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Games Workshop and the Author in Denial

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Recently during a Warhammer 40K tournament in Spain, one of the attendees was spotted wearing a Celtic Cross and other far-right iconography. The result was a predictably hysterical over-reaction by the so-called “Warhammer community” of Extremely Online nerds and dorks. Games Workshop itself eventually released a statement on the matter that was the usual soup of corporate-speak, platitudes, moralistic haranguing, and tone-deaf misunderstandings about why people like their products in the first place.

First of all, associating someone with “hate” simply because they wear iconography associated with pro-White organizations is just a racial smear. Would someone be accused of hate for wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt? Advocating for your race does not make you “hateful” but getting attacked because you do sure is suggestive that someone else has racialized animosity.

Let’s examine the more interesting contradiction of GW’s official statement though:

So according to Games Workshop, their most popular faction by far is a bunch of xenophobic fascist authoritarians and apparently gamers absolutely love these guys. Taken at face value, this means the player base for Warhammer 40K on some deep inner level finds actual fascist extremism strongly appealing. That’s the official party line that the corporation is running with, they’ve created a product that it is explicitly riffing on fascism and people are supposed to “ironically” enjoy it.

It’s just satire bro, please bro, it’s just irony bro.

No one actually buys this. It’s an obvious, threadbare cope and there’s dozens of analogous situations where claiming that fascist trappings are merely ironic just results in public mockery. GW’s claim that this is “satire” completely misunderstands and abuses what satire actually means. In their own words, it’s meant to display “people’s vices or a system’s flaws”, but exactly what system is the subject of the satire? An imaginary authoritarian government with no real-world parallels? Given the events of the Horus Heresy, is the subject of this satire scientific atheism itself?

Worse, if the goal is to ridicule a “tyrannical, genocidal regime”, then why on Earth would you provide so many completely plausible justifications for it within the setting? Warhammer 40K explicitly rejects progressivism as puerile naivete and most of humanity’s enemies are either supernatural evil, carnivorous monsters, or soulless machines. There isn’t much in the way of nuance and there’s nothing to suggest that the human imperium could’ve survived without embracing the theocratic fascism that trademarks the Warhammer 40K universe. If dark satire or irony was ever intended in 40K, it obviously fell by the wayside long ago in favor of world-building and expanding the setting.

By his own admission, GW creator Rick Priestly was heavily influenced by a score of writers including John Milton, Robert A Heinlein, H.P. Lovecraft, and Frank Herbert. (Strangely Michael Moorcock’s influence seems downplayed, probably because GW lifted entire elements of his writing wholesale and inserted it into their game universe) All of these writers are White males, and most of them have been accused of either fascist sympathizing or castigated for outright racism. Games Workshop has trafficked in White male power fantasies and appeals to White male militarism for their entire existence; they owe their entire corporate success to Whites and White imaginations.

GW now finds itself in the same boat as most modern corporations. It has to simultaneously disavow Whiteness, worship diversity, and pretend its largest customer base and entire brand appeal isn’t based on White male culture. Like countless bicycle companies, snowboard shops, and hiking outfitters, they cannot bring themselves to admit their business is White. The next big release by GW this very Friday is a Black Templars army, replete with Maltese Crosses on their pauldrons. This is the utter state of corporate hypocrisy, to whine and kvetch about “hate” symbols while selling products adorned with literal symbols of White Christian crusaders.

Bro this is satire you’re supposed to like High Marshall Helbrecht as an ironic exaggeration of a German Crusader bro.

We’ve moved past “Death of the Author” and shot straight into “Author in Denial” territory here.  You do not get to go around protesting that your work is “just ironic satire bro” while consciously profiting from the appeal of White Crusader iconography. GW wants to have their cake and eat it too. They’re asking that you just appreciate White culture on a subconscious level, without explicitly acknowledging that you really do like the idea of White male warriors brutally slaying “heretics” and sexual deviants.

That is the height of hypocrisy and Games Workshop deserves to take some serious flak for it.

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