In the books and other kinds of “fluff” there are a number of important women and people with ethnic identity in the Warhammer 40k universe. However, Games Workshop’s model line for 40k is a distinctly white male affair. There are a handful of companies looking to bridge the gender gap, if not the ethnic one. Unfortunately, though whenever a company attempts to diversify 40k. We get an idea of why GW is in no rush to do this on their own.
I can’t claim to know why Games Workshop has white washed and defeminized the future, but I can venture a few reasonable guesses. Most likely, the real reasons are a combination of these factors and probably more that I couldn’t even guess. The culprits:
Unconscious Bias – It is a creator’s impulse to make his creations in his image. The white males at GW are likely making models that look like they do, or at least like they want to look. It might not ever even cross their mind to sculpt African or Asian features on the models. This can become a bit a self-perpetuating thing. Subconsciously, the creators will probably identify those models more and more as fitting a certain image in their mind. This cycle can be hard to break.
Targeted Marketing – The overwhelming majority of the people who play this game are white males. Considering that a fantasy element is important to any tabletop miniature game, it seems logical to make models that reflect your consumers.
Consumer Bias – Perhaps GW is just following the profits. If the few female models they have done aren’t selling well, they could justify not making more because they don’t believe there is a demand for the product. (Of course, they might not sell well because they are fugly.)
More Trouble than It Is Worth – This is what I believe is the strongest factor. GW might just avoid making these models because they believe they will be criticized either way. GW is very conscious of their image, if they believe that making a diverse range of models will have negative repercussions, then they may choose not to do so.
Why is it tricky? Well, many people have very specific ideas about what they want in a miniature. Particularly with female miniatures, people can be very vocal about what they believe is realistic, what is objectification, and what is grimdark. These groups of people want very different styles of female miniatures, or even none at all. All the female minatures that I’ve seen have received some criticism. Let me classify the general complaints I have heard:
The He-man Woman Haters – Spanky and Alfalfa have nothing on these gamers. They don’t believe women should be doing anything but making babies. Maybe, just maybe, one could be pilot or some kind of tech. There is no way though, that they think that over 38,000 years in the future a woman will be on the battlefield. They’ll all be knitting scarves for the menfolk or something. This faction will be angry with GW for selling out and letting little plastic women into their little plastic man club.
The Prudes – The primary concern for these people is that the chastity of the little plastic models stays intact. Women who are not properly covered up cannot be taken seriously or will tempt the fragile minds playing the game into treating real women poorly. To be fair, there is a point where things can go a little too far into cheesecake land. It is a fine line between making an identifiably female 28mm miniature and sexualizing the plastic. This group believes the risk of a sexy 28mm miniature is too great to go near that line.
The Realists – This is really a subset of the first two groups. These people are quick to point out that today’s baggy uniforms and massive body armor quickly cover up the female form. Therefore to represent women 38,000 years in the future, you just need some female heads. Hell, they should keep their helmets on, so really you can just say that the models are female and call it a day. Something lost on these people is that modern militaries tend to be run by the He-Man Woman Haters, who really don’t want women identifiable in today’s military anyway. Partially because it ruins the aesthetic and partially because femininity is synonymous in their minds with weakness.
The Grimdark Bouncers – The complaint of this group is that a model is not grimdark enough. If you aren’t Grimdark you’ve got no place in their game. Subjective in the extreme, this line of thinking seeks to keep out the models that seem too pretty for the game. I tend to think of these people as realists, prudes, or woman haters in denial.
That’s a Man, Baby! – This group, which is where I fall, wants the model to be identifiably female. Perhaps even at the cost of some realism or objectification. Otherwise, what is the point? I do realize that boob armor is not practical, but it does help me to tell that they are female. Give me at least some sense of feminine curves please. No, I don’t want to “pretend” that Cadian is a woman.
Bringing Sexy Back (in plastic anyway) -There is also the faction that wants sexy plastic miniatures. This is a fantasy after all, and Games Workshop has set a precedent for inappropriate (beefcake Catachans) military attire. They have also shown they are OK with making their armor a little overly anatomical. Personally, I feel my friends and family find the hobby creepy enough without adding scantilly clad “sexy” soldiers to the mix.
Let’s take a look at the classics, shall we. Here are some of GW’s female 40k models (all these pictures are from the Games Workshop site):
Dreamforge’s upcoming Panzerjaegers
Raging Heroes Toughest Girls of the Galaxy
Raging Heroes New Kickstarter
Just the heads from Statuesque Miniatures
None of these models are going to please everybody. A few might not please anybody, but overall I favor the Raging Heroes Troops (the special charaters are a lot further down the cheesecake scale). There is some exageration of sexual characteristics, such as the ridiculous high heels or the boob shaped body armor. I’m willing to give these a pass because they help to make the models identifiably female.
Games Workshop has some desicions to make here. They aren’t going to please everybody, and whomever they don’t satisfy will object loudly. There is even the posiblity that the non-gamer media will get sucked in and make a fuss, as happened with Kingdom Death. The Toughest Girls of the Galaxy raked in almost $700,000, and the current Raging Heroes kickstarter will probably come close to a million before it’s over. That’s a serious pile of money that Games Workshop has left on the table. I can only assume that they have a plan. Perhaps they will get around to making some ethnic options as well. Until then, the far future will largely stay the provence of the white male.
With body scan technology and 3D printing, the best uniform for the physically active soldier of the future will likely be some kind of skintight ballistic fabric similar in design to what winter athletes wear, but let’s not let something like practicality ruin the argument about what the soldiers of the future would really look like.