Friday, April 19, 2024

If Warhammer 40K was supposed to be satire it fails miserably at this.

There was a controversy lately that popped up in the Warhammer 40K community. It involved what my friend summarized as "buzz from right aligned, anti-woke fascist misogynistic man-babies over the game, because they included a female 'Astartes Custodes' in a game manual." He went on to say that these people see the "crippling authoritarian xenophobic race of man [in the game] as right up their alley because they envision themselves to be a space marine and not a sump-diver." But, you actually don't need to know what any or all of this means to read this blog post. Rather, what I wanted to talk about is something that popped up in passing in an article about all of the above, where a writer claimed that the game of Warhammer 40K got its start from satire aimed at the British, especially their noble classes. When I read those words, I was like...whaaatttt?

This idea that the Space Marines from Warhammer 40K were supposed to be a satirical read on the British actually kind of blew my mind. This then led me to understand just how bad a vehicle satire actually is. Allow me to explain. In order for satire to be effective it needs to be understood. But just like any form of humor, it can fall flat depending on who is consuming it. For example, I had some door-to-door salesmen knock on my door earlier this week and they opened with a joke. "We were just at your neighbors and they said you are having a party so we are here for that." I looked at these two young men strangely and said, "There's no party here." And then one of the salesmen said, "It's a joke. I'm trying to be funny. And then he went into his sales pitch." Needless to say, they didn't sell me anything, and I think the experience all around was what I would call "flat and a waste of time for both of us." But it wasn't completely useless. It was just the latest example of how a joke isn't funny to some people. You need to know your audience.

I think satire is this same kind of thing. Furthermore, without having written satire, I can say that my experience with it is that effective satire needs to be a one and done thing. That's kind of what Saturday Night Live does with their skits. It is rare for them to revisit a skit, and when they do, it is never as funny as the first time that they do it. So for the most part, a lot of their skits are "one and done." If not, then they certainly try to change up the situation so that it at least is different the next time you see it.

But the idea that you could set out within the framework of capitalism and create a game that you expect people to buy from you over and over with new rules sets and new miniatures, and painting guides and literally a whole community and expect everyone to buy into this as "satire" feels like a disastrous idea. And it has been, as the company, Games Workshop, is in a bit of a pickle with its fanbase that it has carefully curated and grown for decades to become a billion dollar company.

You see...the people who love the game like all of this authoritarian and fascist stuff. And the "Empire of Man," which is categorically evil (if not one of the lesser evils--but this is debatable) is their kind of jam. Furthermore, Warhammer 40K also got "cool." So you have all of this "Nazi-esque" stuff, and it's all brightly painted, intricate, has some incredible lore, and on top of's cool. It's the same kind of cool that any of us who have watched World War 2 films feel when you see a sharply-dressed and handsome Nazi soldier in uniform and you think, "I hate that I find that visual attractive, because it is evil." From the standpoint of making money, it's absolutely a "no-brainer" for the company because people will buy stuff like this. It is appealing. It looks cool. It's fun. However, from the view of those who would like to remove money from the equation and just live in a healthy is so anti that. So what has actually happened is that a company set out to satire and lampoon a thing and their message got lost but they made a ton of money and managed to make evil look like the ideal. That is so weird to just think about.

For years and years the community around this game has grown, and it has attracted more and more people who have a safe space to discuss all of their ideas about fascism because they assume that everyone that plays this game must be like them. And you know what? This is actually a good assumption. It is logical. Why wouldn't it be that unless it was blatant satire? But that satire message is so buried in history that it surprised even me when I learned about it just yesterday. This "joke" was not done well at all. In fact, it may be one of the worst jokes ever told.

It will be interesting to see if Games Workshop can even deal at all with its toxic fanbase. In capitalism, you are dependent (as a company) on your supporters. If you've made all of your supporters fascist and you want to preach the opposite of that, you will go out of business. They don't want to go out of business, so my guess is that they will just have to swallow all of the crap that takes place on their message boards and just sally on, making money, and hoping they don't do anything to piss their base off. And meanwhile the rest of us get to hear about the consequences of all of that, because there is no place for bravery to stand up for things like morality in capitalism. There is only profit.



  1. I know my brother has played this but I haven't really done anything with it. I went to the Wikipedia page to see if it mentioned anything about "satire" but the closest I found was this quote from the game's creator:

    To me the background to 40K was always intended to be ironic. [...] The fact that the Space Marines were lauded as heroes within Games Workshop always amused me, because they're brutal, but they're also completely self-deceiving. The whole idea of the Emperor is that you don't know whether he's alive or dead. The whole Imperium might be running on superstition. There's no guarantee that the Emperor is anything other than a corpse with a residual mental ability to direct spacecraft. It's got some parallels with religious beliefs and principles, and I think a lot of that got missed and overwritten.

    — Rick Priestley, in a December 2015 interview with Unplugged Games

  2. I don't get satire either. It seems to be really specific. Wait. This sounds like... Poe's Law. "Without a clear indicator of the author's intent, any parodic or sarcastic expression of extreme views can be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of those views." This is that, I think.