The tickling tentacles of the woke cult seems to slither everywhere these days. They are even prodding for orifices to exploit in the rather obscure and intensely nerdy hobby of tabletop wargaming. Their standard complaints, reused across innumerable attacks on more mainstream pop culture and commercial art such as movies and comics, also now comes up in forums and social media related to the subject of wargaming. Over and over some bitter drone will cry about the lack of “female representation” in some IP franchise like Warhammer 40k.
So is there a case and does it even matter? Let us work it out and be done with it.
Even before we try to establish the parameters for some dreary quota system for the representation of the various “intersectional” identities in a given fictional universe like that of Warhammer 40k, we should really ask why is “representation” even an issue for anyone in a fantasy wargame.
Warhammer 40k is a universe full of aliens, cyborgs and robots, all of which are playable factions. Some of the aliens are a little too anthropomorphic to be sure, a legacy from them being ported from a fairly standard fantasy setting. The eldar, for example, are space elves essentially, hardly different physiologically than the elves of Tolkien or Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
I might have preferred that the eldar were rendered less human looking so to be more realistic but what is done is done and it would probably be too big of a ret-con to change that now.
What of the less human-like factions though? The tyranids, necrons and orks? If representation is some critical need then why does anyone play these factions? So alien that they are.
I happen to collect and paint orks, but it is most assuredly not because I need them to represent me on the tabletop. That concern is really preposterous. It is a fantasy game, if anything it exists so that one can take a break from narcissistic self-regard and be something else for a change!
Really this is true of all fantasy fiction. Who feels represented by Superman, a bloke who can shamelessly fly around in his lycra underwear zapping laser beams out of his eyes? Superman is popular because he is different from us not because he is the same.
Let us extend the representation logic to other wargames, say historical wargames. It is a fact that historically soldiering is primarily a chore for men to do, like changing tires and reaching for things off the top shelf. Oh I am sure there is the odd exception but most militaries across the world, throughout history have been virtually 100% male. So what should the feminist wannabe wargamer do here?
Should he or she never play historical wargames because the poor proles being herded into the machine gun fire do not have tits? Or insist, contrary to the spirit of historical wargaming where historical accuracy is valued, that half of the models for Napoleon’s Grande Armée be recast with a nice pair of jugs?
Or how about just enjoying the game as it is like a normal person?
Oh they will shout back “straight white male!”. They will say that I am already represented on the tabletop. Right, but I am not French and neither am I an Ork. If I take command of a miniature horde of Russian cavalry in recreating the Battle of Borodino I am not silently sobbing inside that the horses do not represent me because I do not eat hay or that my inability to speak Russian is not represented.
Representation is not the point of gaming, it is not parliament.
If we just pretend for a moment that female representation is something we should actually agonise over in Warhammer 40k, then we may cast an eye over what already exists and see if that is not sufficient.
One might point out to the wokies that some factions in Warhammer 40k could already be even more than half female but you would never know it because as aliens they do not display their gender in the same way humans do. No big hips, no boobs.
The tau you see on the battlefield could well be 50% or even 100% female. But they are not human so they do not have those uniquely human female traits like boobs and big hips. Same goes for the tyranids. If a tyranid was female do you think you could tell?
Orks and necrons are asexual. The former reproduce from spores shed on death. The necrons, I gather, are alien souls trapped in robot bodies, presumably made in factories. So you want to put human tits on that? It makes no sense.
One can point all this out but they are not mollified because they want tits on it or they say females are not represented. In their bigoted view human specific femininity is universal. I suppose that explains furry porn.
So despite their cries for “diversity” they actually want to make the real diversity of the Warhammer 40k even more anthropomorphic than it already is. Human tits on everything, even aliens and robots.
It so happens that the majority of factions in Warhammer 40k are not even human and many are not even remotely human. What does human female representation even mean here?
The peculiarities of female physiology is highly species specific in real life. From a human perspective it is often hard to tell the gender of other species. Can you tell a female bear from a male bear? Would you even care to know if one was running you down?
Tits and hips are uniquely human female traits. They do not apply universally to earth life so they really should not be found on alien undead robots or alien fungi warriors or xenomorphic hive minds.
Now we will look at the human and anthropomorphic factions like the eldar. Here the more reasonable person may wonder if the wokies do not have a bit of a case here. Sure tits on orks, tau and necrons should never be a thing, but why not tits on Imperial Guard or Sisters of Battle? They are human, and if they are human, then human tits fit.
Well of course the Sisters of Battle are all female and fully equipped with tits and hips. So here 40k actually does have something for the wokies, but guess what? Yep, that is not enough for them. There is an entire human faction that actually delivers everything they say they want but it is not good enough for them. They say they want more.
If Warhammer 40k was a realistic setting then females would not represent even a tiny fraction of human front-line troops. Imagine an historical game like Bolt-Action but in space. Would it have Sisters of Battle equivalents? Would it have Commissar Severina Raine or Inquisitor Greyfax equivalents?
Well no, it would not. The human history of warfare is built on human biology and our particular sexual dimorphism heavily suggests human societies optimally should sacrifice the lives of males in favour of protecting females.
Hence why, almost universally, military duties falls upon, or is sought predominately by, males instead of females. Damaged or desperate societies may have to make compromises on that ideal strategy but that is hardly typical. Would that really change much in the far future of the 41st millennium? Probably not, or not by much.
It has to be said that Warhammer 40k is a fantasy game. Most sci-fi is more fantasy than science, but Warhammer 40k definitely leans a lot harder on the fantasy than most sci-fi. And so it should because that is pretty fun.
Since it is fantasy it does not need to cleave close to reality in its world building. And so there is nothing at all wrong with having an entire faction of human female warriors like the Sisters of Battle or the all female hive gang House of Escher. If I had more time and money I would happily shell out money on the Sisters.
However bearing in mind the realities of the human condition we should go into Warhammer 40k expecting near 100% of the human soldiers to be male. The fact that it is fantasy allows it to walk far away from that expectation. Since indeed it has ventured many human female warriors into the fray, but it really did not need to, we can say that actually females are over-represented in Warhammer 40k.
That is not to say we could not have even more human female warriors if any actual customers will put down money for them. I suspect that when it comes to it the wokies will not pay up for it though. They did not buy the Sisters of Battle. Who buys? Gamers like me. Gamers who cannot be brow-beaten by frothy ideologists. I might buy Sisters of Battle because they look cool or whatever but not because some killjoy wokie demanded I did.