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Thread: Is 40k too grimdark for its own sake?

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    Is 40k too grimdark for its own sake?

    ED: for its own good. Sorry, English is not my mother tongue.

    I don't want to ramble about, so I'll get to the point: I think GW is trying to breath some hope and suck some of the grimdark out of 40k, but it's doing it in the wrong way and at the wrong places.

    Here's the idea:

    - The Grim Beginnings.

    40k wasn't grimdark back in the Rogue Trader days. It was low-res sci-fi which drank profusely from Starship Troopers (the rawdy and mundane, space marines, very different from the holier-than-thou versions we know today), the broken grandiose references, religious subtones, medieval flavour, grander-scheme eugenics and faux-latin from Dune (which, after having read as an adult, made me think I was reading the first 40k novel ever published), sprinkled with other tropes and stereotypes of the genre, the approach that made WHFB a success before 40k was even its own thing (remember, Space Lizardmen...).

    Grimdark creeped into it out of scale, shock value and also because it was the logical next step. Dune was grim in its depiction of a future ruled by higher classes, neverending family feuds, injustice and the ban of advanced computation due to a machine rebellion, but it told a personal story to which we could relate, one of freedom fighting and personal superation. Starship Troopers was gritty and dark, because it made you understand the main characters and it made you accept the fascistic world they lived in.

    In time, the scale of the tragedy in the 41st Millennium became enormous. Just the choice of setting the game 40.000 years from now (an amount of time that almost octuplicates the time since the first cities in Mesopotamia) speaks volumes about the intentional design ideas behind RT's background: removed from familiar structures and countries and concepts; no Federation, no United Nations, no USSR, no recognisable modern day structures or references, but also with room for cultural elements to develop. Thus, a simple groundwork was created: in this world, you can do more or less what you want, because it's at the same time familiar and foreign, relatable yet removed.

    - Tragedy gigantism.

    Now, 40k has always suffered from tragedy gigantism. Planets lost in the hundreds, people die by the billions each day, the government's machine is horrible and inhumane, our rulers don't care about us and our saviour (in what I consider true genius on the writers' side) is crucified in a golden throne, but instead of dying and coming back to life 3 days later, he sits a second away from death on a life-sustaining device for 10.000 years, robbing people of their messiah and keeping in its place a myriad of ministries, agencies, organisations, aristocracies and any form of oppression imaginable. Everything is exagerated and nothing is too sacred in the 40k we grew up with. Things were VERY serious, but also, too serious. On-the-nose serious. You were in on the joke. The Imperium was a fun place in which to destroy fantasy and sci-fi tropes, in which to show how far mankind could fall, in which a cynical, destructive approach to our own reality and thoughts brought forth very interesting results. Who can forget the Gretchin Revolutionary Commitee from Gorkamorka, the communist goblins led by a trench-coat wearing Red Gobbo?

    Lately, though, I see an approach that's serious-serious, intended to take everything at face value, without further criticism, without any real commentary or intention other than "Fascist hopeless future is cool." Sure, it's cool, but I've always liked 40k for its absurdist qualities, for its experimental value. I've spent more time developing fun IG regiments and interesting ideas for Marine Chapters than actually playing with them. You knew that the faith the Imperial Creed sold was empty, that the IG were all doomed, that the Marines were self-righteous pricks... but now, everything is supposed to be what it appears to be.

    - Grimdark as usual.

    The Grimdark has become the norm, and we (at least I) can't relate with it anymore. I read about the Dark Imperium and I'm not impressed. The Fall of Cadia didn't give me the same visceral reaction that the Sundering of Ulthuan did back when they killed WHFB, or the Destruction of Altdorf, or the death of Karl Franz... sure, it got silly, but you had never seen anything like that.

    In 40k, we've seen it. Planets killed, billions dead, entire chapters dying out in the cold void of the purple eye, we've seen it all, and from much closer up. So the Rift and the Fall of Cadia and all that, they're not much of anything really. I don't know how does it affect the normal ebb and flow of Imperial life, or how does this affect key areas in the galaxy. Why didn't we get a small text about the appearance of the Rift or the flicker of the Astronomican? Yes, yes, there are novels, but that's not the point, they're secondary sources anyway.

    - Hope at the wrong places.

    Now the Galaxy is no longer led by faceless goons more concerned with their own medals or wealth than with the welfare of their citizens, it's led by the less grimdark of the Primarchs! Guilliman, the guy who is more concerned about the military and the matters of state than the welfare of his citizens. He is the relatable face of 40k now (as relatable as a 10.000 years old Cato-like Roman prick with superpowers can be) and he is supposed to breath some new hope into the Empire by getting things done. Technology is advancing again, the Imperium is on the offensive! There's hope!

    Or is there? Because as far as I understood it, 40k's point of proximity was that its people lived ****** lives for the good of Mankind, because the machinery of war, the brutal oppression, the censorship and the mind police were a necessity when free thought and freedom are gates to hell, LITERALLY. Which is in itself a very interesting and fun approach; what if everyting that was criticised about Western civilization was true. The Dark Imperium tried both to give 40k some semblance of optimism by puttinga good guy in charge, but made it worse by having this guy, who, like us, doesn't believe in the Imperium or its means of control, resigned to keep the machinery of oppression going, by not dropping one inch the real danger of the Warp. Are we supposed to think this is a different setting now? The same? Or maybe just the same but less deep, less meaningful?

    The Grimdark has abandoned all pretense of being a foundation for twisted fun or intelligent commentary, and it's just part of what it used to be: cool dark stuff for shock value, without the wit and without the relatability. The same evil that befell AoS is now befalling 40k.

    Sorry about the wall of text and about the ten-dollar words. Just some thoughts I got between correcting exams.
    Last edited by Cèsar de Quart; 23-11-2017 at 18:32.

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