I am actually really bitter about Warhammer 40,000. Really. So much so that all I want to do is avoid it, or, if that’s not possible, joke about it. The problem I have is that there are people close to me in real life who play it, and actively encourage me to play it, too. I still haven’t figured out a way to say no that doesn’t come off as anti-social and disappointing for them. After all, it’s just a game. I shouldn’t care this much. But it’s a game that stirs up real, intense, and unpleasant feelings in me.
Every now and then I get a bit negative about gaming, and I start to wonder why we play at all as grown-ups; particularly those of us who’ve been playing the same game for years, or even decades. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those times. But one of the things that definitely brings it on is coming into contact with the current state of Warhammer 40,000.
I can see that objectively it’s probably no worse than it’s ever been. If I were a green kid, just starting out, it might be as amazing as it was to me as a twelve year old. But as someone who is decidedly not a green gamer, 40k is all tied up with a great deal of baggage, and I’m aware of it all. The flavour text advertising the new Tempestus Scions for example could almost have been ripped word-for-word from a Rogue Trader description of Space Marines. A kid just starting out doesn’t know this; I do and it makes me feel as though… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. That the game is this huge crumbling edifice built on its own ruins, but that its history is not treated with any respect. Themes are endlessly re-hashed and tantalizing glimpses are boringly laid bare.
When this all started, Space Marines were not just eight foot tall demigods with a bizarre mythological history. There were elements of that, in utero. But mostly they were roughly human-sized, genetically modified fascist soldiers in heavy armour, the elite of a brutal galactic dictatorship. In other words, almost exactly the way the Scions are presented. Oh, except that the Scions have had the political themes bowdlerised.
And what the Astartes have become, too, is something totally different: virtuous, monkish knights with intricate and fantastical back stories about their bad 80s metal-themed chapters. It was bringing the Horus Heresy into the light that did it, I think. That’s what tipped it all over the edge.
The whole 40k universe seems to me to be a bloated but deadly serious caricature of something that was originally a glib punk satire. I feel the weight of all those years when I see a modern piece of 40k writing or a new model. There is just too much: everything is bigger, more extreme, every nook and cranny of alluded-to history has been filled in or is being filled in. But at the same time things are routinely and bafflingly changed. There is only so much ret-conning and creator-written fan-fiction I can stomach, I’m afraid. Some people seem to have an inexhaustable appetite for it, but I don’t.
Frankly, it upsets me, and I don’t much care for the models either. Any love I once had for the grim dark has been well and truly burned away in the last five years. Oh, and don’t get me started on the actual game.
I don’t just want to avoid thinking about 40k, I need to avoid it. But still my friends innocently ask me to dig out my Guardsmen and join in a game. What am I supposed to say?