Think of the Children! A response to Warhammer Adventures and the ensuing panic

 

So, as usual, it feels like I’m late in responding to an issue that hundreds of others have already given their two cents on. Life, and horrible writer’s block, prevail again it seems. Anyway, for anyone who hasn’t noticed the latest “controversy” in the world of Warhammer 40,000, Games Workshop has recently unveiled Warhammer Adventures, a pair of book series aimed at “boys and girls aged 8-12,” with what looks like a series each for Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar.

The 40k book, Attack of the Necron,  focuses on three children (a “ganger,” an “explorer” and a “Martian”) going off on an adventure together, while the AoS story, City of Lifestone, focuses on an escaped slave, a young clockmaker (I…think) and a young mage…also off on an adventure. In the latter half, it’s pretty standard high fantasy fare. In the case of the former story…I will admit, all I could do was sit back and laugh at some of the character descriptions. The “ganger” child is in fact a deserter from the Imperial Guard, and the “explorer” girl, despite being the child of a Rogue Trader, is also apparently an avowed pacifist. In other words, two characters that really couldn’t survive for long in the 40kverse.

But after my laughter calmed down, I looked and saw the internet collectively losing its minds over these books. I saw some people screaming that GW was trying to indoctrinate kids, that they were introducing them into a universe that is waaaaaay too violent for them to be ready for. Others have been reacting with laughter, wondering aloud how one is going to make a universe full of blood, filth, mass genocide, religious intolerance, and Slaanesh and all things Slaaneshi, kid-friendly. Others still have been terrified that it will be made kid-friendly, that the entire universe is going to be effectively neutered, that a lot of the violence will be downgraded to make it more kid-compatible. And of course, this being the internet, naturally there have also been the usual people declaring this to be all part of the nefarious SJW agenda, because what else could it be?

I’m going to say now: some of the concern I am seeing over this new book line is not unwarranted or unreasonable.  Because of this, as much as I believe in encouraging kids to read, and getting them involved in the hobby, I understand why some people are reticent to do so with Warhammer 40,000. With other IPs such as Star Wars, the violence is fairly diluted, limited to a lot of colourful explosions and fantastic action. But 40k not only depicts grim, horrible violence, it at times revels in it– after all, the “protagonists” of the setting are a xenocidal theocracy engaged in a constant state of total war with everyone and everything, a place where personal freedoms are nil and the lives of its citizens are nasty, brutish and short. The literary arm of 40k has, for the most part, almost always been aimed at adults, with most of the novels (and particularly the more noteworthy titles like the Horus Heresy series) not only diving headfirst into the violence, but also dealing with meaty political/social/religious issues and complex (or sometimes just attempts at complex) character development that might be lost on a reader from the 8-12 age group.

At the same time, however, I firmly believe that kids should be encouraged to read as early as possible, that their ability to handle difficult subjects should be gradually challenged to help prepare them for eventual adulthood, and that literacy, regardless of what form it takes, is something to be promoted. How ready children are for certain subject matter, however, I think varies, depending on the child, on their level of development/education, and most of all, what their parents think. I, for one, were I dad, would hesitate to give my child something from the Horus Heresy series to read, though I might not have these reservations with the Felix and Gotrek series, or, if I thought they were ready for them, maybe the Ciaphas Cain or Gaunt’s Ghosts novels.

In looking through the internet for various thoughts and responses to this new novel line, I found one YouTuber who has had, in my opinion, the most reasonable response to Warhammer Adventures so far. Long story short, he doesn’t think it’s as terrible as the internet is making it out to be. He even cites a Twitter post from Attack of the Necron author Cavan Scott, who, in his Twitter feed, has admitted that he is trying to balance kid-friendly content with the dark themes of 40k– that, even in a kid’s novel, he is trying to do the setting justice.

My own thoughts: a lot of the flak these books are getting are either that you’ll end up introducing kids to the sheer brutality of 40k at too early an age, or, on the flip side, that you’ll be neutering the violence of the universe to make it more kid friendly. I wish to point out that a lot of kids’ literature dives right into mature and often violent themes already, but handles it in a fairly measured, tasteful manner. Harry Potter comes to mind, as does His Dark Materials, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Redwall…hell, even Saturday morning cartoons, past and present, can be surprisingly adult. Batman: The Animated Series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Star Wars: Clone Wars and Rebels all come to mind as shows that are either secretly made for the adults, or are giving their kid audiences a lot more credit than their parents.

In all of the above examples I’ve named, themes of war, oppression, violence, loss, heartbreak, religious/racial intolerance and even politics are all addressed in a surprisingly mature way, but not gratuitously so. They soften the blow of a lot of these topics, but at the same time, not to the degree that they end up treating their readers/audiences like idiots. Personally, I don’t think GW will be so dumb as to, say, throw horrendous decapitations or mutilations into the book, or introduce them to Slaanesh/the Dark Eldar. If they play their cards right, they will hopefully be able to make something kid friendly while still retaining a lot of the dark themes of the universe.

There is, of course, the fear that once these kids grow older and “graduate” into more mainstream 40k, it may come as a shock to them just how much more bleak and pitiless the setting is compared to the children’s books. This is a dilemma for which I see no easy answer: I honestly think a lot of that will depend on, again, how the children’s books themselves are written: otherwise, this is a change that may have to be explained by the parents and/or the managers at hobby centres.

Some people have also been afraid that this will lead to making the entire universe more kid-friendly, dwelling particularly over the fact that very premise of Attack of the Necron breaks away from fluff, since one of the children is essentially an Imperial Guard deserter, and another is a pacifist.  I personally feel, though, that these fears are unwarranted, primarily because GW knows that it’s adults that drive the majority of its sales and constitute it’s longest-running consumer base. I strongly suspect that Warhammer Adventures will remain its own small, isolated little alternate universe that won’t affect the main story whatsoever.

And as mentioned above, I’ve also seen some detractors declare this to be part of an attempt by the “social justice crowd” to diversify WH40k and impose a PC agenda, to ruin Warhammer “just like they did with Marvel and Magic the Gathering, etc etc”…to which I can only scratch my head in puzzlement. Are these complaints over the fact that there are female, and non-white characters in the casts of these two books? Is there some contract, somewhere, that I’m missing that states that all characters in WH40k/AoS have to be white and male (despite 40k being set in a universe with billions upon billions of people and potentially thousands of ethnic groupings, and AoS being…well, a fantasy universe)? While I can agree somewhat with the arguments that this seems like an attempt at PC tokenism, at the same time I fail to see how the inclusion of a few nonwhite/nonmale characters is hurting anyone. Call me naive, but I do not see this as a slippery slope towards degrading or eliminating all characters in the universe who happen to be male and white (just look at half of the new special characters in 40k if you don’t believe me). I see this, quite frankly, as an overreaction, no more, no less, and one that I hope will calm down over time.

The bottom line is, I am all for anything that gets kids reading or interested in reading: I think literacy is an essential thing to foster at a young age. I also happen to know quite a few gamers who are parents, and in almost all cases that I’ve seen, their kids have expressed an interest in their dads’ wargames (sons AND daughters, I should add). So no, I really don’t see the harm in Warhammer Adventures, nor do I think it is going to negatively impact the hobby in any way. Of course, this is all speculation at this point: we may never know until the novels hit the shelves and become available. But even when we do, we should not fret over them, because we are not the target audience. At the end of the day, freaking out that a bunch of children’s books will ruin our hobby comes across as…dare I say it, immature.

Naturally, of course, you may not agree with me, and that is fine: you are welcome to deconstruct my arguments and/or type abuse at me in comments. I’m always happy to hear what any readers of this little blog think.

*P.S. You’ll note that I have been talking mainly about 40k in this article, and not so much about Age of Sigmar. This is because, in my view, the high fantasy setting of Age of Sigmar is a lot less grim and brooding than 40k, and thus, by it’s very nature, is a lot more palatable for the child audience. True, things like the Khorne Bloodbound and Daughters of Khaine still exist, but in my view, Age of Sigmar does not revel in its own grimdarkness to the same extent as 40k. Besides which, high fantasy has been a favoured stomping ground of children’s literature since time immemorial, and honestly, I think Age of Sigmar will have fewer complications as a background setting for a children’s book than 40k will.

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