Warhammer 40K Controversy Explained: Is the Imperium Going Woke? 

warhammer 40k adeptus custodes guide next to man on phone reading warhammer tweet about custodians being female with woman gender symbols in the background
Warhammer 40K @warhammer/X SUNANTHA SRIMART/Shutterstock fizkes/Shutterstock Remix by Caterina Rose

It turns out that even in the 41st millennium, you can’t escape woke discourse. Over the past week, social media parasites and YouTubers have picked a new target for their anti-inclusion campaign — this time, the miniatures game “Warhammer.”

Using a lot of similar strategies and talking points used to attack the video game industry in the latest GamerGate, these creators have mobilized their angry audience of men this week, hopelessly floundering against a cultural shift in society.

Why? Just because some characters they thought were men turned out to be women. 

There Is Only War(Hammer) 

The world of “Warhammer 40,000″ is a dystopian nightmare full of the worst people and monsters you could imagine. Some of these future soldiers are the Adeptus Custodes (or Custodians for short). They protect the Emperor, a god-king figure who believes he can save humanity from demons, Orks, and the occasional apocalypse.

In past releases, the game described Custodians as farmed from the sons of nobles, referring to each other in masculine terms like “brother.” But on Saturday, some of the latest rulesets leaked online. The Spanish-language blog La Voz De Horus was the first to share that there was a story about a female Custodian in the leaks.

That same day, the official account of the game’s manufacturer, Games Workshop, responded to the situation on X.

“There have always been female Custodians,” the company tweeted. 

This triggered an avalanche of reactionaries who used this few-page story and tweet to fuel a narrative that the “wokes” are taking over the Warhammer franchise.

Mark Kern, an ousted game developer, has been using anti-woke activism to attack women in games. Kern created an entire thread ending with a call to “push back on the erasing of male spaces in games.”

Meanwhile, other edgy creators urged fans to cancel their Warhammer subscription service and stop buying Games Workshop products. 

As the Emporer Commands It

The lore of the Warhammer franchise is built from hundreds of books, video games, and codexes told through an unreliable narrator. Mankind’s deeds, which destroy the many Xenos (aka evil space aliens) across the galaxy, are seen as heroic because they are being told in-universe by humanity’s scholars and techno-scribes.

In summary, it’s not meant to be taken literally. Because its backbone is a miniatures game where you can build anything you can imagine. 

“You never were supposed to build silos of lore. Because the very idea of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universe was the history was so convoluted and fragmented, there was no such thing as ‘fact,’” former Games Workshop employee Nick Davis wrote on X. “Everything was supposed to contradict … That was the purpose.” 

For longtime Warhammer acolytes (I started playing over a decade ago), these sorts of changes are entirely ordinary. The original version of Warhammer 40K originally featured Space Dwarves, known as Squats. But the game discontinued and wrote them out of the lore in the late 90s. In 2022, the game returned them as the Leagues of Votann, and the company barely explained their reappearance.  

Space Marines — created by the Emperor to stomp out Xenos — were once just genetically enhanced meat shields for the Imperium. But years of action figures, video games, and cosplayers have elevated them to mascot status. Now, many regard them as the “Power Rangers of the galaxy trope,” French miniature painter CerberusXT described to Passionfruit.

Because of their commercialization, “the satire” of characters like the meat-shield space soldiers “lost a lot of its bite, leading to the people mocked by it embracing it unironically.”

CerberusXT is an LGBTQ+ painter who proudly shared his own Space Marine chapter with the color scheme of gender identity flags. An upcoming issue of White Dwarf, Games Workshop’s painting magazine, even features CerberusXT’s miniatures.

Unfortunately, creators like Kern and The Quartering used these miniatures as claims of the company’s wokeness.  

“Seeing the difference of vitriol between that change and other more wide-ranging lore changes, my personal opinion is that it’s steep in misogyny,” CerberusXT said. 

Wokehammer Isn’t Real

Warhammer has always attracted a certain type of insulated man and fascist. Mash-ups of the Emporer and Donald Trump have been popular in 4chan and other right-leaning online spaces. An Italian parade even created a giant float of the meme in 2019. 

The game’s makers originally intended the idea of a single humanitarian force pushing manifest destiny across the galaxy to be a satire, even mocking former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in multiple Games Workshop stories.

But it still attracted those who didn’t get the joke. This included a player in 2021 who wore Neo-Nazi insignias to an independently run Warhammer tournament in Talavera, Spain. In response, Games Workshop released a statement on their website that the Imperium of Man is a “satire.”

“We will never accept nor condone any form of prejudice, hatred, or abuse in our company, or in the Warhammer hobby,” the company said.

But this anti-woke crusade isn’t hurting Games Workshop’s bottom line. In the second half of 2023, they earned $250 million in revenue according to the company’s recent financial statement. A few videos or threads are not going to stop the masses from spending hundreds of dollars building and painting their dream armies.

Warhammer 40K, which came out in 1987, is still the company’s biggest franchise. The game released a new core set in June 2023. It established a “new benchmark for sales in one month” for the company, according to the statement.  

There are so many different types of players and gamers in the Warhammer community who embrace love rather than hate. It’s one of those rare experiences where you need to face someone in front of a table rather than through an online portal. It’s a connection unlike any other. 

The miniatures aren’t going woke. But like the rest of the world, the game is just becoming more inclusive.

“As with every nerd space online, it seeps into the overall stupid culture war, always brewing in the background,” CerberusX said.

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