Space Marine
A Space Marine from the Warhammer 40,000 universe

A minor storm has broken out on the BBC website after Samira Ahmed wrote a piece on the enduring popularity of the game Warhammer 40,000, which has just marked its 25th year in existence. With over 600 comments already (and still counting) it seems an odd subject for a raging debate but that is what seems to have happened.

Perhaps many of the gamers posting feel a sense of vindication that their secret hobby has reached some level of mainstream recognition ("We're not weird after all!"), interestingly though many of the commentators seem to be ex-gamers who all of a sudden feel tempted to dig out their old models from the attic.

On the other side of the debate are those who claim that "40K", as it's often called, is for anti-social, unhygienic and un-athletic geeks and that the products are somewhat overpriced (to be polite).

While there may be some truth to this second claim, the idea that wargamers are all greasy, spotty teenagers with huge glasses and an inability to talk to girls is only slightly more accurate than the view that the Chinese go around wearing silk robes and Fu Manchu moustaches.

Those who are of this belief will no doubt have been put right by the many commentators who point out that they are in their thirties, happily married with children and in useful employment. Indeed I was surprised to learn of the existence of the term "Warhammer Widow" to describe the wives of 40K players.

If 40K players and other wargamers really are the socially dysfunctional types they are sometimes portrayed as then the existence of the Warhammer Widows would be an impossibility. Conversely it might even be the case that wargaming and other similar hobbies are good for marriages. My wife once jokingly claimed that she thoroughly approved of my own forays into gaming as it meant I would never have an affair.

While I'm quite sure that I could avoid a re-enactment of Brief Encounter without Space Marine assistance it would be interesting to know if other "Warhammer Widows" have similar feelings.

So while it is nonsense to claim that wargamers are socially inept it is of course true that most of them are men and boys. It also seems to be true that they are mostly white men and boys.

Although I'm sure that they exist I cannot recall ever meeting a black wargamer, although I have encountered a few wargamers of Indian heritage and the odd Japanese.

Why this is remains a mystery. Could it be to do with history? It's not uncommon for wargamers to be keen on history, especially military history and perhaps it's easier for impressionable white boys to see themselves at Waterloo or Hastings and so want to re-create it than it is for black boys whose ancestors almost certainly were not present at those events. Even if there is some truth to this, it would not explain the existence of those Indians and Japanese who would presumably have similar feelings.

Perhaps we should be getting Trevor Phillips to look into this or perhaps it's just my imagination and there are really many black wargamers - but if so why cannot recall ever seeing them?