On 40K: Expressing Yourself.

Dave here again.

It’s been about two years since I got back into the hobby, and about eighteen months since I really started converting models. As I mentioned in the previous post, my work has been moving further and further away from the 40k core fantasy and I wanted to take a moment and explain why. For me (oh boy here’s some hubris coming at you) it’s just not satisfying to paint what I see as someone else’s model. However that’s only a symptom of a deeper line of thinking. Let’s see if I can articulate some of it.

One of the things that the hobby has the potential to offer is the opportunity for personal expression. There’s a whole slew of options dependent on comfort level and experience. Some folks choose an existing army that interests them. Some invent custom paint schemes. Others write incredible fiction to support their personal vision for their work. There are amazing converters and scratchbuilders creating beautiful and unique models.

Now earlier I said “potential to offer” because not everyone has the same affordances when trying to find their personal expression in the fiction of 40K. It’s flat out difficult to create a female character in 40K, not to mention expensive and inconvenient as fuck to source good parts. Non- white males? Good luck. Non- idealized human proportions? Sub-d-cup female torsos? Be ready to go hunting.

But Dave, you cry, company X has the parts you need. And of course you can create anything if you have the appropriate skillset. Not everyone does. But the barrier for entry for a lot of people wanting to feel represented in 40K is, to be honest, the limitation of the regular GW and FW fiction and their corresponding model lines.

This next bit is almost certainly going to come across wrong, but here goes. I grew up (and still am) white, male and straight, with all the privilege that those things entail. I’m enormously uncomfortable with a lot of stuff that GW has put out over the years, and outright disgusted with some of it, but I’m still insulated by my gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. I’m not excluded, or impacted personally to anywhere near the same extent as others. But I would dearly love the franchise to shed the juvenilia, to become more socially responsible and inclusive, to be aware of how powerful seeing yourself represented in media can be. I worked on the videogame Mafia III and saw first hand the positive power of an authentically-written black hero for those fans who identified personally with Lincoln Clay’s life experiences. It also made me aware that being representational in media starts with making sure the team creating that media is representational. And that takes work and sometimes time too.

My hope is that GW makes some pretty huge strides towards inclusivity and representation in their fictional universes and attendant products. I dearly hope they see the need for attracting diverse creators and telling new kinds of stories, but it’s no certainty.

The culmination of this is that over the past two years since I rejoined the hobby community I find I’m not so interested in the core fantasy of 40K as I was. I love much of the aesthetic; gothic space fantasy will always be dear to me. However, endless war between factions that are all various flavors of bad guys: it just wears a bit thin. All those totalitarian regimes, genocidal supermen, supremacist aliens, green football hooligans from the 1980s, the list goes on. I get that it’s always 11:59 on the 40K doomsday clock. I hope that Dark Millenium marks the beginning of a new direction for the fiction. But I also believe that regardless of the “critical path” there are other interesting stories to be told in that universe. Aspirational ones, important ones, more personal ones. Inclusive stories about all kinds of interesting people.

And as such as I am able, I’m trying to do much more of that in my personal work.

I adore the process of world-building, as both a creator and consumer. RPG sourcebooks are my addiction. I read and re-read them, rarely if ever playing a session. That first hour in a new videogame before you understand the possibility space fully, before the simulation boundaries make you aware of the “game”? PURE MAGIC. I have documents on documents of back-stories for characters, places and stories. I’m a shitty writer but that doesn’t matter. Just get the ideas out. I’m a little better at art than writing, and so those ideas find public expression in my models.

That’s what’s coming out in my personal models these days. I’m close to finding my voice, it feels like. And as a bonus about 80% the work i’ve been doing lately has found it’s way into a cohesive narrative I’m developing, along with some models from last year that are getting an overhaul.

I’d love to hear from anyone reading the blog about their experiences in finding their own expressive outlet in the hobby. Please drop me a line in the comments if you feel so inclined.

Next time, I’ll be talking specifically about the fiction I have in mind (and maybe some ideas that didn’t make the cut). TERRIFYING.

Thanks for reading. I hope I didn’t offend you. If I did, tell me how. I’m totally clueless most of the time.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go have a dream about being unprepared for an exam.

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I enjoyed this and I hear you. However I think GW is the Labrador and it’s up to us, the fans to imagine, create and develop the cool mongrels. You’re always going to have people who want the dog to be one type but me, along with countless others, want the mongrel. The unique. The obscure. The thing that, maybe, not everyone loves but we love all the more for it. I hope my analogy makes sense haha. It sounded better in my head.

My daughter bought me a box of minis from GW that I already had and thought I’d be sad and want to take it back but I said NO because I will cut and shape those minis to be something new and exciting.

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Great post here, and one that I can strongly relate too. My brothers and I have been involved with Warhammer 40k for about 20 years now, but it has only really been in the past 4 years that we really started to find our own voice in it. A big part of that has been trying to bring some form of realism to the setting, in the form of anatomical proportions and sensible weapon designs (some might say that effort is foolish, as it is fantasy, but I feel that a sense of some believably can make a model all the more appealing). In the last two years, we have been thinking a lot about the lack of representation in the 40k, at least in the form of models. I wrote an article on female representation, specifically: http://betweenthebolterandme.blogspot.com/2017/03/female-representation-in-wargaming.html

Warhammer has something to offer to all sorts of people. but I think some of the imagery is keeping people away.

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It’s an interesting perspective, and I do agree with a lot of what you have to say about it being time to *add* more representation to 40K(I think we might disagree on how necessary it is to change 40K for those additions to happen).

For me – and this could well just be the autism spectrum disorder talking – I’m very much a fan of things because of what they are. The appeal of Star Trek is its relentless positivity and optimism, the appeal of The Expanse is that it’s very nearly the opposite, and the appeal of 40K is the relentless – almost to the point of self-parody – “grimdark” of the whole thing. So while you see Dark Imperium as a potentially exciting departure, for me it diminishes the appeal of 40K, for the same reason I can’t muster any enthusiasm for Star Trek Discovery or the JJ Abrams Trek movies – they shift the tone and themes away from the ones that made those IP’s appealing to me in the first place. I’m happy to play around with those themes a bit myself, but I’d feel odd producing content for 40K that was genuinely upbeat or positive. Moments like that in a broader, more fitting narrative, certainly, or using them as the setup for a rug-pull or cautionary tale(from the warped perspective of 40K morality), absolutely, but for me the defining quality of 40K is that no, everything won’t be alright in the end; your face will get eaten by the gribbly, your soul will be damned by the eldritch horror, your good intentions will be your downfall, and you probably will end up dying in defence of ignorance or pointless bureaucracy, or for no real reason at all, because the decline and rot have already set-in and humanity probably wouldn’t want to be redeemed(from a more modern, sane perspective) even if given the choice.

A “positive” tale in 40K would be, for me, like the Section 31 plot in Star Trek – it’s fundamentally at-odds with what the IP is, and when such things are “official” it can undermine the whole edifice. Bringing Primarchs and a semblance of hope back to 40K might not be on quite the same level as retroactively painting the central society of an optimistic utopia as rampant hypocrites complicit in war crimes and genocides, but it still runs contra to the reasons why the setting appeals to me personally.

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I need to check in on the blog more often! Thanks for the thoughtful comment, I think you did a better job than me of expressing how our individual preferences are impacted positively and negatively by the direction not only of 40K but other beloved franchises. I liked that you referenced Star Trek. I love ST:TNG, that’s the Trek I grew up on. My wife loves TOS, that’s her touchstone. She’s more into the 60s kitschy take on it than me (though I love the Adam West Batman, sooo, yeah, not the strongest point made there). Neither of us do very well with Enterprise. We liked the first Abrams movie, the other two not so much. I quite like Discovery; she will not watch it. They’re all Star Trek for different people, I love that the franchise is big enough for that. I’ll grumble louder than anyone about the new Klingon redesigns and their hour long monologues, but it doesn’t affect my enduring Jean-Luc mancrush one bit!

I tend to view 40K in the same way, though as you point out it’s the opposite thematically; stagnant where Trek embraces the new, fatalistic where Trek is optimistic. Some days I do need my fix of INQ28 ultra-grimdark tiny-cog-in-a cold and-indifferent-machine fatalism. It’s very appealing visually, it’s fun and tricky to build that stuff. Some days, more often than I care to admit, I nerd out about building stuff inspired specifically by the 1st edition book; that was a fireworks show of ideas (original Eddie dreadnought, you’re getting scratch-built one day). But it’s just not where I tend to gravitate day-to-day. I’ve been thinking more about why that is, and I’ve concluded it’s two things. The first: over-saturation. I spend a LOT of time looking at work online, plus I get plenty of grimdark out of my system with my commissions, so that probably accounts for my need to do something more light-hearted. The second: as a setting it’s depressing as hell, and I don’t do too well with depression.

The Black Library fiction I tend to gravitate towards is stuff like Eisenhorn and Ravenor, not just because they’re Inquisition (which I love the concept of), but because they show different aspects of the universe. Sure, there are doomed and flawed “heroes”, oppressed masses, an Imperium that’s already dead but just doesn’t know it, but there’s also also a lot of genuine human warmth, interactions with Xenos and Chaos that go beyond simple “kill it with fire”, and corners of the universe that are beautiful, no matter how rotten the people that live there. I think your point about the occasional leavening of the grimdark with moments of uplift or beauty matches well what I experience in these books.

And yes I do sometimes feel odd making content that runs counter to the central themes of the 40K universe. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything incorrect specifically; it’s part of why I don’t build to play, I just like to write weird stuff, design weird stuff and then build it. Games Workshop kits are basically smaller scale boxes of lego parts. But it’s fun, and if I can steal from you again: it’s something that appeals to me personally.

Thanks again for taking time to get in touch.

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