PETA’s letter to Games Workshop, and the separation of fantasy with reality

This one will be a bit of a different tac to my usual blog entries- I don’t promise I’ll add to this new “musings” section very often, but lets give it a go.

Please do tell me what you think, and if you want to see more like this.

Topical! 

Today, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) sent Games Workshop an open letter calling for them to cease depicting fur wearing miniatures.

“draping them in what looks to be a replica of a dead animal sends the message that wearing fur is acceptable – when, in fact, it has no more place in 2017 than it would in the year 40,000”.

I’m an animal lover, and believe in animal rights. However, I’m a meat eater and wear leather too. Personally, I do not and would not wear animal fur. However, I don’t think depicting fantasy characters wearing fur (or the skins of their dead human enemies- that’s also a thing!) sends any message about it’s acceptability in the real world.

I'm sure he's a very nice guy, despite being draped in a dead animal!

I’m sure he’s a very nice guy, despite being draped in a dead animal!

I feel able to separate reality from fantasy, and don’t generally take fashion queues from toy soldiers anyway! Perhaps PETA mistakenly thinks that the characters of the Warhammer 40k universe are supposed to be heroic, I’m not sure. The purpose of this blog entry though, is not to discuss the particular topic, but to take a wider view on the moral implications of wargaming.

It’s tempting to dive right in on historical miniatures- fur wearing Vikings and such, but honestly, I have a feeling that PETA are actually just trying to create awareness for their cause through controversy. A counter-productive tactic- they probably just lost the respect of 95% of wargamers, as the letter is at best rather silly.

So lets dive right in on some good old fashioned Nazi debate!

Well that escalated quickly...

Well that escalated quickly…

If bad guy toy soldiers wearing fur is morally unacceptable, what about toy soldier Nazis?! Personally, I wouldn’t feel too happy about owning toy soldiers (or anything else for that matter) with a swastika on them. Actually, I’m not all that keen on the idea of gaming in a war within living memory. In both cases though, I feel it’s a personal choice, and I don’t think ill of people who wish to do either (and I own the first edition of and have played Bolt Action). So here’s the edge case- what if the person with the SS army covered in Swastikas did it because he liked swastikas and admired the Nazis? Would it be ok then?

Well I think most people would agree it would not. But lets think about it carefully- is the problem that he owns an army of Nazis? Or is it that he has Nazi sympathies? Obviously the latter, and so as far as I’m concerned, it follows that the issue isn’t the toy soldiers, it’s the intention.

Moral Panic: Fear the unknown
I’m a bit too young to remember the great D&D moral panic of the 1980’s, but I’ve read about it. The case is a little different, but at its heart was a complete lack of understanding of what the object of panic actually was. I’m not sure PETA understands that fantasy characters are often (And in the case of 40k, usually) not admirable people, or people who’s moral choices, let alone fashion choices, gamers would wish to emulate.
I do remember the video game moral panic of the 1990s, and am pleased to report I had parents who knew me well enough to know that hand break turning through crowds of digitised people in Carmageddon was not evidence of latent psychopathy. I was, like 99.9% of computer gamers at the time, a child both willing and able to separate fantasy from reality We all know it is not only possible, but the standard position, to delve in to a world completely separate from our own, and apply a completely different set of moral choices to it, which do not effect our choices in reality.

Of course people will point to the rare cases where a video game or violent film has inspired some horrible act in the real world. In every case however, the perpetrator was a violent psychopath or sociopath with problems that long preceded the game/film cited. Psychopaths may well be attracted to such things, but they are not made by them.

But we’re talking about toy soldiers. Some might argue that war games are the glorification of war, glamourising it. I understand this viewpoint, and it’s part of the reason I’m happy to play fantasy or sci-fi games (even weird war II) but less comfortable with modern war or even WW2. That said, I don’t want to engage in it much, but I really don’t see any harm in it in a wider sense.

So then do fur wearing Space Marines glamourise wearing fur? I don’t think so. Certainly no more than bionic implants and massive shoulder pads. There’s a reason I mentioned vikings earlier- because it is THAT sort of “warrior of ancient times” aesthetic these models play off, rather than a modern fashion aesthetic. I think their criticism is misplaced, but there’s something wider going on there anyway.

Art emulating life or the other way around? 
So this brings me back to my original point about PETA misunderstanding the place of toy soldiers as “heroes” or admirable people. Art (And I consider miniature sculptures as much art as anything else!) often reflects the morality of our world. An art where censorship prevents the handling of moral issues is bad art. Sanitised depictions of the world where nothing bad ever happens, because we don’t want to glamorise it brushes those issues under the carpet, and reduces rather than raises awareness.

Thirsty yet?

Thirsty yet?

The ultimate question is whether constant exposure to something (like fur, or violence) desensitises one to it. Remember when smoking was ok in Hollywood? Now if you smoke you’re either a villain or someone going through turmoil. I’m going to come out and say I think that’s a good thing: positive and negative re-inforcement are powerful psychological tools. Many people disbelieve in them, because it’s quite easy to dismiss something which doesn’t have an immediately visible effect. However, you only need to ask yourself why you’re willing to pay triple the price for something with a brand name on it, to see the power of suggestion at work. so then are PETA right? If we ban the depiction of fur will it go away?

I would have more respect for PETA’s standpoint if they’d have asked GW to remove fur from the good guys, and leave only the bad guys wearing fur, “because that’s something a bad guy would do”. I wouldn’t agree with it, but it would at least be an internally coherent argument, and a choice to send out a strong message.

Ultimately though, while I think we all need to be mindful of the moral implications and influences tiny decisions with toy soldiers can have, it’s always better to deal with issues head on, rather than trying to brush them under the carpet.

Leave a Reply