Some Warhammer 40,000 players think the game’s fascist Imperium of Man faction is awesome, and actually has a few good ideas. It does not. To clarify this point—which more than one Warhammer 40K fan appears to have missed—maker Games Workshop put out a statement saying that you do not, under any circumstances, “gotta hand it to them.”
“There are no goodies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe,” Games Workshop wrote on its website today. “None. Especially not the Imperium of Man...We believe in and support a community united by shared values of mutual kindness and respect. Our fantasy settings are grim and dark, but that is not a reflection of who we are or how we feel the real world should be.”
The statement comes just a couple weeks after controversy broke out when a player wore Nazi symbols to an unofficial tournament in Spain and the organizers apparently didn’t throw him out, despite complaints from other players.
If you’re unfamiliar with Warhammer 40K, it’s a war game where futuristic armies of humans, mutants, demons and aliens duke it out on elaborate tabletop battlefields. It’s dark medieval fantasy with a touch of hyper futuristic cyberpunk for good measure. There are spaceships shaped like giant cathedrals. You’ve probably seen people playing it at your local comic book store from time to time.
Most fans get that Warhammer 40K is not real, and if it were, life in its universe would be exceedingly nasty, brutish, and short. But some of its aesthetic and lore have been co-opted by the alt-right, white supremacists, and other crypto-fascist groups. They think the Imperium of Man—a feudalistic galactic empire modeled after Rome, full of enslaved races, and ruled by a 10,000 year-old psychic kept alive by cyborg implants called the Emperor of Mankind—is a model on which to base their politics. During the 2016 presidential election it became the basis for the now famous internet meme: God Emperor Trump.
This all adds up to why Games Workshop had to take a break from its world building today, to make Warhammer 40K’s subtext text:
Like so many aspects of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man is satirical.
For clarity: satire is the use of humour, irony, or exaggeration, displaying people’s vices or a system’s flaws for scorn, derision, and ridicule. Something doesn’t have to be wacky or laugh-out-loud funny to be satire. The derision is in the setting’s amplification of a tyrannical, genocidal regime, turned up to 11. The Imperium is not an aspirational state, outside of the in-universe perspectives of those who are slaves to its systems. It’s a monstrous civilisation, and its monstrousness is plain for all to see.
But apparently not plainly enough. Games Workshop reiterated its stance against hate groups and others seeking to co-opt its creative work, including banning individuals wearing hate symbols at Warhammer-adjacent events.
“If you come to a Games Workshop event or store and behave to the contrary, including wearing the symbols of real-world hate groups, you will be asked to leave. We won’t let you participate,” the company wrote. “We don’t want your money. We don’t want you in the Warhammer community.”
It’s nice to have a corporate statement that doesn’t mince words for once.
Update: 11/19/21, 1:07 p.m. ET: Added context from a recent event revolving around a player bringing Nazi symbols to a Warhammer tournament event.