Hot on the heels of posting an SSS archive on the topic of how much I love gaming comes a post about a game that I won’t play and a Jeremiad about why I won’t play it – because nobody asked.
First, my bonafides: I started playing GW games in either 1999 or 2000 with Mordheim. Shortly thereafter I got into 40k and have built, painted, and fielded multiple armies: Space marines (twice – repainted an entire company), Chaos Space Marines (twice – sold the army and then rebuilt it), Eldar, Orks, and Tyranids. Pictures of some of these minis grace my media archives on this very page. I have won awards for my painting & converting including Best Army at the Detroit Grand Tournament in 2004. This is just a brief overview of my 10-year-plus engagement with the hobby, and barely scratches the surface of my commitment to the game in that time.
Games Workshop has had a contentious relationship with its fans for the better part of the last two decades. This started more-or-less sensibly with a ban on proxy models. GW models can be expensive, and the whole game is increasingly akin to pay-to-win “freemium” video games: you can get an ineffectual core-army for next to nothing, but if you want to actually win, prepare to *sink* some *cost*.
But for all that, GW was ostensibly selling a product, and tournaments (etc) were a way of supporting that product, so sure – if it’s your product and your tournament, a certain degree of protectionism is economically reasonable. I mean: fuck capitalism, but if you’re going to do it, do it – and protecting your retail line is part of doing it, I guess.
The concept and enforcement escalated with a rather vague and nebulous claim of GW owning its IP that included small, petty actions like refusing to photograph / share or otherwise popularize fan art. Anecdotal stories from as early as 2005 described photographers for White Dwarf & the GW Website refusing to snap pics of tattoos & the like because these were abuses of tHe BrAnD.
As of this week, this ownership sprawl has stretched to include fan-made art, animations, and videos. Updated terms of service for…warhammer generally?…are the most recent assault on fandom – and this comes shortly after GWs attempts to copyright the term “Space Marine,” which, no, they did not invent. Astute readers will notice that over at Games Workshop, all the various factions & such now have proprietary names – it’s no longer “Space Marines,” it’s “Adeptes” or whatever…no more “Elves” in Warhammer – they’re ElUadsfRiN…I can’t be bothered to look things up for a nerd rant.
All of this is to say that I’m glad I no longer play because GW Fandom has come to exemplify toxic relationships under capitalism. Capitalism in this case acts rather like a genestealer implant – injected into a host who in turn then seeks only to perpetuate the genestealer brood…or maybe that’s not part of the lore anymore because it’s a cut-and-paste from the Aliens franchise? Look, it’s all rat fucking all the way down, and my question for anyone playing is: why?
I kept playing long after my core group had quit largely on account of sunk cost. I had, like, four armies and was working on a fifth by the time I quit? This would have been 2015 or 2016 I think…I had paid literal thousands of dollars to play this game, and the reward was increasingly just an opportunity to pay more money to continue playing. I wasn’t buying anything – I was renting my place in The Brand.
Thankfully grad school meant I didn’t have the time or money to continue, and it provided the break I needed to get clean. By the time I sold my armies I hadn’t played a single game in over a year, and while I was sad to see all that hard work go out the door, I did not miss the mediocre game play, the oftentimes toxic fandom, or the immense cost of bringing a force to the table.
Not that anyone asked, but: there are better games, less expensive games, and games that are hungry for a new fan base. Games that allow players to contribute to the lore. I would encourage any fan feeling jilted by Games Workshop’s aggressive and corporate-scented pursuit of cash at all costs to ditch their forces on eBay and move into a more welcoming and supportive home.