My intellectual friends, my arty-farty friends, hell, even my deep geek friends think I’ve gone off my nut on this one. White Dwarf is the monthly house organ for Games Workshop, Ltd., a UK company that makes fantasy and sci-fi tabletop wargames. The hobby doesn’t seem to be big in the US (tho it’s growing), but it’s huge in Europe. Next to Star Wars and Star Trek, their future universe (Warhammer 40,000) is probably the largest collaborative alternate sci-fi universe out there, with over seven games devoted to it, seven (!) different magazines, dozens of novels, comic books, coffee table art books, THOUSANDS of game components and countless fan websites. White Dwarf is a gorgeously produced full-color magazine with beautiful photographs of mind-boggling 28mm painted miniatures and futuristic landscapes. The game’s enthusiasts spend inordinate numbers of hours lavishly painting details one can barely see with the naked eye.
I’ve always been fascinated with wargames, not ’cause I’m a hawk (far from it), but because I’m fascinated by systems and how they interact given fixed parameters and random modifiers. Wargames are perfect little contained systems (part fixed rules, part fixed variables controlled by dice and part real-time decision-making with the rules and rolls). Wind ‘em up and watch ‘em go! I’ve also always been fascinated by world modeling, creating believable worlds and climbing into them. This goes all the way back to creating comic books as a kid, then to playing D&D as a teen, later to computer games/ MUDS/ MOOS, etc. Warhammer 40,000 is a collaborative world model that you render in the real world, on a tabletop. I don’t just want to watch sci-fi, I wanna direct! WH40K lets me direct.
The analog nature of the hobby is a great antidote to the digital saturation of so much of the rest of my life. When guys of my dad’s generation got old, they made a space in the basement to tie their own fishing flies or to paint Mallard ducks or whatever. Taking an alternate universe from a complex sci-fi mythology, and downloading it into an analog world of miniature models, alien landscapes and futuristic architectures is perhaps how aging cyberpunks (at least this one) plan on retiring.