Now, I'm all for the freedom of expression, don't want to be referred to as the thought police, and am not a prude by any means of the definition - but lets hold on here for a moment. We're talking about a hobby that, while about war, is supposed to be about fun and also played by children. Is it so much to expect that maybe certain themes aren't appropriate? When hitting up the local hobby shop, tournament circuit or searching related art online, it shouldn't be too much of an expectation to think we won't run into some sort of offensive material.
I'm not going to link to the piece of art in question that sparked me wanting to write about this. I'll briefly say that it was an _incredibly_ well painted scene from an artist who's obviously highly skilled and must have put weeks if not months into the project and it's being highly received. The scene is of a group of Imperials raping a half-naked female Eldar. Leering soldiers, pants being unbuckled, even a sergeant staring off coldly. And he's selling it, cause a miniature rape scene makes a great conversation starter and would look good on the mantelpiece... I guess. Before you go defending him, another scene he's painted is an Imperial last stand against Chaos and the only female officer just happens to be obviously bra-less with a see-through white top and nipples actually green-stuffed on - this, in a scene where there isn't any context for it, says a little more about how the artist views women. Yes, I get it, this is probably the strongest depiction of the horribleness of war I've seen in a miniature diorama, but I really didn't need to see it and I'm sure there's plenty of soldiers out there who wouldn't appreciate this stereotype being perpetuated. (Next you'll tell me that when, all those years ago, eBaum posted an unedited video of a deck crewman getting sucked through an airplane's jet engine, it was an informative way of letting us know the importance of airplane safety)
It's safe to say that if it'll get you thrown in jail, it's going to offend somebody.
That's a really broad statement - there might not be someone out there offended by depiction of jay-walking, simple things like robbery could offend. Consider this - it's not necessarily the action, so much as the events surrounding the action that can offend people. Perhaps a loved one was killed crossing the street or being mugged. Still, events like this have a low chance of offending unless someone's had their lives touched some how.
Certain themes are more universally offensive such as those that involve rape, genocide, kids and so on. ("But this is a military game, genocide is unavoidable." - there's a difference in imagery between a battlefield scene and a village being slaughtered) While you might be able to justify it to yourself, recognize that you'll be pissing off a lot of people. These are the troubles that shock jocks and comedians have had to deal with for a long time now, and I think the general consensus is to draw a line at a certain level of decency. The swastika is now an icon of evil and while it's been around longer than Hitler and the Nazis, that doesn't make it acceptable to emblazon your troops in it - there's a reason that Games Workshop actually has written rules to disallow Nazi themed armies from their events. Even Blizzard made the choice to make kids in World of Warcraft untargetable and invulnerable just to avoid the backlash they were getting over PCs killing NPC children.
Some themes aren't really avoidable - as a war game, there will be modding that occurs to add blood, wounds, loss of limb, etc. These are real consequences of war, though there's a good chance that people (such as vets or family of) who are offended by these sights, probably won't be playing realistic war games.
I, as well as many of you I'm sure, started this hobby as a kid. It's not just a factor of keeping themes away from impressionable minds (who honestly might look at the scene I described above, focus on the amazing art, and totally miss the horror it's depicting - until they try to recreate it because they think it looks "awesome" and their parent/friend/teacher has to intervene) but also keep in mind that hobbies for kids often need parental support, who might keep their child away from the LGS if it's filled with offensive material.
To expand on the topic of kids in the hobby, lets look at the video game rating system. (This is American, and different country to country)
Everyone is out, because this isn't a cartoon - there's real weapons. 10+ is also out because there's going to be blood. (at least in art or fluff)
My opinion is that most wargaming fits in at the Teen (13+) level. There's some violence and some blood, maybe a little swearing.
Mature (17+) is close, but considering most models and art (from the manufacturer) don't get too graphic. This is the area that many conversions easily slip into with strong violence, lots of blood/gore/limbs and it's not unreasonable that miniature wargamers will be exposed to these things.
Adults Only gets an 18+ rating, and while only a year off from "Mature", the description paints a much more vivid picture adding "graphic violence" - also the first mention of nudity. Safe bet this includes things like religious or racial stereotyping and biases, rape, etc.
The above ratings create a good guide for content and any project that might fall into the Adults Only category should be strongly looked at to determine if it's themes and content are necessary. Don't just consider it by yourself - ask a friend, relative or someone else in your community (gaming store, forum, blog, etc) and listen to them. (It's easy to get worked up in the moment when you get a new idea - but some ideas are bad.)
There's a reason that shock jocks and comedians are in the minority. There's a reason that most media (books, movies, video games, etc) doesn't cross that Adults Only threshold. It's because most people have recognized or learned that there is a line splitting that which is acceptable to the public (or what the public is interested in) from that which isn't.
Most wargame systems target Teens - you can pick up their rule books and see some awesome artwork, but it's not going to be covered in gore and fluff won't include people screaming expletives at one another. However, if we hobbyists were asked to limit ourselves to a Teen rating, it would certainly stifle the creative process, so a Mature rating is generally acceptable.
While House of Paincakes and their sites do target more mature audiences, they do have standards and wouldn't let content like I describe above fly. However, as someone who got into hobbying as a kid, I like how Ron of From the Warp ensures his network remains PG so that there are certain areas safe for all ages. I've said it before and I'll say it again - as a site targeting all hobby enthusiasts, I will ensure my content remains PG as well.
[previous paragraph edited for clearer language Jan 13 2011 @ 1am]