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In the Grim Dark Future there is Only War:

Problematizing the Morality of War Itself in the Science Fiction Fantasy Table Top War Game, Warhammer 40 000

By: William Hamilton, PhD Student at Concordia University

[The rebels] begged for clemency from the vengeful [Iron Hands], but [they] were without pity for such callow folk. In a year of bloodshed, the Iron Hands executed one in ever three citizens of Contqual. The message was clear - to court damnation was to invite only destruction. Not one of the survivors doubted that the Iron Hands stood ready to mete out punishment once more, should need arise.1 This quote is not taken from an ancient text recounting the subjugation of a village that challenged the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Iron Hands were not a branch of the Spanish Inquisition or an elite military unit that ensured conformity within any totalitarian state in the history of the world. Instead, this quote is taken from the background literature of the popular table top war game, Warhammer 40 000. The Iron Hands are a unit of Space Marines, elite warriors who serve the Emperor, the ruler of all humanity. Despite being fanatical killers draped in the tapestries of fascism, the Emperor and his Space Marines are the closest things to good guys in this imaginary science fiction world of demon worship, mass genocide and ideological intolerance. Scholars such as English professor Steffen Hantke and inter-disciplinarian Christopher Hables Gray have examined science fiction and fantasy in television series, films, magazines and books.2 However, these intimately connected genres have also found expression in video, board and table top games. While videogames have begun to attract scholarly attention, board and table top games appear to be overwhelmingly ignored.3 This is problematic because, as historian Leonard David notes, war is being marketed in a

Mathew Ward, Codex Space Marines, 5th edition (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 2008), pp. 45

It is difficult to associate Gray with a single discipline since he has taught History, Informatics, Computer Science and Cultural Studies of Science & Technology at the University level and currently teaches in the University of East Londons Interdisciplinary Studies department. Chris Hables Gray, There Will Be War!: Future War Fantasies and Militaristic Science Fiction in the 1980s, Science Fiction Studies, vol. 21, no. 3 (November 1994), pp. 315-336. Steffen Hantke, Surgical Strikes and Prosthetic Warriors: The Soldiers Body in Contemporary Science Fiction, Science Fiction Studies, vol. 25, no. 3 (November 1998), pp. 495-509.

Examples include: Leonard David, Unsettling the military entertainment complex: Video games and a pedagogy of peace, Simile, vol. 4, no. 4 (2004). Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature, Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 5 (2002), pp. 353-359. Nipissing Universitys English professor Rhiannon Dons unpublished conference paper Crisis in Orkientalism which examines the issue of race in the online role playing game World of Warcraft.

politically loaded manor on an increasingly massive scale through war games.4 While Davids discussion is centered upon video games, his observation also holds true for board and table top games such as the futuristic, science-fiction-fantasy war game Warhammer 40 000. The first edition of Warhammer 40 000 was released by the British company Games Workshop in 1987. Available exclusively for a domestic audience, it was marketed towards a fridge group of adult consumers who sought an alternative to the clear cut good vs. evil morality that dominated post WWII British fantasy and science fiction.5 In 1993 the seconded edition of Warhammer 40 000 simplified the game mechanics in an attempt to appeal to younger gamers. The third, fourth and fifth editions, released in 1998, 2004 and 2008 respectively, alerted the games background as part of Games Workshops campaign to achieve mainstream status and an international consumer base. In traditional war games such as Axis and Allies players purchases a box that contains the pieces, rules and background required to play all of the games factions. However in Warhammer 40 000, players first familiarize themselves with the games background literature from which they choose a faction from it to play as. Players then purchase and paint models that represent characters from their factions army and serve as the games pieces. 6 In a game of Warhammer 40 000 players take on the role of a general
4 5

David, pp. 1-2. This can be seen in the letters players wrote to Games Workshops monthly magazine, White Dwarf. In addition to applauding Warhammer 40 000s moral ambiguity, they were also repelled by games that had a clear good vs. evil paradigm and promoted militarism. One game that received particular criticism was the US Civil War game The Price of Freedom. The back of this games box reads: The Union built by your grandfathers is the only functioning republic in a world dominated by aggressive imperial monarchies. But now the "city on a hill", the nation chosen by God to lead mankind into a new age of freedom, stands divided and vulnerable - and the world is watching. It falls to YOU to save the Union, and republicanism itself. Can you conquer and subjugate an area the size of Western Europe before a war-weary public forces you to make peace? letters White Dwarf Magazine, issues 85-113, (1987-1989). 6 As personalized war models, these figures clearly have a relationship to war fandom that is in need of exploration, especially considering that an important element of every Warhammer and Warhammer 40 000 tournament is the painting competition. The controversial use of fascist iconography in painting schemes also needs to be investigated and players have discussed this topic at length in online forums such as Heretic, Giant in the Playground or Warseer. While these issues are very important, they will not be examined here because the central thrust of this paper is to demonstrate the pressing need for academics to study board and table top war games by using Warhammer 40 000 as a case study. Warhammer 40 000 background literature is extensive and has even inspired novel length fictions such as: Dan Abnett, Ghost Maker (London: Black Library, 2000). Mitchel Scanlon, Descent of Angeles: Loyalty and Honor (London: Black Library, 2007). Graham McNeil, Fulgrim (London: Black Library, 2007).

and command their army in battle against those of other players. The results of combat between game pieces is determined rolling dice.7 Players earn Victory Points during a game by capturing objectives on the battlefield and destroying their opponents army. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of a randomized number of turns is declared the winner. I argue that this game problematizes the morality of war itself by placing it within an ambiguous moral context, emphasizing the violence of war in any time period, and presenting a post colonial reflection of British imperialism and Western history. Warhammer 40 000s game designers conscientiously obscured the morality of war in order to make players grapple with moral dilemmas. This approach was taken in deliberate opposition to post WWII British fantasy literature that romanticized premodern war as a struggle of good versus evil and was inspired by the New Wave science fiction that emerged in Britain during the 1960s. Abandoning the binary of good versus evil enables Warhammer 40 000 to deliver a sophisticated critique of war itself because it is simply never fashioned into something that can be celebrated. The first and second editions of Warhammer 40 000 present a counter argument to science fiction writer Robert Heinleins vision of a militarist utopia, most notably expressed in his Hugo award winning book Starship Troopers. Heinleins Mobile Infantry, the military caste he presents as having the civic and moral virtue required to bear the franchise, are reinvented as the Space Marines: fanatical killers and mechanisms of Imperial rule who are associated with Nazism. Simultaneously, the Space Marines are connected with the Roman Empire in order to emphasize the violence of premodern war

Warhammer 40 000 is a table top game and therefore spatial relations among game pieces are measured in inches instead of using a board that is divided into squares or hexagons that a board game, such as chess, would utilize.

and question its romanization. By revisiting Western history in this discomforting manner, the first and second editions of Warhammer 40 000 represent a post colonial rethinking of Western history. In fact, this game delivers a critique of British imperialism during the 1980s and 1990s when the English market it was restricted to was revaluating their nations imperial legacy. However, as a war game, Warhammer 40 000 is faced with an eternal contradiction between critiquing war and moulding it into a sellable form. After a management buy-out in 1991, Games Workshop revised Warhammer 40 000s background in a way that reduced its moral ambiguity to heighten its popularity. However, an examination of contemporary online commentary and discussion among gamers suggests that, at least some, continue to engage with the game with as a discourse about the morality of war and a cynical evaluation of militarism. Reading the Critique Presented by Warhammer 40 000 The social and political messages of war games and toys has been studied by historians, political scientists and media studies professors in historical contexts ranging from Victorian England to the contemporary United States.8 These studies appear to employ a cause and effect methodology that seeks to explain a historical phenomena, such as high British enrolment in WWI, through war consumption. They predictably conclude that the toy or game in question contributes to the militarization of society. Specifically, they suggest that war consumption has helped to reinforce a particular view of the nature of war as a romantic conflict of heroicized violence.9 This is unquestionably

In addition to Davis, historians include Kenneth Brown. Political scientists include Patrick Regan and Jeffrey H. Goldstein while Media professors include David Machin, Theo Van Leeuwen and David Machin. Kenneth Brown, The British toy business: a history since 1700 (London: Continuum International Publishing Group 1996). Kenneth Brown, Modeling for War: Toy soldiers in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, Journal of Social History, vol. 24 (1995), pp. 237-54. Patrick Regan, War Toys, War Movies and the Militarization of the United States, 1900-85, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 31, no. 1 (1994), pp. 45-58. Jeffrey H. Goldstein, Why we watch the attractions of violent entertainment, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 57. David Machin, Theo Van Leeuwen and David Machin, Toys as discourse: children's war toys and the war on terror, Critical Discourse Studies, vol. 6, no. 1 (February 2009), pp. 5163. 9 Ibid.

true in cases such as G.I. Joe action figures. However, these studies do not appear to consider the background literature that can accompany war games like Warhammer 40 000. This is a critical oversight because this literature can actually create an ambiguous moral context that allows for the presentation of sophisticated arguments about war. Further, not all war gamers are passive consumers as the cause and effect approach implies and an analysis of the discourse produced by contemporary Warhammer 40 000 players illustrates that at least some appreciate the games critiques. It appears that recognizing the messages that some forms of war consumption present also requires a paradigm shift in terms of how the genres of science fiction and fantasy are understood. Despite their similarities, and the fact that many works such as Star Wars or Warhammer 40 000 combine elements of both, science fiction has monopolized scholarly attention.10 Interestingly, some academics who study science fiction as a vehicle of social commentary attempt to establish the credibility of this genre, and their work, by defining it in opposition to the trivial realm of fantasy. For example, English professor and literary critic Carl Freedman argues that science fiction presents an alternative to reality, thus sharply distinguishing science fiction from the irrationalist estrangement of fantasy or Gothic literature (which may secretly work to ratify the mundane status quo by presenting no alternative to the latter).11 Freedman comes to this conclusion because his understanding of critical discourse is grounded in the unswervingly oppositional [italics in original] nature of critical theory.


In general, science fiction tends to explain the fantastic as a result of advanced technology while fantasy relies upon magic or divine intervention. Some academics, such as Donald L. Lawler or English professor Anthony Wolk state that fantasy can be a critical genre when framing their articles. However, the bodies of their works focus almost exclusively upon science fiction. Alternatively, scholars such as American philosopher Richard L Purtill avoid fantasy by appropriate literature, such as the Lord of the Rings, into science fiction. Donald L. Lawler, Certain Assistances: The Utilities of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Shaping the Future, US Department of Health Education and Welfare, (1975). Anthony Wolk, Challenge the Boundaries: An overview of Science Fiction and Fantasy, The English Journal, no. 79, vol. 3 (March 1990), pp. 26-31. Richard L. Purtill, J. R. R. Tolkien, (Fort Collins: Ignatius Press, 2003). 11 Carl Howard Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction, (New England: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), pp. xvi-xvii.

Therefore, his theoretically informed approach conceptualizes the existence of social commentary in purely dialectic terms, that is, through the presentation of an alternative.12 However, as a narrative technique, a strict reliance on binaries can actually prevent war itself from being questioned because it demands that conflict is presented as a struggle between an opposing good and evil. In fact, it even risks glorifying conflict since it demands a heroic, romanticized side in war. Restricting the possibility of critical engagement to the presentation of an alternative possibility is also inherently limiting. This is because it means that scholars like Freedman miss the sophisticated type of critique that Warhammer 40 000 presents; one that enables it to question war itself. As we shall see, far from ratifying the mundane status quo, this game sought to destabilize the trend of romanticizing war that dominated post WWII British fantasy literature and is best exemplified by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. An examination of interviews with Warhammer 40 000s game designers and their designers notes demonstrates that they consciously rejected a simplistic dichotomy of good vs. evil in favour of moral ambiguity. The way that this approach allows Warhammer 40 000 to question war itself will be showcased through a case study of the Inquisition faction of the game. The Methods and Dark World of Warhammer 40 000 Historian Paul Fussell has demonstrated that WWI represented a twentieth-century shock to European culture.13 The traditional romantic language, based upon Roman and Arthurian legends, that the British populace had used conceptualize war as a heroic quest and glorious struggle had been thrown into disarray.14 As Fussell explains, WWI could not
12 13

Freedman, pp. 7. Paul Fussell, interviewed by Sheldon Hackney, The Initial Shock: A Conversation with Paul Fussell, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1996. http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/fussell.htm 14 Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 21-25, 147 154, 145-147.

be understood in traditional terms: the machine gun alone makes it so special and unexampled that it simply cant be talked about as it if were one of the conventional wars of history.15 Part of the reaction to this immense intellectual and cultural and social shock was a collective longing for the glories and romance of premodern war.16 This hunger was satisfied by two of the most influential, popular and studied fantasy writes of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The extent to which Tolkien and Lewis were interested in romanticizing war has been debated. American theologian Fleming Rutledge argues that Tolkiens work is not meant to glamorize or romanticize or even support war.17 Like Lewis, Tolkien was inspired by the exact body of literature that informed the pre-WWI romantic language of war. 18 Tolkien began to seriously write The Lord of the Rings during WWII, while his son was serving in the British Air Force. Referring to WWII as the War of the Machine, he published these books in the 1950s when the cultural meaning of war had been degraded even further.19 As philosopher Peter Kreeft convincingly illustrates, in this context Tolkien succeeded in restoring the sense of the glory of a just war. It is not just a dirty job, or an unfortunate duty, it is a glorious thing.20 In fact, Tolkienist Richard West found that Tolkien became very popular in the 1950-1960s because he was able to bring medieval romance into the modern world.21

15 16

Ibid, 153. Bernard A. Cook, Europe Since 1945 (London: Taylor & Francis, 2001), pp. 1068-1070. Jay Winter, Sites of Memory: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 7. 17 Fleming Rutledge, The Battle for Middle Earth (The Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 2004), pp. 344.

18 19

Poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Morris were particular important. Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, pp. 21. Robert Eaglestone, Reading The Lord of The Rings (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), pp. 4. The three Lord of the Rings books were printed between 1954-1955. Jane Chance Chism, Tolkien the medievalist (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 66. 20 Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien (Fort Collins: Ignatius Press, 2005), pp. 168. 21 Richard West, Celebrating Middle-Earth (Seattle: Inkling Books, 2002 ), pp. 16.

Even Tolkien himself saw The Lord of the Rings as an opportunity to encourage good morals as he presented a mythology of the good agrarian Englishmen uniting with his Western allies against a vile Eastern foe.22 Re-establishing this binary was important because WWII had sparked a re-evaluation of Western history and the notions of EuroWestern superiority that had formerly legitimated British imperialism. As West explains, The Lord of the Rings is a defence of Western civilisation.23 In their effort to maintain the romanticization of premodern war and defend western history, Tolkien and Lewis both portray war as a glorified struggle between a Western-Christian-virtuous good and Easternpagan-oppressive evil, in which good unites to defeat evil. 24 Tolkien and Lewis were more popular than ever in the 1960s. 25 However, their celebration of war as a struggle between a clearly defined good and evil was being challenged by the newly emerging New Wave of British science fiction-fantasy. To these fringe writers like Michael Moorecock, Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Bradbury, war was not something heroic to be glorified.26 They possessed an alternative post WWII mentality, and instead of longing for a return to premodern romance, sought to produce literature that reflected the complexities of the present.27 Moorecock explains that he was appalled by Tolkiens belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity.28 In fact, Moorecock remained scathingly critical of Tolkien and even went so far as to compare

22 23

Ibid, pp. 59. Ibid, pp. 16. 24 Ibid, pp. 66. Bruce L. Edwards, C. S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, (London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), pp. 106.


Michael Nelson, C.S. Lewis and His Critics, The Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 74, no. 4 (Winter 1988).

The British science fiction magazine New Worlds, edited by Moorcock, was the ideological center of New Wave. A. E. Levin and Yuri Prizel, English-Language SF as a Socio-Cultural Phenomenon, Science Fiction Studies, vol. 4, no. 3 (November 1977), pp. 254255. Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human (New York: Random House, 1978). Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451(New York: Random House, 1953). 27 Ibid, pp. 254.

Donald M. Hassler, New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction (South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2008), pp. 272.

The Lord of the Rings to Winnie the Pooh on account of what he saw as its escapist qualities.29 The New Wave remained influential during the mid 1980s and significantly impacted Warhammer and Warhammer 40 000s creators and founders, Rick Priestley and Richard Halliwell. In fact, they dedicated the first edition of War Hammer Fantasy Battle (the precursor to Warhammer) to Michael Moorcock whose fault it all is.30 In direct opposition to the heroic tales of Tolkien or Lewis, Warhammer was advertised as A Grim World of Perilous Adventure.31 In fact, in an interview with The Warpstone, Graham Davis, one of Warhammer Fantasy Role Plays original game designers who later became a central mastermind of Warhammer 40 000, was asked The Warpstone: What is the best part of W[arhammer] F[antasy] R[ole] P[lay]? Graham Davis: To me, the tone of the world. It seems odd to say it now, but at the time there simply wasn't anything like it. Fantasy games were always very clean and heroic; every character had gleaming armor, a bodybuilder physique, perfect teeth and masses of backcombed blonde hair. Moral questions were always black and white, with no real dilemmas. It was very shallow, and I found it unsatisfying. I still love the way W[ar Hammer] F[antasy] R[ole] P[lay] blends horror and humor, and challenges players to deal with complex situations and choices of evils.32 Clearly, Warhammers game designers consciously avoided the binary of good vs. evil in order to make their players face complex moral dilemmas in a dark world. In fact, they tell their players that their game represents a break from traditional, clear cut morality in the rule books opening story. In this tale a visitor who is new to their imaginary kingdom

Ibid. 272. Michael Moorecock, Epic Pooh, British Science Fiction Association, 1978. Michael Moorcock, Wizard and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy (Austin: MonkeyBrain Books, 1989). Michael Moorcock, interviewed by Ken Mondschein, The Corporate Mofo Interview, January 1, 2002. Daniel Timmons, J.R.R. Tolkien and his Literary Resonances (London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000), pp. 1. Ralph Willet, Moorcocks Achievement and Promise in the Jerry Cornelius Books, Science Fiction Studies, vol. 3, no. 1 (March 1976), pp. 77. 30 Robert E. Howard and his anti-hero, Conan the Barbarian, are also cited as inspiration. Rick Priestley, Graeme Davis, Gavin Thorpe and Dan Abnett, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, 1st edition (London: Black Industries, 1986), pp. 1. 31 James Wallis was a writer involved with Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. James Wallis, Interviewed by Magnus Seter, The Altdorf Correspondent August 21, 2008. 32 The exact same mentality is expressed in James Wallis interview with The Altdorf Correspondent. Graham Davis, interviewed by John Foody. The Warpstone: The independent magazine For Warhammer Fantasy Role Play Undated.


watches what she believes to be a fight between two rival gangs. However, her local guide informs her that it was actually between two royal princes and laughingly concludes by asking: New to the Border lands, arent you?33 This commitment to dealing with war in a morally ambiguous way is also a core concept in Priestley and Halliwells second game, Warhammer 40 000.34 This games dark background is portrayed by its maxim: In The Grim Dark Future There Is Only War. In this game humanity controls a galactic Empire that is beset on all sides by vicious aliens. It is also threatened from within by the Chaos gods, bloodthirsty divinities that attempt to corrupt or seduce people into rebelling against humanitys Empire. In this state of perpetual war, the human race is ruled by an oppressive, totalitarian regime led by a dictator known only as the Emperor. This warlord seized power in the games ancient history after the Chaos induced warp storms prevented space travel. This was disastrous for Earth which relied on food imported from its colonies. Anarchy reigned until the Emperor conquered Earth and then seized control over the Empire that had fragmented during the warp storms. Incapacitated during a rebellion, the Emperor is kept alive in a state of suspended animation as the Imperiums ruling figure head. As the first page of every edition of the Warhammer 40 000 rule book, the gamers first introduction to this world, explains: He is the master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass withering invisible with power from the Dark Age of technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom blood is drunk and flesh eaten. Human blood and human flesh the stuff of which the Imperium is made. To be a man in such times is to be one among untold billions. It is to live in the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable. This is a tale of those times. It is a universe you can live in today - if you dare - for this is a dark and terrible era where you will find little comfort or hope. If you want to take part in the adventure then prepare yourself now. Forget the power of technology, science and common humanity. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for there is no peace amongst the
33 34

Priestley et al, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, pp. 3. John Blanche, Interview with John Blanche, The Goblin (April, 2009).


stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter and the laugher of the thirsting gods. But the universe is a big place, what ever happens, you will not be missed.35 Like Warhammers opening story, this introduction tells the reader that there is no clear distinction between the forces of good and evil in this world. Even the government that safeguards humanity against invading aliens and evil gods maintains power through draconian military rule. The overwhelming reason that the masses do not revolt against the Emperor who oppresses them is because it is slightly better for them to live until they are worked to death producing munitions for the Imperium than to be killed immediately by aliens, Chaos or as punishment for insubordination by the Imperial army.36 Loyalty to the Imperium is also galvanized through the Imperial Cult which reveres the Emperor as a living deity and preaches that aliens and non-believers must be destroyed because they threaten[sic] the future of humanity37. The responsibility for ensuring that the emperors citizens are sufficiently devoted to the god-emperor of humanity falls upon the Inquisition, the secrete police of the Empire. 38 The military arm of the Inquisition is the Adeptus Sororitas, more commonly known as the Sisters of Battle. This faction first appeared as a playable army in the 2nd edition of Warhammer 40 000 and their original description, which has remained unchanged, explains that: The Sisters of Battle are trained to the highest levels with an unshakeable faith in the divinity of the Emperor. Their fanatical devotion and unwavering purity is a bastion against corruption, heresy and alien attack. Countless enemies of the Imperium have fallen before the righteous fury of the Adeptus Sororitas as they

In the same way that the opening story of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play tells gamers to dismiss any romanticized notions of premodern war, Warhammer 40 000s opening story tell gamers to should dismiss notions of a utopian future. In both cases the game designers are attempting to establish that their worlds will be differing from traditional fantasy worlds. Rick Priestley and Andy Chambers, Warhammer 40 000: Codex Imperialis, 2nd Edition, (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 1993), pp. 1. Rick Priestley, Warhammer 40 000: Rouge Trader (London: Hazell Books, 1987), pp. 1. Andy Chambers, Rick Priestley, Gavin Thorpe, Ian Pickstock and Jervis Johnson, Warhammer 40 000, 3rd Edition. (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 1998), pp. 1. Andy Chambers, Rick Priestley and Pete Hains, Warhammer 40 000, 4th Edition. (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 2004). Rick Priestley and Andy Chambers, Warhammer 40 000 5th Edition. (London: Games Workshop, 2008). 36 Ibid, 10-13. 37 Priestley and Chambers, Warhammer 40 000: Codex Imperialis, 2nd Edition, pp. 38. 38 Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson, Gavin Thorpe, Pete Hains and Matt Sprange, Astronomican (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 2001), pp. 4.


engage in Wars of Faith, bringing the Emperors light to the dark recesses of the galaxy that have turned from the path of righteousness.39 These Wars of Faith are crusades against the Emperors own citizens.40 In fact, the primary purpose of the Sisters of Battle is to wage war within the Imperium, to find and kill any who are not devout enough to the Emperor or might be Chaos operatives. Existing outside the Imperial cult, these figures are known as heretics or witches and thus Inquisitorial armies are also known as the Witch Hunters or the Ordo Hereticus. While the Witch Hunters and the Warhammer 40 000 universe exists in a fictional setting, they are not the product of disconnected imagination. Instead in an interview Warhammer and Warhammer 40 000s art director John Blanche explains that Games Workshops worlds are inspired a lot by the real world. Further, he maintains that the Games Workshops game worlds are extensions of Northern European culture.41 Yet the games relationship with the past involves more than simply displacing historical icons by incorporating them into the Warhammer 40 000 universe. It is interpretive and this background literature is conceptualized as alternative histories by its creators.42 Far from detached, this dark literature is historically and geographically situated. The process by which Warhammer 40 000s game designers create and envision the character of a faction, such as the Inquisition, is heavily intertwined with the creation of visual images by the artists, lead by Blanche, that Games Workshop employs. 43 The designers share their ideas with the artists who use them to create imagery that both reflects
39 40

Ibid, 4. Andy Hoare and Graham McNeil, Codex Witch Hunters (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 2003), pp. 7, 47. 41 John Blanche, Interview with John Blanche, The Goblin (April, 2009). 42 Gavin Thorpe interviewed by Rodger Webb, Ragnarok, issue 35 2001. John Blanche, Interview with John Blanche, The Goblin 43 In fact, every interview or designers notes that discusses the process of creating a factions background speaks to the central role of this imagery. For example: Andy Chambers, Pete Hains, Phill Kelly, Graham McNeill and Andy Hoare, Necrons Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com, Phil Kelly, Jess Goodwin and Roberto Cirrilo, Tyranids Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com, Graham McNeill and Pete Hains, Space Marines Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com, Pete Haines, Imperial Guard Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com Graham McNeill, Witch Hunters Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com. Graham McNeill, Black Templar Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com.


and grounds the formers vision.44 The centrality of this imagery suggests that it is instructive to pay special attention to the discourse between designers and artists when considering the conceptual foundations of a faction. Graham McNeill co-wrote the Witch Hunters first Codex with Andy Hoare and explains in his design notes that: We wanted the book to reflect the malevolent nature of the Ordo Hereticus, and in our discussions with the artists, we emphasized this point above all others. Early on in this process, [Art Director] John Blanche gave us a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum, the tome dealing with the persecution of witches that was written by two real-life inquisitors back in the 15th century. This book provided oodles of character for Codex: Witch Hunters. We wanted the book to look and feel like a [Warhammer] 40 000 version of the Malleus Maleficarum, like a tome an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus would have sitting on his desk and that he'd refer to whenever he needed to contemplate the machinations of his foe. So our book was to be dark, very Gothic, and replete with sinister imagery.45 In addition to using a historical document in the conceptual process, McNeills reflection illustrates that when the games designers write its background, their intention is to create historical documents from the Warhammer 40 000 world. The Witch Hunters are not an isolated case. The background is always written from the point of view of someone in this imaginary world, never from the perspective of an omnipotent third party.46 Appreciating that it is the intention of Warhammer 40 000s game designers to present the game world from the perspective of someone in their universe is important because it alters how we approach the literature they create. It is essential that the background is studied in this manor because the distance separating the gamer from the literature is central to how the morality of is war complicated. As Hoare explains: On one hand, the Sisters [of Battle] provide an example to Humanity of the very best a person can aspire to. On the other, the Sisters [of Battle] must take



Artist John Blanche is a very important figure because he has created Warhammer 40 000s imagery since the 1st edition of the game. This is achieved thought a first person account of a battle or event. The large scale history is predominately presented from the perspective of an imperial historian. We are reminded that our storyteller is a character from the Warhammer 40 000 world by being told that important sources are unavailable (the insinuation is that they were destroyed) and presented with gaps in the history (ie. We dont know the details of how the Emperor rose to power because that time has been lost to history).


necessarily harsh actions in order to protect Humanity's future (as dictated by the Inquisition). By the standards of the 21st century, these girls are fanatical zealots, but in the context of the 41st millennium, they're paragons of virtue, whose every action is a manifestation of Mankind. It's all a matter of perspective, you see.47 Clearly, Warhammer 40 000s game designers realize that they are presenting absurd perspectives through their characters. They expect the morality of these claims and justifications for mass violence to be questioned by their 21st century reader. In fact, Davis concludes his recounting of the centrality of philosophical and moral issues in the creation of the Witch Hunters background by stating And you thought this was all about toy soldiers and rolling dice!48 With these issues and expectations in mind, Warhammer 40 000s background literature presents the consumer with first person accounts of mass violence. For example, the gleeful recounting of when the Witch Hunters descended upon the Saint Garrat Scriptorium, dragging hundreds of Adeptus Terra scribes [the bureaucratic workers who run the Imperial government] screaming to the excruciation chambers of Nemesis Tessera and burned down the scriptorium. The Adepts lodged formal complaints with the very highest authorities on Terra, but were silenced when Inquisitor Tannenburg produced three hundred specimen jars. Each contained the preserved remains of a scribe, his previously hidden mutations [which signify that they were Chaos operatives] uncovered for all to witness.49 Through stories like this Warhammer 40 000 casts war into moral ambiguity. Maybe its good that the Sisters of Battle destroyed Chaos minions before they could start an uprising that would have caused daemons to appear and slaughter millions. Yet, they did kill hundreds to find only 300 traitors. In fact, the reader is never guaranteed that the 300 specimens that Tannenburg presented were from the Saint Garrat Scriptorium. They could

47 48

Andy Chambers, Witch Hunters Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com. Andy Hoare and Graham McNeil, Codex Witch Hunters, pp. 7. 49 Ibid.


have been from any number of his previous raids. Clearly, a moral high ground is conspicuously absent from this, and all, accounts of violence in Warhammer 40 000. This type of morally ambiguous stories that comprise Warhammer 40 000s background literature allows the game to problematize the morality of war itself because war never exists in a celebratory state. Without a good guy moral alternative that would serve to legitimate mass violence, players cannot help but focus upon the paradox of war: it allows the oppressive Imperial regime to exist, but without its ability to wage war on an incredible scale humanity would be extinct. A state of war justifies the daily atrocities propagated by the Sisters of Battle, but without them the Imperium would be overthrown by Chaos. Now that Warhammer 40 000s methods for complicating the morality of war have been established, the first and second editions critique of Heinleins militarist utopia, the romanticization of premodern warfare, and British imperialism will be examined. The First and Second Editions of Warhammer 40 000 American author Robert Heinlein is widely praised as one of the most influential science fiction writers of all time.50 His most controversial work is his 1959 novel Starship Troopers in which Heinlein postulates how a society based on military service would work.51 In this society only veterans who have completed a term of service to the state are eligible to vote. The fact that only this military caste, the Mobile Infantry, is presented as having the moral and civic authority to bear the responsibility of the franchise has led some, such as Moorecock or author Luc Sante, to accuse Heinlein of supporting fascism.52

James Gifford, The Nature of Federal Service in Robert A. Heinleins Starship Troopers, Heinlein Journal vol. 1, July (1997).


Derek M. Buker, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers' Advisory : The Librarian's Guide to Cyborgs, Aliens, and Sorcerers (Chicago, ALA Editions: 2002), pp. 11. 52 In chapter suggestively titled Starship Stormtroopers Moorecock wrote: If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams. Michael Moorecock, The Opium General (Toronto: Harrap/Collins, 1986). Luc Sante, The Temple of Boredom: Science Fiction, No Future, Harpers, (October 1985), pp. 69.


However, this interpretation overlooks the fact that military service is voluntary and anyone is eligible regardless of race, gender or creed.53 Yet, it would also be a mistake to see Heinleins work as the ultimate embrace of both military and democratic ideals within a single state as Military Studies Professor Everett Dolman has argued.54 This overlooks the fact that Heinlein rejects democracy in his overt celebration of the militarism. Speaking through a high school History and Moral Philosophy teacher, he explains that in his fictional world the democracies of the 20thC fell because of their moral weakness. They glorified their mythology of rights to the extent that they lost track of their duties.55 This is important because Heinleins society is predicated upon the beliefs that the basis of all morality is duty and that it can only be cultivated through state service.56 As political scientist Anthony Coates argues, militarism establishes a predisposition to war or a moral bias in favour of war.57 This is clearly the case in Heinleins society which rewards military service with citizenship and understands war as the noblest fate that a man can endure as well as an acceptable form of diplomacy.58 Heinleins work has been highly influential and Gray argues that Starship Troopers lays out the basic aspects of the cyborg infantryman in terms that have hardly changed in military ideals or s[cience] f[iction] since.59. While the superficial qualities of his cyborg infantry may remain consistent, the meaning of this trope has drastically
53 54

Scott Rosenberg, Melrose vs. the Monsters, Salon, (November 1997). Everett Carl Dolman, Military, Democracy, and the State in Robert A. Heinleins Starship Troopers, in Donald M. Hassler and Clyde Wilcox, ed., Political Science Fiction (South Carolina: University of South Carolian Press, 1997), pp. 197. 55 , Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopres (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1959), pp. 92-96, 120. 56 Heinlein, pp. 115. 57 Anthony Coates, The Ethics of War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), pp. 45.

For example, during a debate in History and Philosophy class the teacher soundly defeats a pacifist student by asserting that Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms. Heinlein, Starship Troopers, pp. 26. 59 Gray, pp. 320.


changed. In fact, Warhammer 40 000 reinvents Heinleins Mobile Infantry into the Space Marines in order to critique his notion of a militarist utopia. Both Heinleins Mobile Infantry and Warhammer 40 000s Space Marines endure intensive training that includes hypnotherapy and psychological conditioning. In addition to being portrayed as aggressive armies that are delivered into battle from orbiting space ships, both warrior castes employ technological power suits that enhance their already superior physical abilities and allow them to employ advanced weaponry. However, Space Marines appear to take the concept of the futuristic super warrior even further as eight foot tall genetically enhanced super humans who undergo fanatical surgery that provides them with extra hearts and lungs.60 The Mobile Infantry and the Space Marines each represent the societies they fight for. The Space Marines are the champions of the Emperor and physical manifestation of his will.61 As the privileged and praised voting demographic, the Mobile Infantry symbolize their society and its values. However, if Heinleins warriors embody civic virtues and represent all that humanity could hope to become, then the Space Marines are their antithesis. While the Mobile Infantry recruits civilly minded volunteers, Space Marines are recruited from the [Empires] feral planets, where traditional warrior castes compete for the honour of becoming a warrior of the gods [a Space Marine]. Because the feral planets are rough, primitive and untamed, their inhabitants make excellent fighting material. For true aggression and psychotic killer-instinct, however, few recruits can best the murderous followers of the city-scum that roam the darkest pits of the hive-worlds. Driven to extremes of insanity by the colossal pressures of hive-world living, these merciless killers are usually ignored by the authorities (indeed their warrens are so vast it would be impractical to eradicate

60 61

Rick Priestley, The Origin of Legiones Astartes White Dwarf, vol. 98, (1988). Ibid.


them completely). They make ideal Space Marines, and whole gangs of city-scum are sometimes hunted and captured for this purpose. 62 Instead of learning civic virtues in their training like the Mobile Infantry, the most violent members of the Imperium who become the Space Marines are indoctrinated into the Imperial Cult. They are taught and brainwashed to become racist, xenophobic, religious fanatics who unquestioningly carry out their Emperors will.63 The very idea of a racist, militant, fascist cult invokes notions of Nazism, and the Space Marines association with this regime has been made clear from their initial background literature. The narrative plot line of the original Space Marine literature centers upon secret meetings between the Emperor and scientists whose work was conducted in the superbly equipped laboratories built deep inside the planet Earth. The objective of the program was to create a caste of warrior elites, characterised by super-human strength and unflinching loyalty.64 A cross sectional examination of post WWII Anglo-American popular culture suggests that this plot line of engineering a master race in secret laboratories was prevalent and culturally loaded in its association with Nazi eugenics and programs to create of an Ubermensch super warrior.65 The association between Space Marines, and the Imperium they represent, with Nazism is also made clear in their iconography. The Imperial eagle, a prominent symbol of fascist ideology in post WWII popular culture, is the emblem of the Imperium and its Space Marines. 66 Figure 1 depicts Marneus Augusts Calgar, who is the archetype and
62 63

Rick Priestley, Warhammer 40 000: Rouge Trader, 153. Ibid. 64 Rick Priestley, The Origin of Legiones Astartes. White Dwarf, vol. 98 (1988). 65 Sources used in the cross sectional examination include: Harry Essex, Sid Schwartz and Len Golos, Man Made Monster. Film, George Waggner 1941. Christopher Wood, Moonraker. Film, Lewis Gilbert 1979. Gene Roddenberry and Harve Bennett, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Film. Nicholas Meyer,1982. Ira Levin and Heywood Gould, The Boys From Brazil. Film. Franklin J. Schaffner, 1978. Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, Planet of the Apes. Film. Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968. Martha Craven Nussbaum and Cass R. Sunstein, Clones and Clones: facts and fantasies about human cloning (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), pp. 13. 66 Martin M. Winkler, The Roman Empire in American Cinema after 1945, The Classical Journal, vol. 93, no. 2 (December 1997), pp. 176.


foremost leader of the Space Marines, proudly displaying the Imperial eagle. While not all Space Marines have the eagle on their shoulder, legs or arms like Calgar does, they all have it prominently displayed on their chests. Embroidering Nazi imagery upon these fanatical killers is clearly a way to critique the 20th century warfare driven by Nazism. Yet the Space Marines association with Nazism is also part of Warhammer 40 000s critique of Heinleins militaristic utopia. His virtuous warrior caste becomes fanatical killers as Warhammer 40 000 presents a counter vision of what a militaristic society would look like that leads us to question whether the society that the Space Marines embody is desirable? The games literature glorifies Space Marines as humanitys greatest warriors who represent man-kinds greatest hope for victory in the unending wars for survival.67 According to the games characters, the Space Marines may deserve to be celebrated for defending the Imperium. However, from the vantage point of the gamer, we are repelled by this military caste that has massacred an incalculable number in the name of their brutal Empire. Ultimately, the game presents us with a paradox. While the annihilation of humanity at the hands of Chaos or aliens is surely not desirable, the militaristic society that generates, in fact celebrates, these warriors is also not an attractive option. Thus, by not approaching war in a good vs. evil binary, Warhammer 40 000 is able to critique Heinleins military utopia without presenting an alternative that would celebrate war. Once again, war itself is presented as the problem. The strong link that is made between Space Marines and Nazi Germany also serves to ground them in human history and they are also linked with the Roman Empire, which used the imperial eagle. This association is reinforced by the Space Marines material culture which borrows a variety of Roman war gear, such as the skirt that Calgar is wearing

Rick Priestley and Jervis Johnson, Codex Ultramarines, 2nd edition. (Nottingham: Games Workshop, 1995), pp. 21.


or his Roman style standard (see figure 1). Latin is the language of the Imperial government and Space Marines have Latin names such as Octavian, Cassius or Marneus Augustus Calgar.68 Interestingly, this connection was being made at a time when historian Martin Winkler notes that Hollywood was using Imperial Rome as an analogy for Nazi Germany.69 This suggests that the link between the Roman Empire and Nazism would have been familiar to gamers since it was also being made in mainstream Anglo-American popular culture. While the films Winkler examines use Imperial Rome to critique Nazi Germany, Warhammer 40 000s commentary is directed towards how the conquests of the Roman Empire, and pre-modern warfare in general, are understood. Simultaneously associating the Space Marines with the Roman Empire and Nazi Germany reduces the distance between the wars propagated by each. Consequently, the Space Marines become a platform upon which the conquests of the Roman Empire and Nazism are equated to each other and seen as the same. That is, as violent campaigns that result in massive death. Warhammer 40 000 also effectively emphasizes the violence of premodern warfare through the games visual imagery. For example, laurels, a symbol of Roman military success, are utilized by the Space Marines to signify outstanding service to the Imperium. However, their laurels are incorporated with skulls, (which as can be seen on Calgars left leg in Figure 1). Mixing the laurel, a symbol of imperial achievement, with a skull, a symbol of death, draws attention to the violence that built Romes successes. Emphasizing the violence of premodern warfare presents a powerful reversal of the romanticization of premodern war that was partly expressed using the language of post

68 69

Ibid, pp. 70-74. The only exception Winkler notes is The Fall of The Roman Empire (1962). Winkler, pp. 167-168.


WWII popular culture. In clear opposition to Tolkien and Lewis who celebrated premodern war as a romantic struggle, Warhammer 40 000 repackages it by closing the gap between it and modern warfare and reinventing the meaning of Roman iconography. The concept of imperialism is reworked in the same way. The violence of imperialism is emphasised by the fact that The Great Crusade, the period after the Emperor had conquered Earth and was establishing control over the human empire that had fragmented during the Warp Storms, is also known as the period of Pax Imperialis. As the name suggests, this is a reflection of Pax Romana, the era of Roman Peace when Romes factions did not fight amongst themselves and Pax Britannica, the period of British hegemony from the end of the Napoleonic wars to late 1900s.70 Although Pax implies a time of relative peace and prosperity, Warhammer 40 000 associates this term with death and warfare. The literature explains that some of the bloodiest fighting in history occurred during Pax Imperialis.71 The Space Marines massacred countless alien species into extinction and committed innumerable atrocities against formerly established human settlements that resisted Imperial rule, such as viral bombs and concentration camps.72 Like the laurels, the concept of Pax Imperialis is reinvented by its association with skulls as seen in Figure 2. Warhammer 40 000s critique of imperialism also extends to highlighting the violence committed domestically to maintain an empire. The needs of the Imperium are so great that they constantly require the mobilization of military resources beyond the Space Marines or the Sisters of Battle. Therefore, despite being segregated from power or wealth, average citizens are forced to fight as part of the Imperial Guard. In fact, while far less

Ali Parchami Hegemonic Peace and Empire: The Pax Romana, Britannica and Americana (Taylor & Francis, 2009), pp. 7, 169. Rick Priestley and Andy Chambers, Codex Imperialis, 2nd Edition, pp. 28. 72 Rick Priestley and Jervis Johnson, Codex Ultramarines, 2nd Edition, pp. 7, 17.


iconic than the Space Marines, the Imperial Guard are the mainstay of the Emperors fighting forces.73 Yet, unlike the Space Marines or Sisters of Battle, the Imperial Guard, however, is less certain in its utter devotion to the Emperor74. For this reason they require a special core of officers to impose authority and maintain discipline. These duties are carried out by the Commissars of the Imperial Guard, who instil loyalty and motivation into the troops in their care.75 The Commissars achieve this by employing the powers of summary discipline. With the power to execute those found wanting, the Commissar can, by fear alone, instil new vigour and devotion in the troops under his care. On more than one occasion broken Guard units, in ignominious flight from the battle, have been rallied by the prompt action of their Commissar. Similarly, weak and inadequate officers, or those who have simply lost the will to win, have been summarily chastised by Imperial Guard Commissars.76 The Commissar is clearly a critique of 20th century warfare and the brutality of the Soviet and Nazi regimes they inspired that force their citizens to fight.77 However, this trope also draws attention to the domestic violence of imperialism since they force the Emperors citizens to die in droves on planets far away from their homes for a state that cares nothing for them. In short, Warhammer 40 000 critiques imperialism by suggesting that empires are made and maintained by incredible violence that includes a willingness to massacre even your own people. Far from legitimizing imperialism, it suggests that the life span of an Empire is measured by its ability to commit violence on a massive scale. It is important to note that this critique was being delivered during the 1980s-1990s. At this time Games Workshop was still a small company without a large degree of international appeal. Therefore its consumer market was a domestic British audience.
73 74

Ibid, 15. Pete Hains, Imperial Guard Design Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com. Rick Priestley, Chaplains and Commissars, White Dwarf vol. 108 (1988). 75 Commissars are central to the character of the Imperial Guard faction, as Pete Hains including Commissars is, Putting the Imperial in the Imperial Guard. Ibid. 76 Rick Priestley, Chaplains and Commissars. 77 John Blanche, Firstborn Sons of Vostroya, White Dwarf vol. 317 (June 2006), pp. 49.


Historians such as Raphal Ingelbien argue that the loss of the British Empire after WWII threw English identity into a crisis that spanned all social and economic classes.78 Coupled with the horrendous loss of life and destruction of WWII, it lead the British demos to critically reflect upon the morality of their imperial history.79 In fact, British citizens were questioning the very assumptions of Euro-supremacy and moral authority that had been used to justify and normalize the British Empire.80 The fact that Warhammer 40 000s audience was questioning its Imperial history makes it difficult not to see this games repackaging of imperialism as a refection upon Britains own past. Especially since historians such as Virginia Hoselitz, Duncan Bell and Graham Dawson have written extensively about the ways in which the Roman Empire was employed as an analogy to understand the British Empire within England. 81 Therefore, it appears that Warhammer 40 000 delivered a critique of British Imperialism at a time when its English consumers were questioning their own imperial legacy. Far from normalizing or justifying imperialism, this game does the exact opposite. In fact, it even appears to go so far as to equate the brutality of British Imperialism with Nazism. In addition to imperialism, Warhammer 40 000 also represents a post colonial reevaluation of Western history in general. All of the tropes that are used to complicate the morality of the Imperium, (the Spanish Inquisition, Nazism, the Roman Empire and British Imperialism) are Western. Instead of a dichotomy of the evil East fighting against a righteous West, this game represents a critical self refection of Western history. It

Ingelbien makes this argument after examining, poetry and other popular discourse in his exploration of Englishness and national identity. Raphal Ingelbien, Misreading England Poetry and Nationhood Since the Second World War (New York: Rodopi, 2002), pp. 23. 79 Ibid. 80 Carlos Alberto Torres, Democracy, Education, and Multiculturalism (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998), pp. 121. 81 Virginia Hoselitz, Imagining Roman Britain: Victorian responses to a Roman past (Michigan: University of Michigan, 2007). Duncan Bell Victorian, Visions of Global Order (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2007), pp. 96. Graham Dawson, Soldier heroes British adventure, empire, and the imagining of masculinities (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 234.


emphasizes the violence that permeates Western history from the Roman Empire to Nazi Germany, and presents the Wests own elites as oppressors of foreigners and their own people who were forced to fight and die in Imperial wars. Instead of simply reversing the evil East-West dichotomy, Warhammer 40 000 dismisses this type of good versus evil binary. It is this narrative achievement that allows this game to present a cynical reevaluation of Western history that does not demonize the East or undermine the game designers intention of questioning of the morality of war itself. While these messages were strongly presented in the 1st and 2nd editions of the game, their potency was reduced in the mid-late 1990s when Games Workshop revised Warhammer 40 000s background as it attempted to widen its domestic and international appeal. Warhammer 40 000: Third Fifth Editions Warhammer 40 000 is faced with a haunting contradiction. It must balance the game designers desire to critique war with the need to package it in a consumable manor. Games Workshop was founded in 1975 by John Peake, Ian Livingstone, and Steve Jackson. These people were game designers who focused on games other than Warhammer or Warhammer 40 000. However, their finically unsuccessful games were discontinued in 1991 after a management buyout that saw business people move into Games Workshops upper echelons.82 The new management first attempted to broaden Warhammer 40 000s appeal with the release of the 2nd edition of the game which consolidated, but did not change, the games background. However, it appears that 2nd edition actually alienated older gamers who accused Games Workshop of oversimplifying the rules in order to appeal to a younger


Tom Kirby, Games Workshop Year End Financial Statement, 2008, pp. 3. Tom Kirby, Game Workshop Finical Highlights, 2001, pp.



demographic.83 Having grasped the attention of younger audience, but also lost its older gamers, the company attempted to satisfy both and expand internationally in 1998 with the release of the 3rd edition of Warhammer 40 000.84 This edition did increase Warhammer 40 000s popularity and was an instrumental first step in transforming Games Workshop from a fringe company into the multimillion dollar, international commercial entity it is now. 85 This international success was purchased by softening Warhammer 40 000s core background story in 3rd edition to make the game more marketable. For example, the Emperor is no longer referred to as a warlord as he was in 1st and 2nd edition. Instead, in the 3rd and subsequent editions, he is called a mighty leader who arose when humanity was on the brink of annihilation and never more were great heroes needed to stave off the hordes of darkness.86 The character of his Space Marines has also changed. Unlike their predecessors, beginning in 3rd edition, the Space Marines are presented as the stalwart defenders of humanity. As the lead visionary of the 3rd edition Space Marines book, Graham McNeill explains in his designer notes that he finds Space Marine characters to be exceptionally noble, and I think therein lies a large part of their appeal. Space Marines are beyond Humanity, elevated through ritualised science to become something else entirely. They undergo their enhancements willingly and sacrifice their humanity to become the guardians of their race though they can never be part of it again. That sacrifice was what ennobled them to me and gave them a real depth of character that I found appealing. The idea of a monastic warrior Chapter that maintained its traditions and fought an endless war against the enemies of Mankind was what made Space Marines such a characterful army to play and read about.87


The 2nd edition also reduced the games popularity among older gamers because the popular Squats faction was removed. Graham Davis, John Foody The Warpstone: The independent magazine For Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. Rodger Webb interview Gavin Thorpe, Ragnarok, vol. 35 2001. 84 This is discussed at length in: Gavin Thorpe interviewed by Rodger Webb, Ragnarok, vol. 35 (2001). 85 Jonathon Guthrie, Games Workshop runs rings around its rivals, Financial Times, (July 13, 2002), pp. 20. In 2002 was Games Workshops reported a 20% increase in direct sales and 22% in retail sales. Tom Kirby, Games Workshop Year End Financial Statement, 2008, pp. 3. Tom Kirby, Game Workshop Finical Highlights, 2001, pp. 1. 86 Mathew Ward, Codex Space Marines, 5th Edition, pp. 6. 87 Graham McNeill, Space Marines Design Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com


Clearly, the tone of breeding an Ubermensch in secret laboratory is almost nonexistent.88 Allowing Space Marines to be good guys by shifting their conceptual base from fanatical killers to noble defenders helped to make them a more appealing army for gamers to play. It also meant that Games Workshop can offset these defenders of humanity against vicious aliens who want to destroy man kind in their advertising.89 With its focus upon marketing, Games Workshop sifted through popular culture for inspiration. For example, 3rd edition saw the release of the Catachan subgroup of the Imperial Guard, humans who reside on the dangerous jungle planet of Catachan, were released. Reflecting upon this group game designer and artist Bryan Barnes recalls that The Catachans models of yesteryear were clearly based on the regular forces from the early Vietnam War (and their popular portrayal in movies).90 In fact, they bear a striking visual resemblance to the jungle warrior imagery presented in films such as Platoon or Rambo, as can be seen in figure 3.91 They also closely resemble the lead character from the video game Contra, which is a science fiction interpretation of the Vietnam War. Taken together, this suggests that the game designers were incorporating Vietnam War imaginary that already proven its market value into the 3rd edition of Warhammer 40 000. While this was undeniably a prudent marketing strategy, taking the lead from sellable war imagery,


In the 1st and 2nd editions the genetic alterations that Space Marines underwent was very risky and those unfortunates that do not die almost invariably suffer mental damage, degenerating into homicidal maniacs or gibbering idiots. However, when a chapter is at full strength these misfits may be put out of their misery. If the chapter is short of Marines they are often allowed to live, and may be placed within their own special units. Those who display uncontrollably psychotic tendencies can be recruited into suicide assault squads, or as suicide bombers. Some chapters deliberately foster such creatures, even going so far as to implant deformed zygotes into some initiates. This is very dangerous, and the practice is discouraged by Imperial edict. But old traditions die hard. However, this type of detail is simply not part of newer literature. Rick Priestley, The Origin of Legiones Astartes, White Dwarf, vol. 98 (1988). 89 The Space Marines were presented this way with the release of 3rd edition of the game, offset against the insect like Tyranids that were the ideal adversary, the exact opposite of the noble Space Marines against whom the Tyranids are pitched.. Phil Kelly, Jes Goodwin and Roberto Cirrilo, Tyranids Designer Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com 90 Bryan Barnes, Modeling Imperial Guard Snipers: A Note on Jungle Warfare, http:oz.games-workshop.com. 91 Other examples of game designers drawing upon popular culture includes the Necrons scarab unit which Pete Haines explains was inspired by the movie 'The Mummy' (pp. 3). Pete Hains, Necrons Design Notes, http:oz.games-workshop.com.


instead of responding it to, appears to have curbed the possibility for creative interpretations and the desire to for critical analysis. The moral ambiguity of war has certainly weakened since 2nd edition, but it has not disappeared entirely. The Imperium remains an oppressive state that is maintained by military power. The Space Marines are still religious fanatics who unquestionably serve the Emperor and crush any rebellion. The Catachans, for example, only enlist in the Imperial Guard to secure technology that their families require for survival and the Imperium only maintains a colony on that planet because it produces superior warriors who can be easily extorted into enlisting.92 The fact that Warhammer 40 000 has become less moral ambiguity since 1st and 2nd editions raises the question of whether contemporary players are receptive to the games commentary upon the morality of war? Contemporary Reception: 2008-2009 Warhammer 40 000 is prolifically discussed by gamers in online magazines and internet forms. These are reflective spaces were gamers discuss the games meaning, influences and messages and thus provide excellent insight into how the game is being received by those who currently play it. Despite the enormous amount of discourse that has been generated, I can only consider two highly publicized examples produced from 20082009. This will not cover every single gamer, but should illuminate the dominant trends. Despite the war-junkie stereotype of uneducated, uncritical, right wing, males who revel in war, not everyone who plays games like Warhammer 40 000 fit this mould. For example, Cerise is an online gamers magazine primarily directed towards women. Almost all if its international cast of contributors have competed, or are enrolled in,


Jervis Johnson, Andy Chambers and Gavin Thorpe, Codex Catachans (Nottingham: Games Workshop 2002), pp. 1.


bachelors or graduate degrees.93 This politically aware, left leaning publication often examines the ethics of games.94 In August 2008, the 5th edition of Warhammer 40 000 was released and reviewed by Cerise writer Richard Pilbeam. He explains that writing Warhammer 40 000s background literature as historical documents helps insert the player into this imaginary world. However, he also criticizes this technique writing that: Portraying the universe largely from these characters perspective, though, is not without its problems. These characters are backward, superstitious, fanatical and intolerant, and without sufficiently distancing the player from them, it risks justifying their views. Were told by these characters that all aliens are inherently unholy and it is therefore humanitys imperative to commit xenocide, and even though we arent actually meant to agree with them, theres no hint of counterargument. Similarly, the attempts to satirize holy wars dont quite come off, because in this universe the people involved actually are getting visions telling them to blow up foreigners. Instead of the powerful using religion as a justification to go to war for purely selfish reasons, these guys are doing it for real. In one sense its laudable that the game portrays everybody as equally corrupt, rather than giving us a strawman fascist empire and a group of sexy anti-hero rebels, but it can also be quite unpleasant and distancing. In a game that prioritizes narrative over pure competition, do you really want to get involved in the struggle of somebody who believes in pogroms as a method of social control?95 This review clearly illustrates that not all gamers are not passive consumers. Instead, they recognize that the background is presented from the point of view of characters within the game and that it is supposed to be repulsive and critically read. The fact that Pilbeam questions if he would want to support any faction suggests that sufficient moral ambiguity remains to prevent a binary of good versus evil. Cerise probably represents a unique segment of gamers and the politics of its contributors likely predisposes them to appreciate Warhammer 40 000s critiques. However, online forums that are accessible to anyone with an internet connection should

Graduate studies are being pursued in disciplines including gender studies, history, telecommunications and law. Interestingly, some writes such as Lindsey Galloway, Rachel Turner and K. Tempest Bradford have published their work. 94 For example: Oliver Saenz, Killing Grannies, Slaughtering Monsters and Leveling the F*** Up, Cerise, (Winter 2009) http://cerise.theirisnetwork.org. Casey Fiesler, This is Our World Too: Preventing Real Victims of Virtual Rape, Cerise, (Winter 2009). http://cerise.theirisnetwork.org. 95 Richard Pilbeam, Warhammer 40,000 Fifth Edition, Cerise, (August 2008), http://cerise.theirisnetwork.org.


provide a better perspective upon the views of the wider Warhammer 40 000 gaming community. In 2008, a player by the screen name SolkaTruesilver started a discussion on Giant In The Playground called the best Warhammer description ever made. This posting has elicited over 150 responses and has been reproduced as a definition of the game on other websites.96 Aside from this repore, the fact that it is a definition is very significant because it suggests that SolkaTruesilver will be distilling the essential characteristics of this game. Instead of focusing on the mechanics of game play, he/she focuses upon the world created by the background, writing that: Warhammer 40,000 is not a happy place. Rather than just being Darker And Edgier, it paints itself black and hurls itself over the edge. The Imperium of Man is an oppressive, stark, and downright miserable place to live in where, for far too many people, living isn't something to do until you die, but something to do until something comes around and kills you in an unbelievably horrible way - quite probably someone on your own side. The Messiah [the Emperor] has been locked up on life support for the past ten millennia, laid low by his most beloved son, and an incomprehensibly vast Church Militant [the Sisters of Battle] commits hourly atrocities in his name. The problem is, as bad as the Imperium is, the other forces in the galaxy are generally far, far worse. Death is about the best you can hope for against the vast majority of the other major players in the battlefields of the 41st Millennium. The basic premise of 40k is as a constant, impossibly vast conflict between genocidal, xenocidal and in one case omnicidal civilisations, with every single weapon, ideology and creative piece of nastiness turned up to eleven.97 Instead of heroicizing violence SolkaTruesilver is repelled by the actions of the characters who are presented as the defenders of humanity. Instead of longing for a militaristic society, his definition emphasizes that the only reason the nightmarish Imperium is still in existence is because humanity is in a state of war. Clearly, instead of promoting militarism, contemporary gamers appreciate the moral ambiguity of war. Interestingly, all responses agree with this assessment of the morality of war.98

Examples include: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Warhammer40000, http://www.urbandictionary.com, http://bbs.stardestroyer.net and ttp://www.warhammer40000.net/ 97 http://www.giantitp.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-76357.html 98 In fact, they often added their own views, stating that: They'd [the Imperium] be the villains in most campaigns (screen name: Rouge 7) Does the world fair even exist in WH40K? (screen name: Tengu) or Ayup. My summary of 40K to someone was "An example is


An examination of the online discourse suggests that at least some gamers are critical consumers and receptive to the messages of Warhammer 40 000, even if they are now less potent. The majority of Warhammer 40 000 discussion threads focus on game tactics instead of morality. However, there probably are some Warhammer 40 000 fans who use the game as a vehicle to celebrate war, but these appear be the minority. Conclusion The table top, science fiction-fantasy game Warhammer 40 000 presents complex arguments about western history as it questions the morality of war itself. Despite being a war game, it does not promote the militarization of society by romanticizing violence as the existing literature would suggest. Exactly the opposite, it emphasizes the violence of war and even challenges Heinleins presentation of militarism. It even challenges conceptualizing war as a struggle between a clearly defined good and evil as it presents a strong post colonial re-evaluation of Western and British history. In doing so Warhammer 40 000 took on some of the most influential fiction writers in history, Tolkien and Lewis, at the height of their power. The fact that this game has, and still does, provide a space for repackaging imperialism and presenting an alternative interpretation of war that is consumed by popular culture on a massive scale clearly demonstrates the need for academics who are interested in war and war memory to examine video, board and table top games. Although these games can successfully question the morality of war itself and even promote critical thinking, scholars need to adopt a new approach to war consumption that is sympathetic to the ways that fiction and fantasy can present complex arguments aside from employing a simplistic good alternative to evil position, the approach science-fiction favours.
the best way to explain it. There's a god of hope, and the god of freaking hope is evil. (screen name: SurlySeraph).




Figure 1: The Space Marine leader Marneus Augusts Calgar appears to be sadistically enjoying battle dead as the dead enemies pile up at his feet. Rick Priestley and Jervis Johnson, Codex Ultramaries, 2nd edition, 47

Figure 2: This image accompanies the discussion of Pax Imperialis in Rick Priestley and Andy Chambers, Codex Imperialis, 2nd ed, 28.

Figure 3: Borrowing uniforms and the red head bands from the film Platoon and drawing upon the muscular jungle warrior imagery from the movie Rambo, the Catachans are clearly a product of Vietnam war popular culture that celebrates war. This image is taken from: wh40k.lexicanum.com


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