Inspired by this BoLS article.
It was quite the opus describing a new bogeyman cropping up to scare the lives of wide-eyed tourney first times everywhere! If you just read the comments (from what I could bare) it seemed to become some sort of Army Builder hate fest/I am not WAAC I only play one on the Internet mash-up. In the end all sides ended up looking pretty insane. Better to let the stranger minds of the Internet (Dethron the Bat phone is ringing) delve into all that minutia for our entertainment.
What though the BoLS article revealed was something I and others have tried to put our finger on. It wasn’t the WAAC player the author thinks exists to confuse new players. Instead it is a certain querulous segment of the 40k Internet population that has hoisted up the banner of all things “competitive” in a vociferous cry to change the tone about how we talk and play 40k. This change in tone is moving the cynosure of what we know about Warhammer 40k the hobby into Warhammer 40k the sport, based I might add on false gods. You can find innumerable debates about this issue in any dime store blog and forum across cyberspace. The Internet community tries to use it as a wedge, between those who consider just playing the game is enough and those that derive the most fun from having good sporting time. Enjoyment either way (in of itself) is valid, (with me more on the competitive side) but the move towards making 40k look more like a sport is fraught with problems that go beyond simple game mechanics.
Many inexperienced 5th ed players across the Internet say 40k isn’t balanced enough to become a sport. Under limited instances this is true, but overall 5th edition is the pinnacle of 40k rules thus far. It’s the general strength of 5th and the Internet 40k community explosion has led to a new breed of 40k player. Making a political analogy (for better or worse) a punditocracy for Warhammer 40k has emerged. By in large this punditocracy is fairly new to the game, young, and passionate all seemingly good traits. They are not only the blog owners of some of our favorite sites, they are also the commentators that raise sites like BoLS comment counts to idiotic new heights.
Like the American political version, our punditocracy thinks it is speaking about the true (without proven statistician analysis) motivations and concerns of the general playing public, but since the average player rarely comments the punditocracy is based on some 40k invisible hand maintained on ego fuel and the screams from the echo chamber.
The danger with this group is some have a very rigid adherence to what they believe is a superior way to play Warhammer 40k. The problem (besides not agreeing on exactly what the superior way is) is their commentary is often based without tangible evidence of their own accomplishment. In other words, if their was a professional league for competitive 40k players most people commenting on the Internet wouldn’t even be allowed on the practice field. How many have gotten to this point is really anyone’s guess (I do have a few theories though). Worse, many have put so much of their self-worth into how they will be perceived on the Internet, explaining away any weakness as being derived from extenuating circumstances or simply– excuses.
We all make excuses from time to time (it wouldn’t be the 21st century if we actually took personal responsibility), but excuses have developed from the benign and morphed into an opprobrium. The punditocracy uses nullification to discredit the achievements by other players in tournaments that don’t rise to certain standards. It is an easy and excellent defense when you are incapable of explaining why a certain person or army wins. It is even more enlightening as a follower of tournament results that very few “experts” within punditocracy have won anything and worse most don’t even come close, if they attend at all. Invalidating events that don’t conform is both convenient and doesn’t require any inquisitiveness, instead what it does produce is Internet town hall meetings that are more petulant than helpful.
This punditocracy is always on the outside looking in: nullification or turgid responses being their favorite tool to explain away any cracks appearing their narrow belief system. So when dissent appears certain elements jump instantly to attack; based more on egotistical motives and belief burgeoning on a religion.
The punditocracy is also using an interesting dynamic I will call the Seal Pup Defense (religion without a hyperactive superiority complex to do “God’s Work” isn’t worth following) has recently emerged. Often we hear of the high-minded goal of making all players as good as the unproven morality dictates. It is kinda like gay people being sent to Jesus camps to become straight. The more likely truth is the punditocracy is (at its best) first among equals in their local arena– remember a seal pup with a club is still just a seal pup. As well the punditocracy re-educating methods are more likely just a ruse, because without the seal pups to cull they might actually be exposed for the feckless folks deep down the fear they are. So on the one hand the punditocracy protects itself from reproach while on the other hand it is able to effectively throw off any critique without worthwhile insight.
Another hallmark of many religions is the ability to make oneself always appear as the outcast or martyr; the generic paranoia this brings only helps to provide more excuses and banal behavior to distract from real discussion. The “woe is me and my cause” and controlled circle jerk of the like-minded only perpetuates this new faith forward through myopic reinforcement. The words the punditocracy uses to define the game has become the talking points of our community: words from Fluffy Bunny to Rifleman Dred have the stamp of punditocracy approval. This is important because words are power and to control the words we use does allows the punditocracy to shift Internet discourse easily.
Following the words of the punditocracy will lead you inexorably to the words competitive 40k player in one shape of form. It is no wonder that the punditocracy had to separate itself from the dreaded word WAAC it could have easily been associated with. So it created the competitive 40k player to shape its emerging religion– all religions must have a name for God’s chosen. That is what makes the words competitive 40k player so special, like a self-generated nickname the punditocracy gave itself an easily recognizable name to define itself. You never hear someone say they are a Fluffy Bunny or Hobbyist with such pride and consideration as the competitive 40k player. Instead the punditocracy divides and conquers on this axiom often drowning out voices that threaten. The punditocracy is for the most part left unchecked, with the refrain from others being, “it is only the Internet and no one listens to it anyway”. It does matter though because every time a new player walks into my local store having thrown hundreds of dollars into what the punditocracy told them was the only way to win, my community has to deal with it. I have to sit there and uneducated them not because I am against competitive players, but because the Internet gave them all the weapons to fight a war, but never trained them how to use them. Not to mention many new players realize too late they were never that player the punditocracy told them they should be.
Even with everything I have said there is always hope for those members of the punditocracy that prays at the altar of “the competitive god”– all it takes is a little self-awareness. Know that a game as complex and given to chance as 40k there is no one right or wrong way to play. Instead focus on the how players come to believe what works for them, not always discount out of hand.
What is worse a fear of looking weak in front of the like-minded or losing those who might of listened to your bumptious behavior?
Always remember no one has all the answers, but everyone has an opinion.