An open letter to Games Workshop

Subject: An open letter to Games Workshop
Date: 15 Jan 2018

Dear Games Workshop,

I picked up my first Warhammer models in 2004, not by choice, but because my boyfriend at the time wanted to play and wanted my help to paint his new Bretonnia army. I liked painting the Pegasus Knights, but my involvement with the game started and ended there, though not necessarily by choice. The problem was that whenever I walked by the store, fascinated by the models and trying to pick an army for myself, I was either flatly ignored or asked if I was looking for a present for someone. I was young and less assured of my place in the "geek tribe" and the message employees and patrons of the store gave out was loud and clear, this wasn’t a game for girls.

Years later I met my partner was reintroduced to Games Workshop through his love of the Warhammer 40k universe. I remembered the fantasy version of the game from years earlier and was interested to learn more. Several times I went to the store by myself to pick up presents for him, and to explore the current model range for myself. Every time I was greeted as if I was an interloper, a strange girl who obviously couldn’t have any interest of her own, and must only be shopping for someone else. When I relayed this to my partner he tried to encourage me to give it a shot, even buying me my first kit after I had expressed how much I enjoyed the look of one of the new models. When visiting the stores with him I was still ignored, and even when looking to purchase things for my own rapidly growing army, treated as if I was not part of the community but an outsider who was simply tolerated. I was viewed as the girlfriend just tagging along.

It’s been almost two years now since I started collecting, painting and playing Warhammer 40k, and the state of the community is unchanged from what I experienced over a decade ago. While my local store has wonderful employees there are happy to discuss upcoming news, theories and army compositions with me, I am still eyed with apprehension by the male customers in the store. On one occasion, when my partner and I decided to bring in our models and play on the store’s tables, I was an overt object of curiosity. Other players who approached our table would speak to my partner and not me, assuming he painted and built my army and that I was just “being a good girlfriend”. We even overheard a patron remark that it was “cute” that my partner lets me win. That was the first and last time I played at a store.

I would like to say that online the community is more open and accepting, but that would be a lie. In both the official GW Facebook groups and the unofficial Reddit and blog groups, the moment someone finds out that I am a female is the moment their attitude towards me changes. Females are often ignored, at best, or openly disdained and attacked at worst. Even if they don’t know the sex of another commentator, the community often uses slurs such as “stop whining like a girl” and “what’s wrong, PMS?”, just to mention a few often seen ones.

Looking at the range of models offered for the Warhammer 40k universe and it is quickly apparent that the problem is systemic. Of the vast model range and number of army choices, it’s clear that the grim dark future you envision is white and male. Only a handful of female presenting figures exist, and only one female army, Sisters of Battle, which haven’t had updates in nearly two decades and exist almost entirely in metal. The only somewhat female non-human army, Slaanesh demons, are slowly being killed off by GW with the newest codex release for demons removing three options for an army with too few options already.

I have seen endless essays, blog posts, Reddit discussions, letters in White Dwarf and posts on the official Facebook pages from other players frustrated with both the lack of representation from non-white males in the game and the lack of acceptable response from you on the issue. The standard replies to calls for more female representation fall into one of three categories: process, demand or lore.

The process reply involves a condescending response about how of course there should be more female representation, and they will definitely be working on it in the future but sadly it takes 2-3 years to see what is being worked on now appear on store shelves. While this may be a quasi-truthful response based on actual production times, why is female representation something that is only being discussed now? If it was something you have been thinking about for awhile we should have seen an increase in female representation by now.

The demand reply is generally my favourite for being without a doubt the most disheartening one. We don’t make new models of that army because the demand isn’t there for it. This is the reply most often seen in response to calls from both men and women for new Sisters of Battle figures. How can you accurately measure demand for something that has had no resources put into it for almost two decades? Of course sales of a heavy outdated and expensive line are going to be low. Creation of more figures that represent females can also bring more females into the community. It’s a chicken and egg scenario and it seems female representation is always going to be the loser.

The lore reply is more obvious in non-official channels, only popping up occasionally on official ones. This reply involves a long rambling explanation of how in the grim dark of the future there can’t be female models of a specific army because of one lore reason or another. For instance, Space Marines can’t have females because Space Marines are only male in the lore because of their creation from gene-seed of a specific primarch. Coincidentally this is the same explanation used for why there aren’t other races in the space marine army. It also is the reply that contradicts your own written universe where there are females represented in many stories, in a variety of different roles.

Whatever the true explanation is for the lack of female representation in the Warhammer 40k universe, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Not three years from now, but now. I love the hobby, but I don’t like the community. The toxic atmosphere in the community is a result of the public face of Games Workshop. The response to calls for female representation only fuels those who would like to keep the hobby white male because they are taking their cue from the company. If the company ignores female representation and explains away their decisions not to increase, it sends the message that it is something that is important to the hobby as a whole and that in turn increases the pushback on females entering the game.

So what’s the way forward? Assuming that you even want to address this issue, which I am not convinced you do, you need to start online. The official community pages need to come down hard on commenters who are sexist and racist. There needs to be more representation of females among your publicly visible staff, this includes your Twitch stream and YouTube channel content. There needs to be education at the store level about equal treatment of people who walk through the door, regardless of sex. There needs to be a push for female representation in White Dwarf articles, especially in the battle reports. There needs to be so much more than what is happening now.

In the last 12 months, GW has seen their shares rise more than 250 percent, it’s time to pay back your growing community by doing a better job at representing all of them.

Sincerely,

A female, a hobbyist and a disciple of Slaanesh

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