YouTuber ArchCast has defied calls for Warhammer 40,000 to include sensitivity readers, denouncing them as political commissars. 

Source: The Armouring of a Space Marine, Warhammer, YouTube

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The furor was kicked up over the latest iteration of the Horus Heresy Rulebook, emphasizing that Space Marines are all genetically engineered men.

“To Everyone in the #WarhammerCommunity Who was accused of being a BIGGOT[sic] for saying that the lore of space marine creation is MEN ONLY,” @MetalMa90357143 noted on Twitter, “GW Confirming what you already knew from the start of the cannon universe to the current Horus Heresy Release. ‘Space Marines are Male only’.” The Twitter user then shared an image of the ‘offending’ paragraph.

Sure enough, the segment reads as follows. “The process by which Space Marines are created relies inherently on the hormonal and biological make-up of the human male, meaning that only males can be subjected to the transformation. In practice, only a small percentage of potential candidates will for one reason or another be regarded as suitable because of genetic, environmental or psychological factors.” 

This isn’t to say Warhammer 40,000 is devoid of women. The Adepta Soroitas, also known as the Sisters of Battle, work under the Imperium of Man and Ecclesiarchy. After the Age of Apostasy’s Reign of Blood, it was decreed that “the Ecclesiarchy [is] forbidden to gather, train, promote, sustain, or in any way command any force of men under arms.”

This left a loophole for women, training orphans at an early age to the zenith of physical capability, and indoctrinated into unshakable servitude to the Emperor of Mankind until death. Their faith allowing them to perform yet greater feats of willpower and strength, the Adepta Soroitas are arguably as much an icon of Warhammer 40,000 as the Space Marines. 

Source: Warhammer 40,000 The New Edition Cinematic Trailer, Warhammer via YouTube

Regardless, the uninitiated in Warhammer 40,000 lore on social media seemed to take offense to the reiteration of a Space Marine’s origins. One of these would be Edwin “Lupe” Moriarty of fan website Goonhammer, venting his frustrations in his “Transphobic Language and the Horus Heresy” editorial.

Moriarty opens on how Goonhammer and Games Workshop operate with many hands, and rarely is a piece of work purely by one person- as editors and others all have a hand in producing their content. “It’s important when it comes to the rules and the effect it has on the games we all love, but recently we’ve seen an example of where it’s even more important.”

“Let me give you a bit of a background on the topic at hand before we look at that mistake,” Moriarty offers, “because you need to understand the context it lives in to grasp why it’s such an error.”

Source: Warhammer 40,000 XV Legion

“The experiences of trans people are myriad and varied and complex and I absolutely don’t speak for all or even most of them,” he admits. “But there are some commonalities, and one of them is, sadly, experiencing bigotry and discrimination from others.

“Perhaps there’s a trans person out there who’s not experienced any, but if so I’ve never heard of them, and it’s hard to imagine how it could be possible in a society that is so rampantly transphobic,” Moriarty claims.

The author then rattles off trans people being victims of belittlement, being unable to live in piece by society at large, discriminated with less rights than others, “violence and abuse,” oppression, and their healthcare demanding they “present themselves in certain ways, ways that conform with expectations set by cis (non-trans) people who do not personally understand the trans experience, or be penalised [sic] harshly.”

Source: Warhammer 40,000: Dark Imperium

Moriarty builds on how even innocuous jokes can undermine discussion on trans issues. He further claims bigots “use a trick that has been used by bigots from time immemorial to reframe discussion in the public eye by using terms and phrases that seem innocuous and unremarkable from the perspective of an uninformed observer, but slowly build together to create a twisted version of the real world that doesn’t reflect reality but instead their own hate.”

This then leads into the quote from the Horus Heresy Rulebook that only men can be turned into Space Marines due to their hormones and biology. “‘The hormonal and biological make-up of the human male’ sounds innocuous if you are not aware of the process that’s going on to alienate people from their trans friends, family, co-workers and neighbours,” Moriarty claims.

“If you do not know enough about this miserable ‘debate’ to know the words used to imply hate rather than state it outright. To someone who does, this sentence is viciously coded,” he asserts. “Coded” usually denotes a phrase or word that has- or can be taken as having- a hidden meaning. 

Source: Warhammer 40,000 “The Emperor of Mankind”. Art by Tze Kun Chin

“Let’s get the science out of the way: There is no specific hormonal or biological make-up of a human male,” Moriarty dismisses, despite men and women typically having different genitalia, a different number of chromosomes, and different DNA. “Sex is basically a pair of giant buckets of characteristics we lump people into.”

“There is no single specific indicator of sex, there are hundreds, and almost every human who has ever existed is a jumbled mix of them. If you have enough traits of one kind we crudely decide you are ‘male’. Enough of another and we go for ‘female’. Not enough of either for us to make a snap judgment on little evidence? Well those people are intersex and they get ‘fixed’.”

“Do these traits have significance? Of course, some of them! Particularly medically many of these hundreds of traits can be very important. The big buckets we’ve invented to crudely dump people into? Much less important. So this statement is nonsense on the face of it,” Moriarty rejects.

Source: Warhammer 40,000 “Mephiston: Revenant Crusade”. Art by Lie Setiawan.

Moriarty also disregards those who would defend the Horus Heresy as piece of fiction. “That’s fine, I guess, but as an author I still take care with what I write, and I still use the real world as a baseline to refer to.”

“I wouldn’t write a book where there’s no gravity but instead blavity that does sort of the same thing but is sticky, like a jam, and just write that as if it was sane and not explain the difference,” he added.

He explains, “Fiction, especially genre fiction, often deviates from the real world considerably, but those deviations are of interest. This isn’t being called out as a deviation from reality, it’s being stated like understood truth.”

“It isn’t a defense that it’s fiction because it’s not creating anything, it’s just using an untruth without recognition or creativity.” In short, Moriarty argues that the Horus Heresy claiming that the Emperor and Imperium only found success in genetically modifying men — splicing them with the DNA of the all-male Primarchs, and even then with risks of genetic rejection — denies the reality of there being genders beyond men and women.

Source: Warhammer 40K Codex Supplement: Black Templars (2021), Games Workshop

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In addition, Moriarty returns to how the phrasing of words is essential to avoid offense. He alludes to this with how you wouldn’t tell someone they could leave work early after they’ve cleaned up with the phrase “Work Sets You Free,” as it has cultural context to the Holocaust. 

“Using the words printed in the Horus Heresy rulebook, even if the underlying meaning made sense (it doesn’t) wouldn’t be appropriate because it mimics the language used by bigots to foster hate and division,” Moriarty asserts.

Source: Warhammer 40K: Kill Team: Pariah Nexus (2021), Games Workshop

“It’s a bad misstep and if it was a single author I would be displeased and maybe reach out but ultimately, you know, a person makes mistakes from time to time. But the author of this book isn’t one person. Maybe a dozen people would have seen these words before print,” he argues.

“Each one might say: well it’s not my job to check for this! To which I’d say ‘ok whose job is it?’. Because it should be someone’s,” the author promotes. “There should be someone who is checking the output of a major publisher to ensure they’re not, accidentally or otherwise, parroting the language of bigotry.”

Moriarty then insists “Games Workshop has a problem with bigots, and I don’t mean that in a good way,” though without citation. “We all know it, and though many of us do our best to promote communities that are inclusive and diverse and punch fascists in the face as hard as possible, that’s much harder if Games Workshop puts s—t like this in their books like a weapon ready for use by bigots.”

Source: Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar Vol 1 #5 (2021), Marvel Comics. Variant cover art by Games Workshop.

“I’ve already seen bigots use this passage as a cudgel,” Moriarty claims. “They will continue to do so for years to come. This language will haunt this game, that I love, for years. Of course this isn’t helped by stuff like Games Workshop using this specific page as the product image on their webstore. That’s a bad look! Don’t do that!”

“We need Games Workshop to do better, so our communities can be better and, most importantly, safer. We need them to employ sensitivity readers and check their language for issues,” he proposes. “We need them to make inclusivity and diversity a core part of their identity and creativity, not just a statement they put up on a website every year or two.”

“It’s f—king pride month, but I don’t feel very proud of Games Workshop today,” Moriarty concludes. The writer suggested readers email Games Workshop regarding the matter, and sign an open letter by Bennett Woolley, also proposing sensitivity readers; a petition which currently has over 2780 signatures.

YouTuber and Warhammer 40,000 fan The ArchCast discussed the editorial in his “The Push For ‘Sensitive’ Readers In Warhammer 40k Is A Move For Political Censorship, ONLY MEN!” video. He opens claiming how, across three decades of lore, “never has GW [Games Workshop] even so much as hinted at the presence at non-male Space Marines.”

ArchCast argues the offended parties don’t truly care for the hobby, seeking to only inject their worldview into the game — with the open letter and calls for sensitivity readers being part of that. He initially dismisses the role as “a person that has found a quick pay-day in preying upon the ‘current year’ cultural paradigm.” ArchCast also highlights those “fans” require a sensitivity reader to verify the lore of the game they are supposedly already fans of.

Source: Warhammer 40K Codex Supplement: Black Templars (2021), Games Workshop

Nonetheless, ArchCast delves into the definition of sensitive reader as someone who “reviews unpublished manuscripts with the express purpose of spotting cultural inaccuracies, representation issues, bias, stereotypes, or problematic language.” 

As supposedly would any familiar with the alleged proponents of left-wing politics who often call for an offending person to be cancelled, ArchCast brushes this off as featuring “the whole gambit of buzzwords and non-terms.” He then points to how cultural inaccuracies are noted, not historical inaccuracies, “as in ‘inaccuracies to current year interpretation of culture’.”

ArchCast then compares the situation to the upcoming film The Woman King. It tells the story of warrior amazon Agojie, and is marketed as how she and her sisters defended the African Kingdom of Dahomey from European slave raiders.

Source: The Woman King, Sony Pictures Entertainment via YouTube

In reality, the Dahomey supplied slaves to Europe by raiding surrounding nations, along with using slaves themselves. This was until the 1840s when the British attempted to abolish the slave trade in the region.

Dahomey’s famed “amazons” were formed out of desperation from their elephant hunting parties, due to their men having high casualties in wars with West African states. The corp would come to be respected, however; garnering high status, all members technically being married to the king, and acting as the aforementioned slave raiders.  

The conflicts they participated in against France ended with high casualty ratio for Dahomey, though the French Foreign Legion did state they showed “incredible courage and audacity” in battle. “You can see how ‘cultural accuracy’ deviates a pinch from that damned awfully inconvenient history,” ArchCast mocks, alluding to how inaccurate a culture can be depicted, yet still avoid offense.

Source: Warhammer 40K Codex Supplement: Black Templars (2021), Games Workshop

ArchCast also defies “representation” — from representation issues — as discrimination by hiring or representing a person purely based on their race- hypocritical to it’s goal, much like the claim that sensitivity readers would wish to avoid bias and stereotype.

He stamps out “problematic language” as “anything and everything that isn’t actually incorrect or wrong, but may run contrary to the currently prevailing line of generally accepted dogma. And erring on the wrong side of that dividing line can turn a hero into Hitler, with the press of a Tweet button.”

ArchCast claims the push for sensitivity readers came from early access copies of 2013 young adult novel The Continent. After outraged Twitter users accused author Keira Drake of being racist and harassed her — despite the book’s intent being to show how privileged people should not turn a blind eye to those less fortunate in conflict — an outside party was hired to censor the book. 

Source: Horus Heresey: Visions of War (2014), Games Workshop

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The censor was critical of the savages depicted in the book, wielding bows and arrows, and claimed they were a native American stereotype; to the surprise of the very author who wrote about them. It was at this point ArchCast claims that a service had been created, with a recurring problem that has a solution.

He notes how non-profit organization We Need Diverse Books launched around 2014, claiming it had made over $1 million in donations and, by the group’s own admission, only offered 34 of their $2000 Walter Grants since 2018, along with other grants and services offering mentorships for marginalized groups between $500 to $1,000. Charity Navigator claims that the non-profit made $598,939 in revenue, and spent $403,604 in expenses in FY2020. 

ArchCast paints We Need Diverse Books as representative of left-leaning organizations allegedly seeking to both paying to teach people not to be “offensive” and teaching others to form groups with the same goal. This would include the charity’s encouragement for schools to form Equity/Inclusion Committees.

Source: Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (TBA), Owlcat Games Studio

ArchCast further claims the charity is “one of the primary organizations pushing for the introduction of sensitive readers. And my point, of course, being there is no separating the sensitive reader from the overt idea from the modern day radical politics. As the things they are sensitive for, and explicitly tell you they are going to be looking for, are viewed through a purely progressive lens.”

After suggesting sensitivity readers instead be called political commissars and comparing them to a protection racket in jest, the YouTuber also asserts that, as sensitivity readers tout their own experiences, the lengthy list of whom could be offended means a veritable department of sensitivity readers would be needed to avoid any and all offense, and represent every and all peoples.

ArchCast denounces, “At best, an extra editor of the correct shade and political orientation, is a placebo — expensive one at that — made worse; they are a political censor hired by an author’s simple fear of the mob.”

Source: The Next Epic Year of Warhammer+, Warhammer, YouTube

ArchCast argues in favor of the Warhammer 40,000 setting as it is “grim dark,” a term usually reserved for bleak settings where any hope of a positive outcome is almost entirely denied. Such settings are typically designed to be a cautionary tale to avoid the reader’s own society ending up in such a state, or to cherish hope and willpower no matter how desperate things become. 

Specifically, Warhammer 40,000 sees humanity betraying the very edicts of the “God Emperor” who led them into a golden age by worshiping him with blind fanaticism. Tyrannical rule and inquisitions have driven the human race into destitution or servitude, with invading aliens gradually wearing it down to extinction. 

Source: Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun (2023), Focus Entertainment

ArchCast presents a hypothetical scenario where a person hoping to write a story set at after the US Civil War, from the perspective of a black person, should be tackled with tact — but a black sensitivity reader could only offer their experiences in the modern day.

As such, a researcher on the subject is likely to be able to offer more “authenticity” to the story. ArchCast then reminds the viewer that “the sensitive readers was not proof-reading for historical inaccuracies, it was cultural inaccuracies. And the point — of course which we return to again unavoidably, conclusively — is to avoid outrage.”

“And even the success rate of doing so is dubious at best, whilst the harm done is unavoidable, because it is censorship,” he argues. “Even if done with the best of intentions to avoid offense, as if that was some sort of virtue, the fact is that some of the best art made — be it visual, literary, or audible — is provocative.”

Source: Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters (2022), Frontier Developments

ArchCast highlights how George Orwell’s works, 1984 and Animal Farm, are “far from comfortable reads,” yet widely regarded as masterpieces; specifically because of their provocative nature. He also cites A Clockwork Orange, American History X, and the punk music genre of other such examples.

“If you sanitize everything to the point of complete non-offense, all you are left with is a bland paste. Taking it back again to the point 40K, if you take the grim-dark out of 40K, if you make it progressive, if you make the Imperium into a modern day human empire, you won’t have 40K anymore,” ArchCast defies.

Source: Angels of Death (2021), Games Workshop

“A self-evident and undeniable truth but again, of course,” he insists, “as we know and have seen once more today: it was never about the offense taken or the problematic content, it’s about the deviation from dogma; the soul, singular reason why extremists argue for female Space Marines and not male Sisters of Battle is because it’s their politics.”

ArchCast concludes, “And sensitive readers, they know, are their political commissars. And that is what a sensitive reader truly is. As you’re not going to be finding a conservative sensitive reader any time soon.”

Source: Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (TBA), Owlcat Games Studio

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  • About The Author

    Ryan Pearson

    Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.