I loved this essay by Tim Colwill about the Warhammer 40,000, its not-so-slow march towards bland corporatism, and being ineffectual at dealing with people who love the fascism of the setting: Satire Without Purpose Will Wander In Dark Places.1
Games Workshop has painted itself into a corner over the years, as they have made the Space Marines the heroes of their setting. That doesn’t make any sense if the Imperium of Man is meant to be a cautionary tale about facism. It’s hard to beleive this is their intention when most everything they produce undercuts this message, the Black Library novels being the biggest and most obvious culprit here.
“Everything is bad” is an inherently conservative worldview and as such provides endless, consequence-free opportunities for authors to avoid discussing exactly why things are bad in the first place, who is responsible for them being bad, and what can be done about it.
Tim points out that “everything is bad in 40K” is a weak defense of the setting, but I do think it’s a viable way forward if they fully commited. To paraphrase Rick Priestley, Warhammer 40,000 doesn’t need to be serious business. The setting exists so people can pretend to blow each other up with guns and tanks and monsters. They don’t need to dress that up, but they do need to make sure that in ‘not-dressing it up’ they don’t endorse the reprehensible.
Tim ends the essay with a warning about the neo-nazis that will be cheering the new Warhammer TV shows alongside you. This is another area of the essay I don’t think quite lands: there is no controlling other people’s interests. Even if Games Workshop does an amazing job cleaning up its house, Warhammer is still a fun hobby. It’ll attract all sorts of people. Obviously no one wants to support a company that is actively courting a terrible fan base, but if being a part of the OSR has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes really crap people will like the same stuff as you.