This is why we can’t have nice things.
So we were doing the podcast at White Metal Games just recently. We were talking about some of the upcoming psychic awakening stuff, particularly the one for February entitled “THE GREATER GOOD.” And the subject came up with my co-host, Hunter that the Tau are pretty neat, but people who play them tend to get more than their fair share of abuse from other players.
What? I was confused by that initially. What was wrong with Tau? I’d had some limited exposure to them. I’d even got to play with them in a skirmish with some Tyrannids and a Carnifex that a friend of mine ran once. My impression of them was of a much-needed race that wasn’t just a sci-fi’ed up version of a Warhammer Fantasy race. So instead of space elves, space drow, space orks, space demons etc… we actually had an analog of the long standing stereotype of the big eyed gray space aliens from so many conspiracy/alien abduction features. That and they had aspirations toward ‘The Greater Good‘.
They seemed pretty democratically socialist to me. And when I’m not doing this, I’m a rabble-rousing anti-fascist Gen-X’er. How refreshing! A new race that’s only about ten-thousand years old that WASN’T entirely bent into its own self-sustaining quasi-religious fascism. Of course the Games Workshop people made their own copyright-able spin on them when they made them into the Tau. I’m not entirely sure it’s not appropriating to call them the Tao- *AHEM* The Tau. But in the end, I got no beef with em for that. Game developers gotta eat too.
Moreover, they still seem to be growing and learning as a race. They haven’t lost their science or technology. They’re distance fighters, doing ranged DPS instead of in your face jockeying for proper position with a power sword melee. This is the 420th century, man! Like the character said, “You can’t just pick the buggers off one at a time anymore. Yeah it’s craftsmanship, but still…” They’re a bit like an expansionist meritocracy with a lot in common to Japanese culture. They’ve got keen robot-drones, science-fiction-y power armors and plasma weaponry. Their first impulse isn’t to immediately kill anyone they meet. (A definite plus in any sci-fi scenario for this kid.) And here’s a thing I found out… there’s actually humans who’ve defected from the Imperium to be part of the Tau Empire. Most of them willingly. These humans are even treated well enough that they’ll fight alongside the Tau when the Imperium comes to re-take their planets. Geeze! What’s not to like?
Hunter, the fan wiki for Warhammer, and 1d4chan‘s entries on them seem to be my primary source of info here. And they seem to agree that this was apparently just TOO optimistic for the player base. Really? They weren’t ‘GrimDark’ enough for you? the 1d4Chan article straight up calls them “Naive Weeaboo Space Communists”. I suppose they’d have been happier had the Tau’s relatively benevolent government, the Ethereals, secretly been mind-controlling autocrats manipulating their populace in service to their own secret malevolent aims?
Oh… that’s what GW did to appease the complainers… head-desk!
And honestly… it sounds like the bitter resentment of cynical players entirely invested in their fallen forever war society. How dare that race not be entirely jaded and without hope?! I mean they have the audacity of having a civilization that hasn’t collapsed entirely into anti-scientific superstition and mysticism. How actual dare they have an expansionist bent so well-meaning that entirely imperial indoctrinated humans were actually defecting to them? They’re obviously hiding something or corrupt! I mean look how the conversation devolves in this Reddit thread.
This is why we can’t have nice things, I thought to myself. Or at least, nice player races.
I want you to look at the vitriol on the 1D4Chan entry for this race. Tell us how you really feel, fellas. Where did the Tau hurt you exactly? The description of events there seems to imply the Tau hurt them in their precious continuity. (Please. Point to the place on the game miniature where the bad Tau touched you.) This is some butthurt, disenfranchised toxic Star Wars fan-level anger here.
It’s implied in the post that the Tau were a blatant attempt to woo a Japanese audience with more of a Taoist philosophy-based race and Gundam-esque combat style back in 1999. Cos those folk over in Japan, they love their socialism and giant robots, right? (sigh) And gee, when Games Workshop have normally been such a subtle and nuanced game developer over the last 30 years too… how gauche of them. Or ya know… not. Games Workshop is a bit blatant like the sun’s a bit warm on the best of days. And even if it was courting Japanese anime, manga and genre culture… again. Game developers gotta eat too. How better than to do a thing that might appeal? Oh noes! We can’t make them too appealing. People might accuse us of pandering to a demographic we want to sell stuff to. What’s next? Creating a game setting with perpetual galactic war with hyper-zealot superheroes with guns fighting actual demons while wiping out anything alien or not like themselves? Who might that be over-pandering to?
Who indeed? I don’t think it was personal, folks. Un-clench.
So in later materials, GW turns around and tries to make the Tau ‘acceptably grimdark‘ for the die-hard Warhammerers. Now the Tau’s leaders are pushing ‘the dark side of science‘ untempered with wisdom. Which I don’t much like the sound of. First, a race who sacrifices wisdom for scientific advancement is theorized to extinguish itself before it even becomes a type 1 society on the Kardeshev Scale. (Ya know. Like humanity is trying to do.) So that doesn’t really carry. Secondly, There is no dark side of science. Just morally compromised people using what science has to teach in service to their own flawed or damaged agendas. So what? Now the Tau are sci-fi Taoist-Gray amalgam crossed with mad scientists?
I thought you were trying to make them UN-appealing, GW. *Adopts Midwestern Accent* Oh you’re doin’ a bang-up job, there-yet. We can tell your noobness here has a thing for mad scientists. They’re a heckin’ lot more appealing to me than vampires and werewolves.
So then comes the seeming-fallback argument that it’s their style of combat that offends. Or in the Tau’s case, that they’re all ranged fighters. It’s too different! Well they’re ALIEN. That’s part and parcel of the ALIEN package. They’re gonna do things a little differently. If they’ve twigged to the fact that if you can get one hell of a long gun, and take out that guy WAY OVER THERE instead of letting him close on you with a claw/chainsword/kitbashed-orruc-thingamabobber/ancient elven blade passed down over 300 generations… Well, dude. Take the shot. I admit, in most videogame situations where I get the opportunity, I play snipers. So of course I have personal bias. To me, if combat has devolved into a melee situation cos your foe has closed with you, something has already gone drastically wrong. (Ha! Just like a human. Brings a chainsword to a gunfight.)
Yeah. Blame the guy smart enough to ‘cheaply‘ shoot the armor and skin off you from way over there instead of getting in a power-sword fight with you in melee range. Especially when you’re genetically engineered for exactly that. I’m guessing these particular haters would have been the ones complaining in the middle ages when the longbow was taken up in British and European societies. “I used to be a renowned warrior… but then I took an arrow to the knee… It’s getting so you can’t have a decent war anymore…“
Hunter mentioned to me that the Tau aren’t exactly vaunted for their melee combat prowess. Neither were most middle-ages peasantry. But they were nicely valued on the battlefield in appropriate numbers with an English longbow in their hands. To the degree that in the 12th century, you were absolved of guilt if you accidentally killed someone while practicing with one. They effectively ended the idea of knights and fully-armored cavalry. Especially when combined with the use of pikemen in a squared deployment to get your archers in range. (Your classic dex & speed beats strength & toughness argument.) You don’t take up ranged weapons to somehow cheat in ‘honorable‘ combat. You do it to get the advantage of not closing with that 300 lb. guy with the bastard sword way over there who wants to skewer you with it. And gosh… if the melee and cavalry types didn’t like longbows, they REALLY hated cannons and flintlocks. THAT ended the pike square pretty effectively later on; turning them into ranks of muskets and bayonets instead.
Hunter mentioned to me that some folks have problems with Tau tactics where they kind of show up, shoot and pull a quick fade. That such tactics are usually considered a bit cowardly by the other races. Cowardly? I feel the American revolutionaries in the 1700’s that practiced those very same tactics on the Redcoats might give you a glove across the face for insulting them like that. Especially since it was those same revolutionaries that embraced technological advancement, and started using standardized interchange-able rifle parts with rifled barrels to make their weapons more deadly and accurate. Guerilla tactics with superior distance weapons? Sound like anyone we know?
And finally we come around to the fact that… Well, they’re just… new. They weren’t part of the original continuity. They’ve got no analogues to Warhammer Fantasy like all the other races have. They’re the ‘new kid’. The one with all the technological breaks to them. The ones you can’t immediately pummel into submission cos they’ve a few non-standard tricks up their sleeves. Ones so like-able and positive, their empire turns into Mr. Steal Your Planets and Colonists.
They’re almost what you’d call an outlier among outsiders. The nerds who are fighting smarter, not harder. The ones who despite their melee weaknesses might frotz you from across the table and school your carefully balanced and crafted set of Ultramarines. And as more recent years have shown, even stereo-typically persecuted demographics like fans of genre fiction, gamers and the like can still be toxic and exclusive. Simplifying even further, we tend to fear and mistrust ‘the other‘ or what’s different from ourselves by virtue of our just being human. And honestly, you’d think my X-Men-reading geek tribe, who might know what the inside of a locker looks like, or be intimately familiar with the double-jock-lock would be a bit more understanding or tolerant.
And this might just be your noobness spitting into the wind. And sometimes perceived abuse can just be harmless shit-talk. Yer gamer pals giving you grief about it cos you’re flash-griefing them with a long-barrelled plasma rifle that DOESN’T have a chance of exploding in their faces. And yeah. That’s some powerful weaponry right there. And the grief is funny… until it’s not. And when I read or hear about people deciding to wash their hands of the hobby completely… sell off the minis and the armies that they spent all that time and resource on… then it’s very much NOT okay. That’s literally toxic fandom gatekeeping others out of the community and the pastime. And without new people and new ideas, the pastime and the hobby is a doomed one. “Oh yeah. I heard of that game. Unless you play a certain faction, you get a bunch of crap. No thanks.”
And I think no one REALLY wants it to be like that.
I’m not saying that you gotta ramp back the shit-talk. That’s part of the fun in any competitive endeavor. But if something different like the Tau comes along, which it did, you don’t have to beat it into a mold that makes it the same as every other thing in the game. If someone with different tactics comes along and challenges you with their mode of battle, how do you make that work for you instead of against you? How do you change your strategy and come out victorious? How do you solve that puzzle? Do you engage with that player in good faith, or do you tear down the opponent who’s giving you the challenge on the tabletop? If the different race or faction offends you so badly, do you ask yourself why it does offend you to the degree that it does? Do you observe what that might speak to in yourself? A lot of the factions in the grimdark future of Warhammer 40K are xenophobic fascist theocratic governments fueled on human/race-supremacist rhetoric. Are you playing because you want to experience fighting a hopeless war with the more positive aspects of valor, duty and sacrifice in the face of a very real Armageddon scenario? Or are you playing because you’re identifying with some of the more xenophobic and exclusive aspects of the story and characters within it?
Cos if you’re driving people off the gaming table and out of the hobby when everyone was supposed to be having fun? I got questions. And hopefully you do too. Confronted with that, I’d be concerned about my motivations at the very least. Being decidedly anti-fascist and anti-discriminatory, as well as very anti-toxic fandom and anti-incel, I’d like to think that might not be a problem for me ever. And I suppose it’s just as easy to dismiss my ranting as some kind of politically correct social-justice-warrior-ing. (SJW-ing?) But if the point’s to have fun. And you’re making it not fun for someone… You’ve got aught to answer for. Cos at that point, you’re the problem. But hopefully, a self-correcting one.
-Edward WinterRose is a 48th level geek from back in the day when saying you enjoyed playing RPG’s was a great way to get your ass kicked in grade school. He’s seen the pastime gain popularity and respect in the last 30 years. And would hate to see that progress squandered on a whiny exclusionary clique that doesn’t deserve the notoriety they’ve somehow accumulated at the rest of us’ expense.