Warhamer 40,000 and Aging

Guest Writer: John “JP” Paul

My kids were scampering around the yard with their cousins, golf was on TV, and my dad was sharing tales about his own childhood–all the typical staples of a holiday get-together.

And here we were, thick as thieves, talking about whether it’d be better to have the table set back behind the couch or between the couch and the TV when his townhouse is ready to go. My younger brother and his girlfriend are moving soon, and we discussed his excitement about having a finished basement that will be absolutely perfect for gaming. It hit me that this is probably not the normal conversation a 32-year-old pharmacist and a 35-year-old junior high school administrator would be having over Easter dinner. This got me thinking… what is it about this game that has stuck with me into adulthood? When I picked it up in middle school, I had no way to appreciate the role it would play in my life moving forward. I’m an English major, so stories are kind of my thing. I like seeing how and where this hobby fits into the tapestries of our lives. What got them into it? What was their first army? Where did they play? Tournaments, casual, narrative? In 6th grade, I moved to a new town and was seated–thanks to alphabetical order–beside a kid that would become one of my best friends in Mr. Greenberger’s math class. Mike conveniently mistook me for Steve Paul, one of our classmates with the same surname (no relation), and talked to me like we’d been friends for years. Being the new kid and not exactly a social butterfly, I played along, and we found a lot in common. Chief among these was an interest in science fiction and fantasy. Not long after that, he invited me over to see this game that he and his brother play called Warhammer. I was obsessed with Warcraft 2, so the idea that I could play as Orks had me hooked right out of the gates. I got to sit in on a crazy homebrew variation on Space Hulk. I led my Ork warband down the corridors of a ship while four of Mike’s brother’s high school buddies did likewise. We were all bee-lining for the bridge, and it wasn’t long before we were embroiled in quite the scrap. Unfortunately, my inexperience showed through, and my orks were routed first. I learned the hard way that Orks didn’t want to hide around corners popping off bolt pistol shots, only to be taken down one at a time by vastly superior space marine firepower, but that small sample was enough to get me hooked. His older brother, Matt, let me keep one of the models, and I spent the next afternoon painting it alongside Mike as he worked on one of his Crimson Fist space marines. Coincidentally, that was the first and only ork that I’ve ever owned. After our painting session, I dove into their collection of codices. This was early 3rd edition, in summer of 2000. John Blanche’s artwork absolutely screamed off the page. I was enraptured with the models, the paint schemes, the stark narratives, and the stunning art. There are few times in my life when I have realized that I stumbled across something that is distinctly “me.” This was perhaps the time I found something that resonated at my same frequency with such brute force that I had no choice but to dive in wholesale. The dread corsairs of the Eldar caught my eye, and I scrounged together enough cash to buy some models that one of Matt’s buddies was trying to offload. 

Codices

I grabbed some Testors enamel paints from the hobby shop down the road and got to work painting. Despite the absurdity of painting with these thick, high gloss paints, I achieved some surprisingly good paint jobs. I’m ashamed to say that none of those models survived with me into adulthood, which is something I genuinely regret. My favorite model was my Biel-Tan wraithlord. He was spearmint green with red missile launchers; the old model was goofy as hell but iconic. Regardless, thus was born my love of painting and all things Eldar (and Dark Eldar… loved them, too). Long afternoons were spent hunched over our pool table, which we haphazardly converted into a playing and hobby space by cautiously laying down a 4’ x 8’ sheet of OBX–a basement not unlike the very one my brother is seeing come to fruition in his own soon-to-be home. 

Wraithlord

For the record, that isn’t the one that I painted. Credit to Sean Suchaya for painting that, but that is the classic model for those of you that only know the beautiful plastic kit.

We played almost every weekend for the rest of middle school and off and on in high school and college, but it’s those initial years that colored my love of this hobby and this game. To this day, we get together and fondly recall our more absurd battles, times the dice absolutely betrayed us or dragged us to glory against all odds, crazy narratives that we drew up, or just the odd nonsense that can happen in any game of chance. Late nights in our formative years rolling dice, totally immersed in the grimdark universe of the 41st millennium, still resonate to this day.

Eldar Tanks

Even as the typical distractions of video games, cars, social drama, or girls spiraled around our formative years, 40K acted as the social lodestone that drew us back time and time again. Sure, we’d take occasional forays into other spheres like Necromunda, Warhammer Fantasy, and Mordheim, but the principal foundation of Games Workshop IP, and all the good (and at times, bad) that comes with it, shaped our hobbying future. There was something at home and safe about these events, with football or N64 on in the background or–in our college years–surreptitiously concealed bottles of beer hidden in army boxes for when our parents went to bed. I used to wonder if I’d grow out of it. That seemed to make sense. Adulthood was this sort of one-way portal that would inevitably launch me away from the hobby and into some bland cubicle and a sensible sedan. That time never came, though. My “inner child” seems to be thriving while I still chase the trappings of middle aged life. The hobby seems to remain as a sort of social rallying point for me and my buddies all these years later. All those classic showdowns of yesteryear slowly weasel their way back out, rehashed in surely more epic and grandiose fashion as we recount them, uncaring of the fact that this is the 20th, 30th, perhaps 40th iteration of the same tale told year after year as if it were some saga for the middle aged gamer. 

Throwdown

It’s different now; it’d be foolish to argue otherwise. Life gets in the way. We trade tape measures for marriage and dice for diapers as we hit the trademark phases of adulthood. The gaming nights are no longer weekly, or even monthly, but four or five times a year if we’re fortunate. In many ways, that’s what makes them all the more special to us, these preserved diamonds of nostalgia and bonding crystallized by the intense pressure of growing older, day-by-day. So, too, has the meaning of the game evolved for us. A few of my friends only really dabble these days, more content to observe a game than to actually play one, but they still love the lore and the universe. Others have immersed themselves even more fully into it, embracing the tournament scene that we never really experienced in our youth. The role it plays in my own life has shifted from my sole focus throughout middle and high school to a background interest to my source of solace when the world gets to be just a little bit too much.

Necrons vs. Eldar

One day, much as I muse now about the glory days of our past where we could afford to go sleepless nights duking it out on the tabletop, I’m sure I’ll think back to quiet evenings with a whiskey, my painting table, and a Gaunt’s Ghosts audiobook with equally fond remembrance. I think, as I write this, I see the patterns slowly coalescing. Warhammer 40,000 has, in so many ways, evolved alongside me, finding its place in the gaps and liminal spaces. As a mid-30 year old that is climbing the social and academic ranks of my career, I spend so much time fretting about my role and position in life. I stress and I toil and I wonder if I’m doing right by my family, by my coworkers, and by myself. It’s in the times when all that pressure and the overwhelming stress of it all threatens to topple the bulwarks and break me that I find myself back at the hobby desk exerting some measure of control in a life that seems so otherwise chaotic. This is no different than all those ugly, awkward, sweaty phases of adolescence and early adulthood where we spend so much time assessing who we are, who we hope to become, and whether we fit. At each of those steps, Warhammer was a constant. This hobby isn’t without its issues. Google it, and you’ll find plenty of ways the game and community can evolve, especially in a 21st century context. I won’t pretend otherwise. But for one lonely, scared 13 year-old in Mr. Greenberger’s math class, it was exactly what was needed. 

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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About Matt Castro

Matt, also known as MagikarpUsedFly, is a video game and 40k youtuber and streamer. Based in California, Matt has been playing 40k for over 3 years and has been making content for the game for a little over 1 year now.
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