How Warhammer 40k missed the mark on Political Satire

Michael Chisholm
Apr 14, 2017 · 5 min read

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.

Warhammer 40,000 (or just 40k for short) is a table top miniature war game set in the far future, or as the name suggests, in the year 40,000. The game is played with figures and the players take turns shooting at each other and arguing over which aliens are cooler (or being that one guy who just shouts generic human words like “heresy” and “purge”). The game itself is fun, the models look cool, but the lore and universe around it is so much more interesting.

In this far future mankind has taken to the stars in search of what is out there, and they found what was out there. It turns out the galaxy is full of aliens that want to kill us, daemons that want to either take our soul or kill us, and alien demons that want to kill us. So in short everything wants to kill us. During this time humanity expands throughout the galaxy, and things go ok for a while. Then the aliens try to kill us, and the demons try to kill us, and the big human conglomerate falls apart into little enclaves of humanity in deep, dark, scary space. This all changes when one man is born. He is the emperor of mankind, and he goes out with 7 foot tall super engineered humans and reconquers all of the little human enclaves from the various hostile aliens, or demons, or humans that disagree with him in any way shape or form. After he took back all of mankind under his wing, one of his disciples, or I mean sons, betrayed him and killed our lord and savior, I mean the god-emperor of mankind. Flash into the present day, or well the time the game takes place in; it has been ten thousand years since then and the empire goes on. The strong armies of mankind keep back the ever present tide of aliens. Well mostly.

Over the course of the 2016 election I kept seeing pictures like this one, where Donald trump was being turned into the emperor of mankind. I thought it was funny, until I realized that it was his own supporters doing this. This got me confused. I kept asking myself why would people use this, a terrible example of how bad fascism (well in the Warhammer 40k universe everything is terrible) makes things, for their candidate. There I found the issue. The Imperium is a hilariously terrible place to live. It is talked about over and over again in the game, in the books about the game, and really in all media portraying Warhammer 40k. But that is not the part that is seen by these people. They only see the giant space marines wielding chainswords (yes they have chainswords, and yes they are awesome), killing aliens, and shouting about purging anyone who is different. On the surface the Space Marines seem like humanities heroes. The fight against all the enemies of the imperium to keep everyone safe. Except for when they think some people are not worshiping the emperor enough, and they wipe out the whole planet. But the messages that are taken away from this universe are not the ones we are meant to see.

In this universe there are no good guys. Everyone is almost equally terrible, that’s the point. But when people play these games, they want heroes to root for. So the cover up the bad parts of the familiar humans, and take away the surface messages. They ignore things like the government has unrestricted power, the citizens next to no rights, military service is near-universal and compulsory, and multiple branches of government and military have no accountability. The state-sponsored religion is mandatory and repressive, and the government is built around xenophobia both figuratively and literally (hatred of any human outside accepted norms is written into state policy, as is hatred of aliens). To top it all off the god-emperor sits passive in his golden throne, being kept alive so that his empire could live on, but his tortured soul has to watch as his ideas were perverted into something he never wanted. While he preached an end to religion, and the advancement of science, he became the religion that his empire worshiped. While he was all for progressing science, it became heretical to use anything that was not already invented by the time he died. All our glorious emperor can do is sit in his golden throne, and watch as his empire slowly crumbles from within and without. Unfortunately it is things like xenophobia or sexism(yes there are no women in this army, however there is one of only women, but the surface messages are not better) that end up being embraced, as the true messages are passed over.

On the site TradYouth, a site about being traditionalists in the modern era, I found an article that, at first, I thought was entirely satirical. The article talks about how the imperium of mankind is a great model to look for in our modern lives.

“The Imperium does not negotiate and does not compromise its religious or its social values to those who wish to destroy it. In the age of outright heresy being found in most mainstream churches, it is no wonder why many young people see the expression Imperial Cult as being a desirable vision for how the religious body of the Christian Faith should act.”

I found this quote to be deeply disturbing on just about every level. Not only do they find the message of fanaticism and xenophobia that are supposed to be satire, but those values are openly embraced here. It is no small wonder that people who supported trump see these ideals in the Warhammer 40k universe. With trump shouting messages of building a wall to keep out the aliens, or not letting Muslims into our country, we see how these messages are getting spread, and people are picking up on all of the ideas that the game was originally trying to parody. Now I am not trying to say that these ideas came from this game, however I do find it rather disturbing how often images from this game I love are used in serious association with the ideals. I just hope that in the future the games goes to put more emphasis on how terrible everything about it is, and maybe show people that this really is not what we want our government to turn into.

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