Today, the social media channels are abuzz with the ongoing story that Games Workshop got the e-book of M.C.A. Hogarth’s “Spots the Space Marine” pulled from Amazon on the dubious grounds that no one else is allowed to use “Space Marine” in an e-book. They may or may not have the law on their side – most folks suspect not – but it remains a dirty, unethical, and ridiculous thing to do either way. It’s costing Hogarth real money, and one notes that they didn’t go after any well-established, well-funded estate or media organization that’s featured space marines in e-books since such were invented. Also, this event exposes flaws in Amazon’s due process which concern many an independent writer.
But that’s my problem with Games Workshop in general. Why am I down on Warhammer 40K specifically? Well, I’m glad you asked that. (Of course you did, don’t you remember?) Let me fire off a few disclaimers right at the beginning: I have never had the chance to actually play the game and would love to give it a try if it could be done without supporting GW. And if you love the game and have been playing for years, this isn’t an attack on you. Having fun? That’s *excellent*.
My tabletop battle experience is primarily through FASA and its descendants. I had seen Battletech materials in my game stores, thought it gauche that they were using Macross and Dougram mech designs, and given it little more thought before getting caught in a blizzard one weekend and giving it a fair try. I fell in love with the game, still play when I can, and even enjoy the click-base version as an entirely different game in the same setting.
But I’d seen lots of 40K stuff in the stores too, all of it illustrated by photos of Games Workshop’s brilliant modelmaking and paintwork. Of course I was curious! And I knew a gamer or two who loved it, though none of them happened to game with me. Finally, I learned enough to discover how many figures a player uses for a basic game, and checked on the price.
Ye gods. I may never be able to afford this game, not with all the other hobbies in which i dabble. But you know, whatever. I’ve certainly spent plenty of cash on figures in my decades of Battletech, and it seems like there must be workarounds for a lot of these issues. Maybe you have friends who will loan you figures, or allow paper markers, or whatever. It’s not my core problem with the game.
No, my core problem is the setting. Now, all miniature battle games must be somewhat dystopian. It’s war, after all, and peace can’t ever break out in the world of a minis game because then there are no more games to be played. No, my problem with Warhammer 40K is how happy the game is about being dystopian. Death, and blood, and prejudice, and sexism, and poverty, and hunger, and mutilation, and general hopelessness are all AWESOME in 40K. We need more! Pain and cruelty and injustice and ruin are all COOL. Everything needs more skulls, and more spikes, and more filth, and more gore because this is DARKNESS and WAR!
Honestly, after an hour or so of reading fictional material about this universe, I want to throw up. I suppose the target audience is the young who know that *they* are immortal and invulnerable as the young so often do, but this is a setting where it’s explicitly said that humanity can only survive by degenerating into animals. I suppose that’s supposed to be a win. Perhaps it’s the dream of the original creators of the game: I can’t say.
“So, then, how can you enjoy a game like Battletech,” you may ask, and the answer’s simple. I never treat the game as a reflection of a real wartime scenario, it’s chess with unusually complex rules. On that level, I expect I could enjoy 40K as well. I had to stop reading the Battletech fiction because of the endless meat-grinder, but I do remember this: there is little racism or sexism in the Battletech game. Plenty of people live happy lives on hundreds of planets without getting shot at. All the factions in the game believe in some form of relatively workable justice system, and the majority of them believe that their efforts bring a day closer when the fighting will stop.
It won’t, of course. There are more games to sell. But at least destruction is not in itself a worthy goal in that fictional universe. I wish more people in the fiction of Warhammer 40,000 felt that way. I wish the folks at Games Workshop felt that way.