Sunday, February 8, 2015

Joke Armies - an Editorial

Ponies and Smurfs and Gundams! Oh my! Sometimes someone posts a joke army they've built and painted on the internet and the internet lashes out against it, sometimes quite vociferously. I have a problem with the strong objections to these armies, with caveats.

Please note that, throughout this article, I will refer to armies which break the 4th wall and are incongruous to the 40k fluff as "joke armies".  Of course, I do realize many hobbyists who choose to build their armies in this way do not mean them as a joke and take it very seriously, but I need some kind of general term for the article.

Shannon's Smurf Drop Pod Army

Hobbyist Reasoning

The hobbyists who choose this kind of path for their army express four-ish common reasons for doing so, sometimes citing two or three of them simultaneously.

Cost: Cost can be a big driver towards building this kind of army. A lot of the time, it's quite a bit cheaper to use toys to stand in for 40k models.  An actual cost savings isn't necessarily true in all cases, though.  Also, the effort involved in making a joke army to a certain standard more than makes up for the actual cost savings.

Expression:  Folks also enjoy highlighting their fandom and sharing it with others. This is a form of expression and hobbyists love to express themselves through their armies. Most of the time, this simply means choosing a specific army and paint scheme. I choose Orks because I love the brutal whimsy of this race and it lets me kind of thumb my nose at 40k Grimdark a little bit without stepping on any toes. Others will take it to the next level and build an actual joke army.

Chris Tesorio's "My Little Bre-Pony-A" Army

Networking:  Building a joke army also allows hobbyists to meet like-minded people in the 40k community and build relationships which is really part of what 40k is about.

Trolling:  Another reason people do this sometimes is to troll the community. While that may seem like a nefarious motivation, I am a strong proponent of satire, everything from Stephen Colbert to A Mighty Wind. Satire has a great way of giving us an understanding of concepts that are hard for us to envision on our own, or from just exposing ourselves to the raw facts.  In this case, the satirical use of My Little Pony or the Smurfs, particularly in a competitive setting, exposes how seriously people take this hobby and how important it is to sometimes step back and realize that it truly is just a game and to just enjoy ourselves.

DPBellathrom's MLP White Scars Army

Community Reactions

There are a wide variety of reactions to this kind of army in the community along a wide spectrum of responses.  Some are healthy and some are not.

Awesome:  Some folks enjoy seeing this kind of army at the table and accept it no matter the situation. This is a delightfully open-minded response and goes beyond even my own acceptance.

Cool, but please keep it out of my narrative:  I, personally, fall in this camp.  I would ask a player of this kind of army to either stay out of, or bring a different army to a narrative game or campaign that I was running.  Otherwise, for straight-up competitive games or random games, the joke army is more than welcome.

Not my cup of tea, thanks, so I'll play with someone else:  Many folks have very little of their time to devote to Warhammer and they would prefer not to play against a joke army with this limited time. They want all of their games to have a somewhat narrative bent which absorbs them in the atmosphere of the game universe. This is another totally reasonable response and is likely to be (and should be) respected by the joke hobbyist.

Not at my tournament:  Every tournament organizer has a right to set whatever guidelines they see fit to impose at their events. Having said that, if joke armies are not allowed while, at the same time, other, more "masculine" or "grown-up" counts-as armies (like the Matrix, Terminator, Judge Dredd, etc) are allowed, then that creates an unfair double standard in this editorialist's opinion.

WYSIWYG or GTFO:  In conjunction with other reactions, most players prefer that the army succeed at being modeled with the proper equipment. This is a completely understandable request and most joke army hobbyists actually go out of their way to be courteous and keep their models to a WYSIWYG standard that even narrative hobbyists sometimes struggle with.

Infantile Manboy Bullshit: This is the tough one.

Ian "Pinkamena" Taylor's MLP-Themed MLP Army

Staggeringly Harsh Negativity

In Warhammer, there are so many different walks of life which people rise from.  Some of us are straight up nerds from the IT or service professions who fit many of the geek stereotype. Others are military or ex-military. Some are folks who enjoy pure competition and possess a wolfpack-like bravado which is sometimes off-putting to others, yet celebrates the camaraderie and fun of the community itself. Of course, to actually pigeon individuals into these groups would be folly; every person has a unique background.

For this reason, sometimes players are ignorant of the things other hobbyists are interested in and they misunderstand things like why a grown man would want a My Little Pony army or why a woman would build a Smurfs army. Fortunately, ignorance isn't an accusation or a derogatory term; it is an opportunity to learn.

Some people are just tired of being tolerant. It is exhausting to them. They are tired of spending their days walking on egg-shells and not being themselves around others in order to avoid one unfortunate social interaction or another, particularly at work. When they sign onto the internet, sometimes its too easy to let that guard down and truly give an assessment of one's feelings towards someone without bothering to try to understand who they are, nor to step back and remember that their story is probably very different from someone else's.

Of course, one of the important things about being an adult is learning to get along with others and to deal with people who are different from you. One might argue that it is the height of childishness to diminish others for their differences.

Well, it's a story as old as the internet and it's likely not to change anytime soon.

K.R.E.A.M... GMM Studios' clown-faced Orks army.

Tolerance is a Two-Way Street

If you encounter a joke army, try to remember that this is a person who shares your love for the hobby, but they might simply do so in a different way or from a different perspective. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt and you might find yourself having a great game. There are some folks out there who revel in conflict and want to showcase their joke army for the purpose of causing a stir. Do not assume this is their motive right off the bat. Assuming someone is a rabble-rouser simply because the rabble has been roused is a mistake. If the hobbyist is pleased with a positive response from you and others, then it's clear they're there for the love of the thing and not purely to troll.

If you have a joke army it is important to remember that some people just cannot be swayed. Don't be insulted if someone politely declines a game or says your army just isn't their cup of tea. There's nothing wrong with this. If someone doesn't seem to understand your fandom or your reasons for making your joke army and they want to make you feel bad about it, then try to teach them as politely as possible. Sometimes, though, people just can't be taught, usually not because they're actually stupid, but because their upbringing and/or experiences have made them resistant to learning about the differences in others.

You can't waste your life on these people. I know. I've tried. And still do, much to my chagrin. Don't debase yourself to their level; just let it be. Having said that, if someone implies that you are a pedo because you like My Little Pony, you have my permission (not that you need it) to tell them to go out into traffic and play hide-and-go fuck themselves.


  1. "Others are military or ex-military"


    I'm strongly considering picking up the redone Harlequins for the same reasons you mention for your orks: in a game permeated by skulls, death, over the top masochismo, and grimdarm, nothing quite says "screw it" like dancing space elves in 16th century commedia dell'arte costumes.

    Some times you want to have a serious "spin the narrative" type game, but it helps to step back and actually look at the background. It is a rediculously over the top rendition of history, classic science fiction with the names jumbled up, and
    1980's B-grade fiction, passed through a filter of British black humor.


    1. Harleys would be awesome.... and fitting! LOL!

  2. I see Smurfs and My Little Pony, but you promised Gundam! Well, I suppose two out of three ain't bad...