The following article was written by a friend who works as an Early Child Educator in a before and after school program. It is about his participation in the Warhammer School Clubs program, a program by Games Workshop intended to promote the hobby within schools. This article is part two; see part one here.
So you’re thinking about starting a Warhammer School Club in your school. Maybe you’re an experienced gamer and educator wanting to bring your love for the hobby in, or maybe it’s your first time and some kid has brought this odd little game to your classroom and wants support from you to help start a club. You go to your organization’s coordinator or the school administrator and share this idea. What happens when they aren’t really sold on it?
For a lot of administrators, this is new territory. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and what it can bring to the educational experience. We need to be able to make the case for the educational benefits of miniature wargaming in the classroom as well as address any misgivings administrators may have. And convincing administrators is the first step before needing to convince parents to allow their children to participate.
With that in mind, here are some objections that I’ve personally experienced as well as some that I’ve heard from others.
The first thing I want to bring up is how the settings of the universes affect how they might be received by administrators. I fully admit that this maybe some of my personal bias, but I find the setting of Age of Sigmar to be less problematic than the world of 40K. Let me explain…
As previously discussed on this blog, there’s something a little too real about wargaming in conflicts that are more recent. I feel a similar (but different) unease about the nature of the 40K universe. Fantasy as a setting is backward looking – It takes a view that our past glories are behind us, and that the worlds of fantasy are one of mythic heroes of the gods that we will never live up too. They are worlds of mysticism where impossible magics and long antiqued weaponry rule.
Science Fiction on the other hand is forward looking – it starts out as an attempt to anticipate scientific and technological advances. So rather then taking a starting point of a long past historical period and adding the fantastical, science fiction takes our now, and extrapolates what may happen in the far off future. And the far future of 40K is a grimdark reflection of our own.
While the over-the-top grimdark-ness was originally meant to satirize the tropes often seen in science fiction, the satire of it all is often missed with members of community, and will no doubt be missed by the children and school administrators in the school. That’s why a lot the problems that will be brought up are likely to exist solely with the 40K setting, and are maybe lessened from the world of AoS, which has a clearer morality. because of this, I believe that starting with AoS will be easier to present to administrators and parents at the beginning then the world of 40K.
The starters that come in the box put this into contrast. The AoS box (Storm Strike) comes with Stormcast Eternals and Nighthaunts. The 40K box (First Strike) comes with UltraMarines and Death Guard Plague Marines and Poxwalkers. When presenting these two boxes to administrators and parents, it would probably be an easier sell to present “Heroic Knights” vs “Ghosts” then “Storm Troopers” vs “puss covered, guts-falling-out Space Zombies”.
That is not to say that 40K cannot be a part of the experience of the school club, rather it would be easier to slowly introduce and carefully curate what parts of 40K you’re using after introducing the administrators, parents and children into AoS.
No matter what the setting though, you’re going to get pushback on the “violence” of the subject matter. After all, the first things parents and administrators will be hearing is the WAR in Warhammer, whether it is the fantasy or sci-fi version of it. The biggest concern will always be about promoting the unending conflict, and whether or not that unending conflict will spill from the game world into the real world between the children.
It is important to recognize that Warhammer is probably not the only war game that the children are playing in school. When seen within a different context, most games with rules children play are simulations of battle. The classic dodgeball is a perfect example – two opposing sides volley projectiles at each other with the goal of removing the opposing team from the field of conflict, with some variations having different roles (like medics to bring into players back into the game) that reflect the roles one would have in a military.
We allow games like dodgeball and football to be played in schools because the “violence” and “war” of it all is abstracted and contextualized in a different way. Warhammer and wargaming is no more violent than chess; it’s dice and game pieces on a table. Dodgeball is arguably a much more violent game, with the potential of real world injury. The only way wargaming is more “violent” is that the game pieces are sculpted and presented with weapons or gore. The “violence” is all in narrative, and the School program curriculum does a good deal at contextualizing and discussing the ethics of warfare.
If there is concern that the “play violence” will spill out from the game into actual violence, then we have to ask yourself the question: Why? Children who act out violently have not developed the self-control skills to communicate the feelings they are experiencing and they use violence as a nonverbal way to show how they are feeling, be it frustration, anger, sadness, etc. By the time the children are being introduced to WarHammer school club (around age 12 and above), most children should have the social and self-control skills to cope with and self-express feelings of frustration or anger verbally and not physicially.
But even as adults, in the heat of the moment have lapses, and for those few children that still have difficulty with self-control around those strong emotions and ‘lash out’, the game can be a way to teach and develop those self-control skills. The game provides a framework and boundaries, and the curriculum provided by GW places a heavy focus of fair play and personal code of conduct, thus developing the self-control social skills same children may be still developing.
The biggest issue your probably going to run into is the inclusion of models that carry guns.
‘Guns in school’, broadly speaking, is an extremely serious subject. The impact of actual firearms within schools should not be contested or belittled. Nor does suggesting that teachers who include ‘gun play’ in school diminish the strong work that students, parents and groups are doing to keep guns out of schools, or suggest that the problem to gun violence in schools is to have more guns in school. We should rightly reject actual firearms in our schools and, in the case of America, where there is a school shooting pandemic, actively resist the culture of gun violence in our schools.
With all that being said, it’s important to recognize the separation between actual ‘gun violence’ and the kind of ‘gun play’ that children are involved in. It goes to a fundamental question: Why do children play?
Children’s play is a process of developing an understanding of themselves and the world around them. As Melinda Walden, an Early Childhood Education teacher at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada, who focus on risky and controversial play explains in an interview about her own experiences with developing a curriculum around gun play, “A child is just figuring out the world and the things in it through play because that is how they learn, and guns are a part of our world, so how else are they going to learn about it?”
As we continue see conflict unfortunately raging around the world, children need a device to understand why that conflict happens, and even if we think we are shield them from it, they still are passively absorbing everything around them. Some of the parents in our schools may be police officers or military who need to use a gun as a tool in their jobs. By playing with imaginary guns, they are engaging with “a form of socio-dramatic play“ where children can place themselves in the role of ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ to better understand those concepts.
Another controversy the could arise is the inclusion of demonic or ghoulish subject matter. GW’s hobby line mascot is a demon, it’s major award is the Golden Demon, and the yellow ‘painting daemon’ is all over the hobbyist packaging and promotional material. Depending on community standards, this can become an issue in needing of explaining to parents and administrators.
The simplest solution to this is to reframe our look from the ‘Adult perspective’ to the ‘Child perspective’. While we as adults may put a lot of weight on the demonic, depending on our community, children are do not have the context that we have developed. They are approaching these monsters, and understand that due to parent reaction are ‘bad’ but have not developed the understanding of what bad is in context of demons. They with to understand what makes them bad, or scary, or demonic, and the way that children do that is through play.
Let us hypothesize that you are in a school in a community where religion is very important to the identities of the families of the children we interact with. Our children are going to Church and hearing stories about good vs evil, are being told stories about the devil, hell, demons and sin. That creates an interest in the children about demons and evil, as they are told about how bad and to stay away from these the demonic. What child wouldn’t then have an interest in something forbidden and mysterious?
Thus we are responding to the children’s fascination in the demonic, allowing them to engage in socio-dramatic play to help the children put themselves into the perspective both of good and evil (and, again, I think AoS is stronger in having more thoroughly “Good” characters compared to the main factions in 40K). They can experience ‘demons’ in the safe boundaries of a tabletop game, giving them a better understanding of the negatives of it.
At least that’s what my argument would be. The truth is, some parents and administrators won’t be sold on pedagogical arguments, especially when it comes to areas of faith. And that’s fine; whether it is on the violence, gunplay, or demonism, some of your co-workers, parents or administrators won’t be 100% on board. If you cannot get people on board 100%, then the best way forward is to organize the club around them.
For parents, the school club is voluntary, and thus need parents permission, so while we know that the child will suffer from not participating, a parent who wishes to not have their children in it just won’t have their child participate.
For co-workers who are not on board, it simply means putting the work on yourself. Assure them that it is in their rights to disagree, but that it is important to you and that you will be the one organizing and ensuring that it runs well by yourself.
For Administrators, while risky, there is truth in the adage ‘it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask for permission.’ When I began to bring war gaming into the classroom, it was in the form of those cheap green army guys. We received two bins for two rooms. The younger room snipped off all the guns, while my room did not. There was discussion with the administrator about whether or not they all had to, but I didn’t feel that a decision was made. In that uncertainty, I started my curriculum with guns intact – and the curriculum manager saw and was upset. There was a testy discussion, but keeping them on had already moved the ‘realities on the ground’, and the genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle.
Why do we do it?
The reality is, we are doing this because we believe that it will be a educational and social benefit of the children (be it literacy, mathematics, artistic, technology, etc) in this hobby. There are no alternative motives, like to make children more violent, gun prone or devotees of Satan. We know that this community can make help improve the lives of the children; it is the reason we became educators in the first place. Against all objections, that should be our argument: we are here for the youth we care for