in video game journalism. As I’m not much into video games (40K eats up what little spare time I have), I paid Gamergate no mind.
But several months ago, I was dismayed to see what appeared to me to be storm clouds growing over our fair hobby. No, not about the inevitable price hikes that Games Workshop inflicts, but from an article on a popular 40K blog: On Maturity, 40K and Slaanesh.
The TL/DR point of the article is that the Chaos God Slaanesh and his/her minions (and accompanying models) are too Eighties heavy metal, too T&A, too sexist and homophobic and transphobic for GW’s main 40K line, and should be moved to Forge World, out of sight of casual fans, impressionable teenager players, and non-gamers who just wander into a gaming store off the street.
I don’t play Emperor’s Children or use Noise Marines or Daemonettes, so I don’t have a dog in this fight, but several commenters on the article replied that wrapping Slaanesh in brown paper wrappers and putting him/her on the top rack of the magazines (as it were) would smack of “political correctness.”
And shortly after I read that article, I read this one about female Space Marines and sexism, and though it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, this one about gender representation in 40K is dead serious. And on another site (which, sorry, I’ve forgotten where), one commenter suggested that female Space Marines are agitprop for SJW’s, at which point, I sighed and asked myself, Really? Didn’t we finish beating that horse to death at least ten years ago?
Here we go again...
So, in case the ongoing culture war continues to roll into and over this hobby that I’ve enjoyed for almost 30 years, here’s where I stand on a number of issues. I speak only for myself; if he wishes, Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel will post his thoughts in a separate post.
Let’s start with the one just mentioned.
Space Marines and Sexism
And as word got around the then-burgeoning 40K web community, I received support and encouragement from many gamers, and pushback (sometimes very rude) from others. No biggie. I engaged in honest, courteous debate when offered, and even posted a rebuttal from the “No-Girl-Marine” contingent.
It’s true that in my defense of female Space Marines, I mused that Games Workshop was missing an opportunity to reach out to female gamers, who might be put off by the overwhelmingly male selection of models and their absence from GW’s bestselling and best-known army. To me, it makes business sense to have a wider range of figures, so as to hopefully grow the number of women gamers (as well as sell them to guys like me, who would like to have some variety in their collection), but as I’m neither a marketing genius nor employed by GW, what do I know?
Having said all that, if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t.
It’s not because people called me bad names (Oh! My feels!), or questioned my sexuality (straight, thanks). It’s because it generated more controversy and drama than it warranted: 40K is just a game. Who actually gives a wet rodent’s posterior how some guy converts his figures, and what fluff he invents for them?
I also wouldn’t do it again lest anyone think I’m trying to advance a “feminist” agenda, whatever that might be in their imagination. My sole agenda with 40K is to have fun by playing games and trying out new things, whether that be using Lizardmen as proxies for Tyranids, reintroducing Space Dwarves to the game, test-driving recent codices against each other, or posting rants (like this one). That’s it. That’s all. I’m not a “social justice warrior.” Put female heads and boobs on your Marine minis, or don’t: I’ll play against you, anyway.
Are we done with this now? May I move on? Okay, then.
costumes are not what I’m on about.
Anyone who’s read Codex: Fighting Tigers of Veda or
any of my fan fiction will recognize
Which, in certain corners of the Internet, is a Very Bad Thing™. Some would consider it racist, imperialistic, possibly even xenophobic—after all, India was subjugated and exploited by the British for well over a hundred years. Me, I just thought wanted to do something with an Asian theme, because that’s where tigers are from.
I could have used Japanese culture, or Chinese, or Korean, but I had seen East Asian 40K armies before, and I wanted to do something different. So I chose Indian, because the idea of Hindus in power armor was cool and interesting and unique, and it complemented my best friend Pat’s Space Wolves, who are Vikings in power armor: East meets West, tigers meets wolves. Nifty, huh?
Sometimes, people appropriate other cultures to mock them, but anyone who’s read about the Tigers at this site knows that’s not the case here. You might find female Space Marines ridiculous, you might think my painting is laughably crappy (which it is), you might believe it’s insensitive and in poor taste for a privileged white man to use a 4,500-year old civilization as inspiration for his collection of gods-damn toy soldiers. But you can’t honestly look me in the eye and tell me that I’m making fun of anyone or anything from India. You’re welcome to think my army’s a joke, but it’s not to me.
But we live now in a different, less accepting age, a time when people who say, depending on your point of view, either “politically incorrect” or “racist/sexist/homophobic/asshole” things are no longer ignored. Instead, they’re vilified, harassed online, banned from social media, even fired from jobs. Offensiveness is no longer considered the price of free speech; now, it’s a blight on a supposedly enlightened society that should be shamed out of existence, or even banned.
I can see both sides of the issue. Every so often at my church, we are visited by a handful of troglodytic, fundamentalist, whack-job cultists (nowhere near as cool as Chaos Cultists, much less Genestealer ones) who stand juuuuuust off the property line (so we can’t have them arrested for trespassing) and shout their nutcase, Catholic-hating, bovine excrement. They call our priest a pedophile (which he isn’t, but when you’re a troll with room temperature IQ, that’s the best you can come up with), they call teenage girls “sluts” and “harlots,” and they upset old ladies and young children with their rantings.
If 40K wargear were real and I didn’t have to worry about retribution from the judicial system, I’d use a chainsword to violate the rectal cavities of those socially stunted, rodeo clown porn-addicted, intellectually-challenged abhuman trash. We’ve tried calling the police on them, but the local constabulary (who are at least sympathetic), and the swaggering but nigh-useless Maryland State PoPo (like the Sturmabteilung, but annoying instead of menacing) that we have in our area have said that they can do nothing. “Freedom of speech,” and all that.
Much as I like to bitch about it, the police are correct. One has the right, at least in America, to be an asshole. But at the Jungle, we try to not be: we don’t write stories or articles to deliberately honk off people (though we’re all for taking stands and challenging beliefs); we’re not rude to people who e-mail us or visit our Facebook page; we don’t badmouth other sites.
We don’t always succeed. We caught flak for an article on younger players by some who thought we were denigrating them, which was not our intent (I apologized and rewrote the article). Most visitors appreciated Perspectives on Painting for being a bit of sophomoric, even smutty satire; some thought it crass and vulgar. Pat’s exhortation against power-gaming and winning-at-all-costs had some players feeling insulted.
Try as we might, we can’t please everyone. Where we have our facts wrong, we’ll correct them. Where we’ve rubbed people the wrong way, we’ll consider their grievance: we’re human and make mistakes, or write something while in a bad mood, or may fail to see other’s viewpoints. We may or may not retract any statements, though, because some people like to bitch about things only they care about.
the Game, or Change the Channel?
Is 40K incredibly skewed towards male figures? Yes. Are the vast majority of 40K players men?* Yes, so there’s not only a huge sex imbalance within the game, there’s one amidst the demographics (which, for additional food for thought, also skew overwhelmingly Caucasian). Is that a problem?
*I tried to get my wife and my two daughters into 40K. My wife played once, but wasn’t impressed. My daughters played a few games and started their own armies, but then abandoned them, and haven’t played since.
appropriate cultures? Yeah, it does,
particularly with certain Space Marine Chapters, and
Does 40K glorify violence, brutality, warfare, genocide, depravity (in the form of the Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Daemons), intolerance, anti-intellectualism (“A Small Mind Is Easily Filled With Faith”), xenophobia (“Purge the Alien”), imperialism, and fascism? Duh. All of these are offensive, but are they an issue?
I’m going to answer “no” to all three questions. Certainly, 40K could use more female miniatures (such as the new Sisters of Silence) and women gamers (I’m all for both). Sure, Games Workshop could be more original in coming up with backgrounds for its armies, and stop ripping off certain cultures. Assuredly, the game could be less “grimdark.”
But should it be? No. And here’s why:
When you say something “should” be this, or “should” be that, I interpret “should” in one of two ways. The first, and more benign way, is that, in a perfect world, certain things would be better than they are now, but because we don’t live in a perfect world, that’s never going to happen. As in, “We should be able to leave our houses unlocked and not worry about being burglarized,” or “The government should spend tax money wisely,” or “So long as they’re not hurting anybody, people all over the world should be able to live their lives the way they want to.”
The second, and more troubling way, I interpret “should” implies that something must be done about whatever the issue is. As in, “Someone should put a stop to” whatever, or “They should make a law about” what have you. And while sometimes making sure that something is done about an issue is clearly good (“The police should crack down on drunk drivers”); other instances are ambiguous (“Someone should get these homeless people off the street”); or misguided, even sinister (“Parents should know that D&D promotes Satanism”).
Ever since I put my female Space Marines online, people have told me how my army should look, and what my fluff should be—or in this case, what I shouldn’t do or have. As I have written repeatedly on this site, I am not now, nor have I ever been in the business of telling anyone what they should do with their army. You bought it, you built it, and you painted it: you can do with it whatever you want.
What if someone’s army is in poor taste, like the guy I knew who had swastikas on his Space Marines (yes, they were painted as Caucasians, and the commander had a Hitler moustache)? Should that be okay? The way I see it, players have the right to be assholes; you have the right to play with them or not. I’m not going to feature “Soviet Space Marines” on this site, but I’m not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t have an army of them.
So far as I’ve seen and read, the vast majority of the people who buy, build, paint, collect, and play Warhammer 40K figures and games (and I’m not forgetting the video game versions) are not concerned about the issues discussed. If you ask them what the biggest problems with 40K are, I wager that most players would either say: 1) rules; 2) prices; 3) power imbalance among armies.
Nevertheless, if you don’t like a game, don’t buy it, and don’t play it. As I said, I don’t do video games, but even I know that Grand Theft Auto has a rep for being sexist and misogynistic. If I were a video gamer, I probably wouldn’t play it, but I wouldn’t go on social media and shame anyone who does play it, or insist that it be banned.
What could possibly be offensive about a game with prostitutes? </sarcasm>
Games are a form of entertainment, and entertainment does not have to appeal to everyone. My wife loves and excels in board games, card games, and role-playing games, but she thinks 40K is stupid and ridiculous (she calls my old-school “beakie” Marines “Space Mice”). No amount of adding female models or characters is going to change her mind. I don’t care for the Just Dance game that she and my daughter Elise do all the time. And that’s okay.
If you don't mind I'll stick to the miniatures and shouting, "For the Emperor!"
the Jungle Stands
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.
Posted October 2016. All images are used for editorial purposes.
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