Wargaming Tradecraft: Appropriate Themes for Hobbying


Appropriate Themes for Hobbying

The creative process can be a tricky one - but this post isn't about the path we take to get to the end result. All of us spawn our ideas from many sources and that journey in itself can be talked about to no end. What I want to discuss is the topic of determining if that final creation is appropriate or not. Most of the time, this isn't going to be an issue; sometimes we should have some more respect.

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.

Lets also not forget that this is a game directed at kids. Games Workshop got away with half naked she-demons for a long time, but has even clothed them in their most recent line of Slaanesh to a nipple-less accepted level. That doesn't stop people from creating nipples, adding their own modifications or demonic mutations with green-stuff, painting artwork on armour or vehicles, adding language or stereotypes and so on. (I can just imagine how well an Imperial army showing up styled after South Park's "Operation Human Shield" would go over at a tournament)

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.

from http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp

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]


  1. Thank you for that post.

    Recently I read Fulgrim, one of the books in the Horus Heresy series. I wanted to vomit.

  2. The thing is, as a whole the Warhammer 40K background material has gotten less mature content as time goes on (as the core market focus has shifted). Don't get me wrong, I think this isn't a bad thing with the growing number of younger gamers. And yes, rape is definitely on my taboo list of depicted subjects in any form of art.

    The problem is however that as what point do we suddenly want to present war as this bright and shiney endeavour, which it clearly is not.

    There is alot of discussion over at CMON about this particular piece, and I really like your take on it.
    I will be recommending this around my gaming group and the local clubs as a must read article (as some of the guys really need an abject lesson in mature content filtering).

    My final verdict on it? It is probably a step too far. But lets be honest with ourselves, we are trivialising war by making it a "war"game. War is not a game, and if we as wargamers want to neatly brush under the rug all the other aspects of war that come with what we are representing then we are no better that those members of the government in Oz who suggested the internet filter (look it up you will be shocked at the concept they are proposing).

  3. I have nothing to add to that you didn't cover in the article. Well done.

  4. I haven't seen the model in question, but my knee-jerk reaction to its description was "what's his next project, a diorama depicting Jews being gassed at Auschwitz?"

    I'll agree with Da Sub's point regarding the trivialization of war through wargaming. Maybe its this trivialization of war that leads people like the artist in question to feel that's its acceptable (on some level) to create something like this.

  5. Does playing with little men really connect enough with real war to trivialize it?

    A point to ponder: If miniature wargaming trivializes war, what does a scene like this, so well painted and thereby gaining praise for it, do to real rape or the portrayal of real soldiers?

  6. Weird how I am totally ok with babes with practically no clothes, but not the scenario presented.

    I don't think it has anything to do with appropriateness for GAMES specifically, though. It has more to do with- would I accept in any other situation.

    The answer is no, with the exception of something like
    "The Accused". That wasn't "pretty", though- it was as brutal as the subject.

    glorifying or profiting from these kinds of topics bothers me personally - but it's back to the respect issue I've talked about many times.

    I am probably a little more coarse than I should be with my words, but I'm paying attention -mostly. I'm still going to swear, but I'm mindful of where I do it.

  7. "Does playing with little men really connect enough with real war to trivialize it?"

    You could argue that any representation of war that falls short of the actual experience does so, to some extent or another. What is represented to many tends to stick in the popular consciousness more than what is experienced by few, so...

    This isn't handwringing or concern - part and parcel of representing an event through fictional imitation is that you're going to lose or change part of what's being represented, after all - merely an observation.

    After all, H.G. Wells said that undermining war was the point of wargaming. The full quotation's too long to reproduce here, but this might be of some interest.

  8. Hey, if you read our rules even the HoP has standards.... and the mini in question would be streng verboten

  9. @Dethtron: Sorry, wasn't meaning to suggest that you guys would accept that sort of content or direct any of that stuff towards you. I was merely pointing out that there are PG locations that are safe for all ages.

  10. I don't believe in censorship nor letting one group dictate some form of moral code. It is a very slippery slope that leads to totalitarian tendencies. Even good intentions, or maybe especially them, easily get corrupted. The way men turn to chaos in 40k is actually quite an interesting parallel to our own world.

    I know I might have offended someone, or made someone assume (probably incorrect) things about me by now. Good. It means that you were paying attention. Now it is time to start thinking :)

    I don't think children need to be protected but rather have the luxury of not being exposed to the horrors of this world. Becaus there are a lot of them out there. I also believe that one shouldn't blindly shove everything onto others. The best way to show this is by acting like a good example.

    For instance, keep your online act clean unless you know your audience well. I applaud Ron's in investment in blogging and it has made me decided that I want a nice clean blog myself. If I want to bring up more complicated subjects I do so in different forums. Imagine if Ron had posted the minis described above on this blog. Even I would have been upset and I am not sensitive.

    So you see I am actually quite tame. Look at my blog, I don't even use my extended vocabulary. Because it's the wrong forum for it.

    Wow, that turned into a long reply in rant form:) Guess I just wanted to say that leading by example is the way to go, not deep striking onto the soap box and doing your best Inquisitor impression:)

  11. I find this interesting. At least one source I found cited the death toll on Istvaan III as around 12 billion... -B-illion, with a B. Twice the population of Earth today, largely innocent civilians, including women, children, babies, all dead to biological warfare in quite the horrible manner. Not only does nobody seem to protect this or find it inappropriate, but depictions of Horus are applauded for their art, and many players jump enthusiastically into Chaos because it's cool. Tyrannids wipe out entire worlds on a regular basis, and they aren't inappropriate or unplayable either.

    So why does the depiction of a single rape cause so much distress? I think Da_Sub hits it - we trivialize the war, we gloss over it in a way which lets us not deal with it. This piece challenges us - it finds the weak spot and presents something that we can't gloss over.

    Is it disturbing? Certainly. Is it inappropriate? Tougher question, and largely personal - for me, it's a challenging piece that doesn't show so much as to be M rated, so I'm inclined to consider it as art. I think a far more interesting question for each individual to consider is why they're fine with the slaughter of billions of innocents - and even enthusiastically take up the role of the slaughterers - but a single rape is beyond the pale.

  12. An interesting post , but also slightly misrepresented.

    It's not a rape scene "in-action" so to speak.
    There is nothing physically happening.

    It's all hinted at , but there's nothing graphic about it.

    If such a sense was in a film , it would easily make a 12 rating. The most "Adult" theme actually shown is the topless eldar.

    I just feel you didn't represent the model accurately.
    When you said it was a rape-scene , i was expecting something violent , X-rated and dirty.

    While it hints that all of the above might soon take place, it shows none of it.

    War is [of course in my opinion] trivialized.
    we play it as a game , on computers , read it in books , and see it in pictures.

    As Buhallin said , GW's own books are very graphic when it comes to such situations.
    [I recall flesh melting from bones in that particular book.]

    These books are sold on the same self as the plastic models and paints.

    Now i'm not saying GW should be selling rape. [Don't ask me how you do that.]
    But it is selling war. War that is glorified in all possible ways.

    On the mention of the Swastika and the Nazis.
    Perhaps it's time to move on from this.
    I'm not saying we forget the bad things that happened , millions died.
    The Germans killed the Jews , the Russians killed other Russians , We English invented concentration camps in Africa , the Christians butchered Muslims during the crusades.

    But does that mean we can't talk about them anymore , and it all must become taboo ?
    The trick is to not repeat the actions of the past [imo] , and that can't be done by hiding from it.

    One last point. [I hope this didn't sound to ranty , it's not meant to be.]
    The diorama is just that.
    It's to sit in a cabinet and show off the artists level of skill at the hobby.

    It's not a table top model , it's not something to be showing the new kids in the store.

    It's the GW modelers' version of a military photographers work.

    "This is what happens in war , and i was here to show you it"

  13. @Anonymous who isn't willing to sign a name to a post supporting depiction of rape:
    It is a rape scene. Ask any female, and I'm sure they'd agree that "rape" doesn't start at penetration.

    Age 12? I seriously doubt you'd see Bugs Bunny and friends helping Pepe Le Peau out by gleefully surrounding and stripping that cat he's always chasing.

  14. @ Dave G _ Nplusplus

    - Sorry , no blog , so i didn't add name.
    But happy to say i am Ed.

    I never said it wasn't a rape scene , that's not in doubt.
    I said "in action".
    There is nothing physically happening.

    Bugs bunny cartoons are U or PG films , so of course nothing like that would happen in them.
    I recall that spider-man [1] was a 12 , that had stabbings and violence in it.

    So i stand , as the picture is at current , it's a 12 , however , if it was modeled " A few minutes later" we get into the realm of 15 ratings.
    [Sharpe [15] has rape an violence , while Band Of Brothers & Saving Private Ryan [Both also 15's] have extreme violence.]

    But i'll also repeat , it's not a gaming piece , so it shouldn't be open to viewing of those unsuitable for it.
    [However , being posted on the Internet , that's somewhat in question.]

    If such a level of work was done on something used during games , id' have more of an issue with it.

    - Ed.

  15. For someone who makes the claim that he is all for freedom of expression, your post doesn't seem to back it up very much. It sounds more like "All for freedom of expression except in cases where there's things I don't like," when it talks about notions of appropriateness or certain levels of decency. When you say having the expectation of not seeing offensive material, what I get from that is "People should not create offensive art" rather than something like "Websites should implement stronger content control." The former places responsibility on artists to censor themselves, while the latter relies on venues to decide what they wish to show, an act which is certainly already within their rights.

    There also seems to be a misrepresentation of the artist. Of Nakatan's nine works on the site, you refer only to two of them, and neglect to mention that the portrayal in Alien Contact isn't designed to be erotic or sensual, but rather more like of Titian's Rape of Lucretia or Poussin's Rape of the Sabine Women. Seeing either of those in a museum would be perfectly acceptable for anyone of any age. In fact, we would applaud them for their cultural appreciation. The venue seems appropriate, as it hosts many dioramas, and so it seems like an appropriate place for Alien Contact. The feelings of revulsion the piece evokes are as valid an expression as the feelings of good spirits one finds when looking at julian.casses’ War for Macragge, which suggests the imminent slaughter of a group of marines by slavering hungry aliens.

    Your post talks about the swastika being a symbol of evil regardless of what it was before, but if such a thing ought not to be displayed, how could it ever be reclaimed? How could public opinion possibly be swayed to accept it again if artists are told they ought not to include it. Your appeal to public opinion doesn't seem to wash, as public opinion has banned all manner of things. Works of literature include the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Candide, Lolita, The Lorax, and Wealth of Nations. Goya's La Maja Desnuda and Mendelssohn's violin concerto have both been banned at times for being degenerate or lewd. Many of these things have since been unbanned, and are even the subject of avid study.

    But getting away from art criticism, should this be acceptable in the hobby? The only reasonable answer seems to be that it is only marginally related to Warhammer 40k as a hobby. It's a diorama, not a gaming piece, and does not even serve as a sort of representation of the mechanics (unlike the loss of limbs to scything claws or somesuch), unless there's something in the newer codices I've missed. It seems as though someone has taken some things from a hobby and conceptual context which you like, and done something you don't like with them, revealing an aspect of the grim, dark future of the 41st millennium which you would rather have glossed over.

    I could talk more about the historical context of rating systems or your reliance on the public/private distinction without exploring or providing a justification for it, but this comment is already far too long. I would find your argument more convincing if you took the time to try and explain why Alien Contact is different from works in a similar vein, and why public opinion ought to be the benchmark for what is appropriate.


Please keep all comments civil and language appropriate for a child-safe environment.