|This article covers a topic that, by its very nature, is a magnet for flamewars. Try not to get too assmad at what you're about to read.|
Expect huge amounts of derp and rage, punctuated by /tg/ extracting humor from it.
"The only way to win is to not read the crazy, and just fap and/or shlick to the pictures."
- – /d/
"People love to pretend they're offended."
- – Matt Groening
Skub's final form.
SJW stands for Social Justice Warrior, a term originated in the late '90s to mid-2000's, where it was originally more neutral and meant to refer to ardent or outspoken advocates of social change, usually for 'furthering' civil rights. This generally meant someone who demanded that all races, classes, genders, sexuality, and other groups (with members who can't leave voluntarily) be represented in media and treated with equal respect.
Nowadays, it has a less-than-savory connotation, especially to people within 4chan (especially /pol/ and /v/ - the lattermost is a partial by-product of the GamerGate shenanigans). The modern usage of SJW refers largely to people who demand that media and society be inclusive and inoffensive (in practice, usually only to groups said SJW is a part of and those whose beliefs align with them) before all else, basically trying to police all media and, by proxy, the rest of society.
SJWs also tend to chuck that aforementioned respect out the airlock as they prioritize looking and feeling "good" over actually doing good, like most zealots. They frequently employ simplistic and/or ahistorical analysis that could wring both tears and rage from any fa/tg/uy's inner history buff (and not just the ones with military vehicle fetishes, either). Such piping hot takes also open them up to "easy debunking" - often by a mix of opportunists looking for an easy 'gotcha', /pol/acks looking for an easy triggering or (perhaps most rarely) people who actually studied their shit, with bonus points if said people are left of center and/or themselves part of said minorities on whose behalf the SJWs pull this shit, even as they speak over them. Of course, the debunking may itself be poorly researched - most political discussions set the bar amazingly low, if you hadn't guessed.
In short, it's associated with activists that advocate a a view of progressive societal change that non-progressives and sometimes even progressive groups, like feminists and minority activists, perceive to be ostracizing, harmful or unnecessary. (That this is mostly subjective is why the definition is so contentious to begin with.)
Expect Social Justice Warriors to show up or at least be mentioned anytime some combination of the following occurs:
- A) a popular figure does or says something considered offensive, whether legitimately so or otherwise;
- B) some asshole's trying to shut up people they're being rude to;
- C) someone is harmlessly being a bit less politically correct than people want them to;
- D) someone is being far less politically correct than the situation warrants; or
- E) there isn't enough presentation in a work for ethno-social groups that are already infinitesimal to begin with.
On that note, feel free to play a drinking game where you take a shot each time Godwin's Law is invoked, and be sure to bid your liver farewell before hand.
Expect the affected thread and any other nearby discussion to be derailed in short order; this is becoming more and more frequent on /tg/ lately as hobbies like MTG and Warhammer 40k are being subjected to changes that are viewed as "progressive" and generate unholy waves of skub. This often appears in the forms of users being accused of bigotry for either not checking off enough "oppressed minority" checkboxes in character creation, or else portraying certain groups too positively. The sources are generally either the usual crowd of trolls and shit stirrers, or else actual morons who want to show off their 'good guy' badges and miss the point of their ideals entirely. Naturally, most people who hold similar views prefer to voice them only when appropriate to do so, and outside of the "radical" fringe, they differ from the average fa/tg/uy only by the presence of a few things they think tabletop games could be better at doing.
This can and does often lead to rifts in communities, fanbases and franchises, with creators (most often independent ones) facing harassment and death threats, and any legitimate criticisms are almost immediately lost in the mix of mob mentality - just like most of the internet.
There are plenty of examples, but the average fa/tg/uy is unlikely to care about most of them outside of the few relevant ones discussed further below.
...so why is this a big deal again?
The crux of the problem is that SJWs act as "moral guardians" to popular culture. Previous moral panics, such as the hysteria surrounding hip-hop, rock music and (most relevantly) tabletop games Dungeons & Dragons ever since each medium's creation, were driven by people who claimed to be protecting their children from the "evils" within certain works, as well as seeing enemies under every rock or choosing to die on hills that are ultimately of no consequence.
To use pen-and-paper RPGs as an example, the mostly-Christian right-wingers of the late 70s believed them to be a gateway to devil worship and eternal damnation because of a misunderstanding. Game developers lifted elements from real-life occultism and black magic practices for themes and stories, which was mistaken for trying to promote these practices, despite Gygax being a known Jehovah's Witness. The response to this huge outcry mostly consisted of renaming or remodeling a bunch of shit (e.g. demons and devils were now Tanar'ri and Baatezu and in-universe occult symbols were redesigned). More concerning were a few murders and suicides by known players; given that the game wasn't as high-profile and these people were considered the face of it by some groups, these tragic events nearly damned the games by association.
This sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but the massive uproar back then was a real threat to the survival of the fledgling RPG genre, with Dungeons & Dragons foremost among the accused. For more details on that sad, stupid time, see Satanic Panic.
Where most moral panics in America are often attributed and traced back said elderly outspoken conservative Christians, with SJWs it's different - they are generally younger, left-leaning, tend to be non-religious or also anti-religious, and come from that lefty-hippie background of acceptance and inclusiveness. Many have turned from simply promoting acceptance of varied interests, lifestyles, and hobbies to policing them for proper behavior and raising hell when they find something they don't like. Maybe it's too objectifying, maybe it's not inclusive or diverse enough, maybe it portrays a group they disagree with in too positive a manner; either way, it is promoting bigotry and bad behavior and must be changed accordingly. Some extreme SJWs even start demonizing other groups of people in a similar manner to the bigots they rage against.
For the modern SJW, replace the religious issues with socio-political ones, pick a random issue somewhere in the Left (sometimes Far Left) using an advocacy dartboard, and you can find someone who is ready and willing to start petitions, run boycotts, and send death threats to the creators of Your Favorite ThingTM.
While there are many key differences, they've joined the ranks of still-existing moral guardians before them through a combination of sheer overzealousness, hatred of particular groups, the usual co-opting by corporations who use their ideologies as a new way to promote their brands, and the plentiful organizations and other third parties willing to fund attention-grabbing political actions of varying effectiveness to whatever ends they may desire, whether it be for fame or a name.
That said, compared to the Satanic Panic, any /tg/-related controversies that have occurred since then are hardly a blip on the radar (thankfully so) and are mostly centered around sporadic attempts at pandering by game developers trying to milk what is, to them, a new demographic.
Further Relevance to /tg/
While SJWs mostly focus on comics, movies and video games, they've found relatively little traction on tabletop games - it's widely considered more obscure in comparison to other forms of media, thus not warranting scrutiny OR continued interest to the SJW's inner hipster. Movies are delivered as a finished product that usually cannot be tampered with, so they have to worry more about what's given to them. Video games can sometimes be modded to some extent, but are usually more at the mercy of its creators.
However, as with any game that allows GMs and their players to make up their own shit and tailor the rules and setting to their own goddamn pleasure, the consumers are the arbiters of what is canon or relevant in their private sessions; the companies simply provide the setting these sessions take place within. The 'worst' a given fa/tg/uy has to worry about is fits being thrown over given models, disingenuous pandering that's often mandated by higher-ups (sometimes enforced by devs and writers), and a loss in quality of franchise fiction (as if a ton of terrible franchise fiction isn't already out there). More on that later, though.
Any other debates and criticisms surrounding the medium are either nearly as old as the genre itself, or else commonplace enough that it's not even exclusive to the genre anymore. -4 STR is something of an exception in this regard, given that the term originated with tabletop itself, and there has also been at least one tale of an encounter with someone who would very much fit the stereotype. This hasn't stopped them from trying, however, to the point where numerous people in high-level positions in the development of not only Dungeons & Dragons, but Pathfinder, are viewed as part of the same ideological mindset, and supposedly believe that THE problem with D&D, is, of course, the fanbase itself.
While this might seem to hold water due to the nature of tabletop and PnP games, more astute fa/tg/uys and ca/tg/irls might have already noticed the aforementioned logical fallacy with this: traditional gaming is fundamentally an insular hobby populated predominantly by its fans, who consist of a much wider spectrum of people than stereotypes dictate. Trying to "mandate" inclusiveness and force the hobby to fit a completely different audience who has no real interest (key words) is equal to spraying napalm to put out a fire.
Oldfags can only chuckle to themselves; the neckbeards of old saw people try to demonize or similarly alter their hobbies for Gary Gygax's entire lifetime, and know that ultimately, this crap is destined to fail just as hard as previous attempts to kill their favorite hobbies off. In turn, many gamers and self-styled movie buffs who don't understand the "players make the rules" aspect of tabletop thus fail to understand the futility of forcing roleplaying fa/tg/uys to join a "fight" that cannot threaten their fun, even in spite of the stereotype of roleplayers who define themselves solely by their hobby.
The main reason this article exists at all is to detail the perceived threat to the hobby that defines the board and (more often) the annoyance caused by forcing unrelated political discussions on a board of people who are ideally just trying to play some damn games or otherwise mind their business.
Y'know, like most of the internet.
SJWs and WH40k
Now, you may hear complaints about wargaming, and how it has too much imperialism, war crimes, genocide, religious extremism, xenophobia, abduction, child soldiers, injury and death of minors, religious mind-rape driven war machines, rape, drug abuse, sexual exploitation, supernatural horror, etc. etc. While not mentioned by name, you can imagine those complaints had a particular franchise in mind. Naturally, you can also imagine the lengths they went to in order to completely ignore the entire air of black vs. black morality within the setting itself (with shades of super-dark grey if you're feeling generous).
The three most common complaints about Warhammer 40,000 are usually: the absence of Female Space Marines; the Sisters of Battle having boob plates; and - tied for third - how 40k models and art seldom depicted non-Sisters of Battle women and non-white humans, despite lore containing multiple, numerous easily-found examples to the contrary.
Here is a handy quick-list of refutations, to make everyone's lives a little easier:
- Warhammer 40,000 originated as an ironic parody of hard-right authoritarianism, born out of the explosion of progressive UK Sci-Fi and Fantasy that erupted as a reaction to Margaret Thatcher's policies of moral regulation and strong executive power (as well as all the other shit that happened in then-living memory during the 20th Century). Warhammer 40k took the piss out of the conservative UK government in the same way 2000AD did, via satire and cautionary tales - this context has been lost over time with the growing popularity of the game, the growth of the company itself, and the fact that the right-leaning political climate being satirized is no longer dominant in the UK. The more current political climate is, ultimately, a different beast all its own.
- Anyone who actually reads the fluff knows that the Imperium as a body doesn't care about sex or race on that level, because the encroaching forces of grimdark make any form of discrimination impractical. Women and other minorities regularly participate in every level of Imperial society. The lack of female models is a semi-regular issue that ends up at the feet of GW, who already get enough shit from pearl-clutching moral guardians about Sisters Repentia and Daemonettes to generally want to avoid gender controversy and making "redundant" models. The discrimination that does happen in the Imperium has some credible backing, in that the Imperium is an empire of semi-justified zealots: mutation is a common symptom of exposure to Chaos or other very bad things, so they figure it's best to not take chances.
- Female Space Marines also have a well-defined fluff reason for not existing: recent lore stated there were in-universe attempts that failed badly enough to warrant discontinuing them. And of the section of the actual playerbase that clamors for female Marines, you can guess how many do so with impure intent. At any rate, important characters have a higher percentage of female or LBGTQ+ representation than expendable meatgrinder characters. This goes for both old characters like Yarrick (revealed to be gay) and new characters like Arch Magos Exasus (who is non-binary).
- Until recently, GW was also terrible at sculpting female characters in most cases; the Sisters of Battle were a rare exception for years, and that's likely because they're just power-armored humans with boobplate.
- GW so rarely listened to their own customers that complaining wouldn't have changed shit no matter how obvious the problem was. Nowadays there is a MUCH better chance for more fan-interaction, but there you go: anyone looking for change should be taking it up with GW, not Warhammer fans.
- When it comes to racial representation, they've previously said that their idea was for humanity in 40k to be as ethnically and physically diverse as they are across Earth in real-life. GW said the reason for having majority white people in the art was because the early art teams were small and made art of what they knew (the UK is still populated by 95% white people, although interestingly where GW is in Nottingham is nowadays only about 65% white), and this pattern just became an unthinking habit. This is typical of a lot of fantasy work, which is often based on history or mythology from Europe or Asia where lighter skin colors are believed more common. While it is discriminatory, it's 'unconscious bigotry' as opposed to GW being actively malicious.
- Every Warhammer Fantasy and 40k player knows that GW is simply bad at making writing decisions. Asking for well-written anyone from GW is like praying for a miracle. Furthermore, some of the most interesting characters in Fantasy were female, and got written out of canon as the years went on, so best believe the fans were already outraged over that.
If you read GW's Annual report: 2015-16, you'll find there were complaints about most of the staff being male even back then. To GW's credit, they answered: "The Company does not consider that diversity can be best achieved by establishing specific quotas and targets and appointments will continue to be made based on merit." (p. 15, if you're bored enough to check). That kinda contradicts with the "principle of boardroom diversity, which was first introduced into the Code in June 2010" mentioned on the same page, but you get it.
On the other hand, it should be noted that GW has been somewhat 'addressing' things, in Age of Sigmar anyway; several human models have non-white skin tones in their official paint jobs (and most of them look laughable with it, as they're rocking classical European features. Painting grizzly white doesn't make it a polar bear, you know), the first unhelmed Sigmarine is black, there's more than one model for a Sigmarine woman, and in the early days of AoS, the most promoted faction other than Sigmarines and Khorne was the mostly female Sylvaneth led by Alarielle the Everqueen. Meanwhile, GW has promised on social media to "improve female representation" in 40k, specifically referring to reducing "boob-plate" in the miniature line and artwork.
That said, it isn't all rosy of course; Age of Smegmar 2e has a female Stormcast Eternal with warning-coloration hair done up in a Trigglypuff-tier mohawk on the front cover of the BRB, though that might not be anything other than garish visual design - the Daughters of Khaine could also be viewed as a caricature of radical feminists, probably because they're Drow with the serial numbers filed of. On the 40k side, Gav Thorpe wrote a recent book, Imperator: Wrath of the Omnissiah, with a Magos who "does not identify as male or female". While this makes some sense - the Mechanicus shuns the flesh, which would presumably include gender roles - it generated a good amount of skub due to this new gender dynamic, the use of recently invented gender pronouns, how they fit into the universe, and whether or not this written in an attempt to pander to SJWs or a sign that Gav Thorpe has become one. It should be noted that, like many GW/Black Library writers, Gav Thorpe's content is by no means 100% great reads, and this might just be a case of him finding a character interesting, political views aside, and writing them very badly.
It's your hobby, and at day's end, any changes you make to doing what you love and loving what you do should be ultimately your decision. Don't care so much about what other people think, let alone some fanbrats and/or political brainlets who probably don't even give a shit about it to begin with. Anyone who DOES care enough about diverse characters and settings will eventually take matters into their own hands and brew some up themselves, as they should. Half the fun of Warhammer is making your armies your own anyway, like most tabletop games, so why wait for GW to change?
The wrong response (and this is almost always true, by the way), is to insult the fans for liking something they don't like. But hey, whatchagonnado? "Pretending to be offended" can cut 'both' ways, and complaining about people liking something you don't like is almost as popular here as complaining about people not liking something you love. And as long as someone makes their dudes "wrong," someone will always be yelling.
Yet again, like most of the internet.
So weigh your options and pick your battles wisely, because God knows these chucklefucks won't.
Do SJW's have a point?
While the term represents legitimate grievances and very real issues, as hinted earlier "SJW" has also seen use as a snarl word by people on the right to shut down arguments, regardless of any merit they might have. This snarl creates a crude caricature of modern leftists to smear a rather large body of people (e.g. lumping said leftists with liberals, even though not all liberals are left-wing and may participate in said smears themselves), misrepresenting any position left of the "snarler" as a threat to any cultural aspect you can think of (like say, entertainment and gaming). Sometimes it doesn't matter if the SJWs in question (or their supposed position) are even partly real, or just convenient caricatures up to and including the most blatant trolls. While this behavior isn't limited to any one group, this is especially true of those on the /pol/ side when they don't want to scare the normies - or at least let the caricatures do the work for them. After all, who's gonna pay attention to someone when they or their views are successfully cast as "rocking the boat?"
Some fiction does have problematic elements, and all fiction has a certain degree of subtext woven into it (intentionally or not) by its creators and/or the general worldview of the day. For example, in a lot of 1950s fiction, female characters would usually be sidelined to supporting roles such as home keeper, while a male protagonist would be the guy who took charge and get shit done - even in a science fiction setting where many futurists would have speculated that women would take a greater active role in future society. Most times, writers consider the way things are done where they're from to be the way things "should" be, unless they're exploring a "what if" scenario or criticism of an aspect of their society. Tropes built around the worldview of a generation persist into the next and often serve as the foundation for that generation's works - it's part of human nature for people to write what they know, take their worldview for granted and/or follow the leader without considering the implications.
Though such tropes can serve as useful indicators of the author's beliefs and/or the cultural zeitgeist, many of these tropes also do not age well, becoming discredited in some fashion as society and attitudes towards history change over time; a fair number of MST3K episodes snark at this. Understanding how this process works, and the ramifications thereof, is a perfectly valid approach to identify problematic matters and address them in future works. This has far more practical applications than trying to be as inoffensive as possible merely for the sake of it, which often does the subject matter(s) a disservice - it is frequently an exercise in futility, and besides that, context is key. One series having metal bikini armor is not a problem (especially if its general tone is tongue firmly in cheek), but when that becomes the norm even in more serious works, especially without justification, then it's become an issue.
Furthermore, acknowledging problematic elements in a work is not the same as a condemnation of its quality or wanting it censored because of that (usually) comparatively small element - this assumption is a classic Hanlon's Razor scenario, assuming malice where at worst stupidity may exist. The presence of certain views or "biases" in a work doesn't mean that the modern reader will instantly like or adopt said views. No one is immune to propaganda, but reading Atlas Shrugged doesn't automatically make you an individualist; being a fan of the Imperium of Man doesn't make you a militaristic theocracy advocate, reading The Lord of the Rings does not automatically make you a monarchist, and so on. Aside from tarring all people with the same brush as being easily impressionable morons, that's mostly putting the cart before the horse and attacking symptoms rather than the actual cause, i.e. what would lead someone to seek reinforcement of that particular worldview via reading or producing fiction, for instance - a nuanced topic that would take up a page on its own and isn't likely to be done real justice here.
There are numerous reasons why there's "pandering" in /tg/ media, beyond the points discussed above. For one, many companies want to broaden their consumer base by taking in new demographics. As the world gets interconnected and as society becomes more diverse, there is an increasing demand by people who aren't heterosexual white men to see people who aren't heterosexual white men in Western media, be it as the hero, getting the girl/guy, or "just" being more than a sidekick (matters of representation and diversity in non-Western media and related questions of double standards in the complaints are something that would warrant several paragraphs, if not their own page). Putting all your eggs in the established core demographic basket can be as disastrous as trying to appeal to a new demographic at the expense of that initial base (AKA "biting the hand that feeds you"). For example, the former was a contributing factor in the Comics Crash of 1996, focusing too much on the established fanbase at the expense of bringing in new ones, only to lose it all when they failed to appeal successfully to either while driving much of that old fanbase away.
The 'threat' to any given body of work, much less works within the domain of our hobbby, does not lies merely in conflicts between people with different political views, but more often in foolish mass-marketing mandates. And when those politics themselves become mass-marketed, the parasitic corporate practices it enables, along with framing the matter as one of a dichotomous nature - be it unintentionally, actively, dishonestly, and/or otherwise - provides further ammo to the "fringe" ideologues involved, supporters and detractors alike, that they may continue their never ending game of philosophical sportsball, and only the most short-sighted and/or fanatical sorts, especially "SJWs", consider that to be a good result.
Thankfully, some solutions are straightforward; there is absolutely no reason that you could not make the the Inquisitor in your Warhammer 40,000 campaign black. In the typical Tolkien-knockoff fantasy settings, you can include a few black characters, and the bare minimum requirement is a sentence to the effect of "their parents were from a distant land where humans look a bit different" (though Tolkien himself had ethnic diversity among humanity in his setting; the Drúedain people of LotR were non-white and opposed Sauron, while there were those among the Free Peoples who knowingly or unknowingly aided Sauron). Population dynamics, such as the oft-cited 1:1 ratio of male-to-female, suggest that there needs to be a pretty good reason NOT have a mix of characters (such as an epidemic that only effects males or females). The lack of LGBTQ+ people is often a point of contention, as it is very difficult to calculate the actual number in any population, given the inherent dangers in certain regions and the vagueness of personal gender/sexual identification. Adding said characters if they're written well and fit the story is, in general, a positive and just good business, especially for those who are transparent about the reasoning behind their works.
The problems arise with executives and other figureheads who don't know any better: some only care about lining their own pockets, and engage in the usual out-of-touch appealing to what the kids are into today without understanding the how and why of it; others fail to distinguish between diversity and tokenism as a result of push an agenda-based quota; and still others use the work to push their views and beliefs onto others, the latter two groups ignoring that their franchises are sold to people and not reductive demographic abstractions. Then there are the marketers and PR representatives who encourage this behavior in the vain hope that "new demographics" will eat it up no matter what; when this is almost inevitably proven wrong, they will double down on the pandering, which alienates those who support the view represented by not giving them what they actually wanted while further souring those who don't endorse said view.
When further combined with the tendency of sensationalist media outlets to lionize or demonize whoever they have to in order to meet their given slant's quota, as well as the presence of astroturfing and other means of manufacturing outrage in support of or against said slants, you have the recipe for a failed market or a doomed franchise at best. In a worst-case scenario, you end up creating a new set of problematic cliches and stereotypes. That the majority of fiction is political in some shape or form does not absolve writers of their responsibility to skillfully and properly handle what, if any, politics they acknowledge, lest we get propaganda masquerading as entertainment - and the groups they're expecting to eat that kind of slop up may very well be the first to notice.
TL;DR: "Yes", they sometimes have a point, BUT as is wont to be done in political discussion and nuanced argument, the points are often made poorly, and in either case are heavily exploited to the detriment of all those involved.
- /pol/ - /pol/ is the largest face of the "alt-right", the yang to the SJW's left-leaning yin. They 'pretty much' run on the same fuel, shot-for-shot, but /pol/ uses skewed far-right principles instead. Exudes a very similar autism to their perceived enemies, but it has a chance of ranging from hilarious, to the pot calling the kettle black, to "Hitler did nothing wrong".