Last week’s discussion was spurred by a post from this Facebook group. This is their stance, in their own words.
The following was written by the Feminist 40K group admins.
Warhammer 40,000 has been around for a long time – more than twenty years, in fact. In that time, a veritable tonne of writing and rewriting has gone into the fictional universe, attracting players of all age groups in hobbyist miniature tabletop wargaming with an equally active online player base for its video game equivalents.
However, like all fandoms, it has its dark underbelly: a tribal and woefully toxic group of players who seek to isolate and protect “their” fandom at all costs, similar to a child screaming over “their” section of the playground when it is to be shared for everyone. This has plagued the fandom for generations, and while not exclusive to the game, has turned off many players who feel uncomfortable playing a hobby that requires interaction with such folk. A sample of such fine behavior includes, but is not limited to, demeaning and crass treatment of women in game stores, condoning racist and abhorrent behavior towards minorities or disabled persons, online harassment, and shaming other people for daring to enjoy the same hobby.
It is one thing to deny the existence and experiences of the many, many players who have faced such treatment by self-proclaimed “fans”. It is another altogether to condone and partake in such behavior, and this has forced many of us in the community to shun open spaces for fear of inviting anything from rape threats to unsolicited advances from these shining examples of humanity. Feminist 40K is a closed community, and that is not because we want to be, but because we have to be.
What are such over-the-top reactions up against? Why, the horror of questioning “the lore”, of course! Warhammer 40,000 is built upon decades of continuously rewritten and fluid fiction, with changes made to reflect the times and Games Workshops’ player base. At some point, women and minorities start to challenge the necessity of certain elements, such as the unnecessary sexualization of female-oriented miniatures to the lack of representation in model choice, and request Games Workshop to expand their selection as to include everyone in the mass carnage that is the 41st millennium.
The vitriolic reaction to this – asking others to treat each other fairly – is both astonishing and frustratingly common. Aside from the individual harassment of our players, there have been attempts at banning our page, concerted efforts to shut us down, and continuous defamation and bullying online for the audacity of challenging established canon – which has been changed time and again for varying reasons.
You’d almost think they hated the hobby with the amount of anger directed at our members. Change is integral to keeping media fresh and exciting; take the Dark Imperium series of releases by Games Workshop, for example. Deaths of named characters and planets, returning primarchs, new factions and miniatures: all these involve heavy lore changes and retcons, and it only bodes well for a hobby that is older than many of its modern enthusiasts. Change is neither inherently good nor bad, but there could not be a more perfect time to ask for a wider series of models when new ideas are being tossed about in the boardrooms of Games Workshop.
Take Adepta Sororitas armour. It emphasises the female figure to a sexualised level – not very glaring on its own, but alongside nearly-naked repentant fanatics, a long-running mistreatment in both in-game lore and GW codexes, and lack of relatively cheap and updated armies, it’s hard for women, or indeed anyone keen on having female models, to not take that as a statement that GW just doesn’t care much for its female player base. The matter of variety in ethnicity of models also turns away minorities who prefer to be represented by more than cultural stereotypes born of the comic books and action movies of the 80’s.
Why change our precious hobby, then? Ask the frothing, furious fans who spend the better half of their day finding ways to harass other fans who also want to make small plastic soldiers kill each other. Why not find another hobby and let mine stagnate in peace?
Because we love Warhammer 40,000. We love its over-the-top design, its shameless lifting of tropes from pop culture, its satire of fascistic theocracy, its sheer scale and flexibility that allows one to make an army that is very much our own. 40K is a setting with many, many individual stories, and what makes it so fun is that we are free to make our own, but it could be better if Games Workshop decides widen their market.
Everyone wins: minorities gain better representation, more options for writing and models are sold, the company makes more money and thus has more options for its player base. It’s much deeper than simply changing a coat of paint or adding a pair of accentuated breasts on a chestplate, but the reactionary views of loud, stubborn dinosaurs are truly ruining the experience, as much as they claim to be the victim.
Representation matters. It shows people that they are recognised, that they are not simply token pieces on a board more homogenous than a vanilla cheesecake – it allows women to safely play the hobby without spending the whole time staring at sexualised representations of the female form, and then deal with men who seem to think they have a right to allow what women can or can’t feel demeaned by. Most importantly, it allows gaming to be a fun hobby without fear of being harassed online, threatened, insulted or publicly shamed for one’s preference of miniature post-humans.
Fiction is written by people and subject to change. Reality, however, is affected by the choices of the writers, and should take precedence over the former. Media that stagnates will not survive the times, and if there is anything we can all agree on, it should be that we all have the right to enjoy rolling a series of ones and watch our army shoot itself in the face en masse.