There are at least two posts sitting in the queue waiting for a final pass before being published. They’re not going to get published for awhile.
There’s more important things right now.
Minority communities in this country – the same ones that have taken the brunt of the COVID-19 epidemic – are beset by another public health crisis. And they aren’t alone – systematic racism touches the lives of everyone who reads this blog.
So here we are. Black Lives Matter. Black Gamers Matter. And our hobby has a problem.
I’ve written about the importance of representation before – the importance of being able to find “yourself” within the hobby, official images that say “Hey, you belong here”. And how very easy it is for me, a straight white guy, to find those images. Our hobby screams “You are welcome here.” I am assumed to belong. If I walk into a store, my presence there won’t be questioned. The store staff won’t watch me a little more closely, and make sure they’re nearby when I’m taking a little too long eyeing a Land Raider box. I won’t be asked who I am buying a kit for – the assumption is I’m buying it for me.
Because I Belong Here.
We, as a hobby, have failed to make our community as welcoming as it could be to people of color. To women. To the LGBTQ community.
Some people have admittedly tried. There are progressive voices, and Games Workshop has, little by little, added better representation to their model ranges, their novel covers, their art and the way they show the game being played. And they have done it while some of their fans have alternated between kicking and screaming and making snide remarks. Those fans are loud, and easy to point to and say “Well, I’m not him” and pat ourselves on the back, feeling like we’ve done well. Telling ourselves its fine because we don’t go to that Facebook group (…for Grownup Grownups), or don’t watch that YouTube channel.
But there’s something good, decent people do all the time, and it’s something we need to stop doing. And it’s one simple phrase:
“Let’s keep politics out of the hobby”
It’s Always Political
The inherent problem with this statement is that it is, itself, a political statement. Saying you want to keep politics out of the hobby, or that you don’t want to get political, is inherently saying that for you, political things are optional. You can opt out. You can engage when you want, and disengage on your terms when you don’t want. Minorities in this hobby don’t get to opt out – in this hobby, or in life beyond it. When your right to exist in a space is parsed as political (see: any use of the word “forced diversity”), when people are scouring the game’s lore to see if there’s support for someone like you existing in the setting, or when a member of the Games Workshop studio is making a joke specifically about you (warning: longish video you really should watch) because of the color of your skin, you don’t get to say “I don’t want to get political.”
It is only the politically powerful, those who are safe in the status quo, who get to opt out.
And this includes me. When, at Warzone Atlanta 2016 someone thought putting a MAGA hat on a Ta’unar Supremacy Suit was the height of comedy, I could roll my eyes and go back to getting tabled. Because I have that privilege. Because I belong. Because I can say nothing and still feel welcome. Because it’s assumed I’m in on the joke, rather than the target of it.
I should have said something. I didn’t. That’s on me.
The Powerful Define Political
The second problem with this sentence is that “I don’t want to get political” implies that there is a clear, objective definition of what “political” means. Things don’t come cleanly labeled that way – and what often ends up happening is that what the powerful want to talk about isn’t political, while what more vulnerable sections of our communities want to talk about is. Whether Games Workshop is doing enough to welcome minorities, or women, or gender nonconforming people into the hobby? Political. Whether Games Workshop is doing enough to keep me in the hobby? Well that’s just good marketing.
“It’s fine the way it is” is a political statement that’s defined not to be one, so that we can safely, and comfortably, talk about how we don’t want to talk about politics in the hobby.
A hobby, by the way, centered around satire of a fascist, xenophobic dystopia, set up as simultaneously horrible and necessary in an unkind universe. Where undeniably repressive forces are often centered – and often uncritically – as the heroes of the story.
This is exactly like saying you don’t want to talk about politics in your RoboCop fandom. Which is something I’m sure people say. Those people are idiots.
And there are groups that have already made this political. Who dig in their heels about any hint of representation, who dismiss the desire to see a female Guardswoman model as the work of SJWs. Saying you don’t want to get political shields them, prioritizing their ability to continue to speak over the ability of those they’re hurting.
A Festering Wound Eventually Goes Septic
What does all of this have to do with the protests going on all over the U.S.?
If you ignore a wound, eventually there’s a risk it will go septic. It will reach the blood, spread to the rest of the body, and what could have been dealt with is now widespread.
We’re there. Prominent members of our community (…”but his lore videos…”) have appeared on screen with Richard Spencer. Warhammer iconography has appeared in political art, shorn of any notion that dystopia means “bad”. That poses the Imperium as something to be emulated – as aspirational. Alt-right political commentators who have the Aquila in their background.
Fascism is a disease. Repression is a disease. And if you ignore them, they go septic.
We are hardly alone in being complicit in this. The internet is rife with communities who tolerated “ironic” racism, who awkwardly tried to steer the subject away because they didn’t want to get political. Who let it exist, and didn’t fight it, because this wasn’t the right place. But we are complicit in this, as a community. We provide a shield, a safe space to shelter these kinds of things, where they can securely talk about how they don’t want to get political, they want to talk about lore that conveniently lionizes their politics. Where we’d much rather get back to talking about the merits of inks as airbrush filters, or a new supplement, because most of us are safe.
Most of us.
And the ones who aren’t?
We’ve left them in the cold the moment we say we don’t want to get political.
What Do I Want?
I want you to say it. Whoever you are in the community. The organizer of a local campaign. Someone who just has to push back against some “jokes”. Someone with a blog, or a YouTube channel, or a podcast audience.
Black Lives Matter.
That you see them. That you see that we’ve built a system that has racism laid into its very foundations. That this hobby might not be the same refuge for them that it is for you. That nowhere is a refuge for them.
And that you’re willing to fight alongside them to change it.
And I want you to say that to the other groups our hobby excludes. To women and the LGBTQ community. To the disabled.
That you’re welcome in this hobby. That you belong here. And that I’ll fight to make sure that stays true. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when it means getting political. That you won’t enjoy the idea that this hobby is a clean “escape” until it applies to them as well.
And I want you to stop saying this hobby is welcoming to everyone. This hobby shouldn’t be welcome to everyone. That there are elements of our community that need to get. the fuck. out.
This is normally where I ask you if you enjoyed reading this, and if you did to consider joining my Patreon.
Don’t do that.
Donate to a bail fund. Or the ACLU. Or a local aid organization.
If you forward the receipt to me, I’ll match the first $250 with donations of my own.