Painting is Good: A Response

So, a thing happened on the Warmachine internet today

While I am loath to start an internet fight, especially with someone who has way more pull in the Warmachine community, it seems as though I have been called out a little with a couple comments in the article that seem to be referring to my articles suggesting the use of painting as a tiebreaker or to grant small in-game bonuses for painted armies is a toxic attitude that has no place in the game.

So, I’m going to lay out my thoughts on the subject and provide, if not a counterpoint, at least a basis for some discussion that is hopefully a little more positive than the last time I talked about this.

Emotions

I will acknowledge here that this is a subject where emotions are running high. People who are trying to get painted but aren’t there yet can feel bad when others talk about how awesome it is to play it painted. Those who try to push for fully painted events or encouraging painting in organized play are occasionally branded “paint-shamers” (protip: don’t google “paint shaming”) and told they don’t belong. Even saying something as innocuous as “fighting the war on the grey hordes” can be cause offense. Some competitive players feel strongly that painting interferes with the purity of the competitive game and that models are and should be nothing more than stats on bases. And those of us who started with Warhammer may have had some traumatic experience arguing with a judge over the three colour rule or chafing at biased paint judging. In this sort of environment, I don’t have particularly high hopes for a non-heated discussion and am pretty sure that this question isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon but… I don’t know, I guess I’m enough of a masochist that I’m ready to wade into this pool once again.

Everyone CAN paint

First, I would argue that the occasional painting requirement isn’t as exclusionary as people say it is, for the simple fact that (just about) everyone can paint.

We live in a golden age of miniature painting. There are tons of products out there, from Army Painter colour matching spray primers to GW Contrast Paints designed to get your army painted up quickly. On top of that, the internet has made a ton of content available for free on how to get your army painted up quickly. Duncan can show you how to paint a space marine in 10 minutes, and if you don’t like the basecoat-wash-drybrush method, you can check out sketch style or just slather the thing in contrast paints.

Incidentally, I would guess that a not-insignificant portion of those who don’t like painting are victims of a bad experience when they were just starting out. Something like trying to paint Army Painter yellow straight over black primer because they don’t know any better, and then having a bad time, getting frustrated, and quitting. These are people who can be shown the light.

Perhaps there are a small number of people out there who have very specific disabilities that mean they legitimately can’t paint but which doesn’t affect their ability to play the game, however the intersection on that Venn diagram is so small that this argument isn’t particularly meaningful, and communities can band together to help those people. If someone I know wants to go to a fully painted tournament but has an issue like severe carpal tunnel, I’ll bust out the airbrush help him at least get to a three colour minimum quickly.

Now, “I can’t paint,” “I don’t want to paint,” “I don’t have time to paint because I have seven kids and work 12 hours a day,” and “I don’t have time to paint because I play six hours of Overwatch a night” are all fundamentally very different arguments, and this is where discussions often go south. However, before we dismiss the very concept of rewarding painting or having a fully painted event out of hand as “not inclusive,” we should recognize that “not having access to a painted army” isn’t some sort of immutable characteristic like the colour of one’s skin.

IMG_1782.JPG

Born this way!

Painting makes the game better

This one shouldn’t be controversial, but it probably is. I feel like there is something about seeing two fully painted armies go at it that makes for more of an enjoyable experience for everyone. Privateer Press recognizes this; it is why they strongly encourage people to play it painted in the steamroller packet and put a lot of effort into promoting the hobby aspect of the game.

Further, I would argue that given the importance of target selection in Warmachine, painted armies improve competitive play. It’s a lot easier to pick out which dude is a solo or unit attachment at a distance when the armies are painted. Even if they aren’t well-painted or painted in the studio colours, just blocking in some colour or doing some dry brushing allows your opponent to pick out distinct shapes like the tiny emblem on the shoulder pads that the unit attachment has from across the table much easier than if they are looking at a sea of unpainted plastic or black primer.

IMG_1770.JPG

See how much easier it is to distinguish the UA and Leader of the Shocktroopers on the right for both players. Now imagine they were unpainted…

Painting attracts new players

I do think playing it painted does help bring new players into the game. I’ve been spending the past couple months getting a coworker into the game, and one of the first things I did when I embarked on that journey was painting up some Cygnar so I could play the bad guys fully painted against him. My feeling is that this, along with taking some care to make the tables look good, helped get him hooked much more efficiently than if I were to roll up with the blue plastic battlebox and duking it out on a table that looks like the battle of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Now, he’s making his first big purchases and watching both battle reports and painting videos.

Further, if we are playing in a highly public space, such as a large, multi-game convention, then we are competing for people’s eyeballs with games like 40K, Age of Sigmar, Star Wars Legion, and X-Wing. By putting in an effort to make the game look good, we can attract more attention than if we were rocking grey plastic.

What would I like to see?

I’m not saying that you should have your army fed into a wood chipper if you dare show up with unpainted models, or that game stores should scold people who dare show bare plastic in public. However, all too often, it feels as though the hobby aspect is an afterthought in Warmachine, and as someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of the game, that’s something that is occasionally frustrating.

I think it would be nice to have something baked into the game or into organized play to encourage painting. The catch is, I’m not sure what that would be. I’ve thrown out a couple suggestions in the past like a small in-game bonus for painted armies or using proportion of models painted as a tiebreaker, but the negative reception that these ideas received in the WMH community (apparently suggesting an alternative method of doing tiebreakers is a “toxic attitude” now?) pretty much renders them a non-starter.

I do think having painting awards at the local level is a good idea. Unlike Jaden, I don’t think they need to necessarily always be raffles. The beauty of a painting award is that, unlike a tournament prize where there aren’t really any alternatives to just giving it to the person who won all her games, there are lots of ways to do a painting award and you can mix it up so everyone has a chance and you keep the competition fresh. Best army, best unit, or best single model. For unit or single model, you could require them to have been painted within a certain period of time so the guy whose Sorscha won Crystal Brush in 2005 doesn’t keep bringing the same model. You could decide by popular vote or, if you have one shark who is winning the painting competition all the time, you could enlist her as a judge and have her choose the winners and offer any desired feedback. Or, yes, you could have a raffle for everyone who has accomplished something like field a fully painted army or finish painting a unit in the last couple months.

I would also point out as an aside that, right now, the problem of having one or two people from the meta winning every time and being a discouragement to other players is a reality for tournament prizes, though it is rarely talked about. One of the guys in my meta won the big tournament at Lock and Load a couple weeks ago, so I have zero chance of winning any tournament that he shows up to (not that I hold it against him or anything). It seems a little unusual that the best player winning the tournament all the time isn’t seen as an issue, while the best painter winning best painted all the time is a reason why we can’t have painting awards. If, at a tournament, the only prizes are given for competitive performance, then you risk harbouring resentment when the newer or less-skilled players just have their lunch money in the form of entry fees taken month-in and month-out.

As for painting requirements at tournaments, I don’t think they should be necessary all the time. However, I would like to see a fully painted, premier-level tournament format officially supported by Privateer Press. Since they not only got rid of all painting requirements in their Masters and Champions format, but worded their packet in such a way that you aren’t allowed to run an officially sanctioned Masters or Champions event with a painting requirement, I haven’t heard of any fully painted event within 1000 km. In effect, the number of fully painted tournaments that I can go to has dropped to essentially zero, and that is kind of a disappointment for me.

I feel like the sort of big conventions that you plan your attendance at six months out are a great venue for a fully painted event. Since the people who want to travel great distances to go to these events are making travel plans months in advance, they have a lot of time to get a couple lists painted. With space and time for multiple tournaments, Iron Arena, and other programming, people who don’t have a fully painted army don’t have to twiddle their thumbs. For people like me, we are more likely to make the trek because a fully painted event is a special experience, and it’s not like we are ever going to qualify for the super top level invitational tournaments that do have painting requirements like WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals.

Trash Talk: Not just for painting!

The impetus for Jaden to write this article was a meme of someone making a disappointed face that his opponent was unpainted. First, I’m as guilty as anyone of using sarcasm in my writing and having it not be conveyed properly in text, or having a dry sense of humour that doesn’t always come across as intended. I’m sure the offending meme was meant as a humourous, tongue in cheek joke, however it was evidently taken serious enough to spawn now multiple articles in the Warmachine blogosphere.

However, if we are to talk about “paint-shaming,” I feel like that is only one small part of how we treat each other in the Warmachine community. Even if you consider the occasional tongue in cheek reference that I’ve made in the worst possible way, I’ve still taken a lot more crap for playing “easy mode” Khador (while Cryx, not Khador, was dominating the tournament scene, but I digress) or not being good enough at the game than I’ve ever dished out over painting.

There is a line between gentle ribbing, friendly trash talk, and stuff that comes across as disrespectful or bullying. That line can be in different places for everyone; I know for me, there was a time when I was doing more tournament play and I would get very sensitive to comments about how I only won because models like Harkevich or Torch in my army were OP because it was taken as an attack on my abilities at a point in my life when I still cared about being good at the game.

Further, internet meme culture is notoriously harsh, particularly in nerdy, niche communities like Warmachine. There are some forums and facebook groups that I personally try to avoid because they are a cesspool of negativity and they make me not want to play the game, so I can see why there would be a negative reaction to something like this.

So, are memes making fun of unpainted armies wrong? Maybe – after all, a little trash talk between close friends who know where each other’s line is is a lot different than going up to a random new player and bullying him – but is it any more wrong than memes portraying Khador players as unskilled mouth-breathers who just derp derp charge and win despite their lack of intelligence, or Cygnar players as whiny losers who don’t know what to do if they can’t crutch on Haley2, or Legion players as whiners who complain whenever they are told that there is a rule in the game that applies to them?

Conclusions

No, no one has to paint. However, Warmachine kind of has a reputation as the worst looking miniature game on the market and that’s not because the model sculpts are bad. I think finding ways to encourage painting that, while they are not judgemental, reinforce the idea that painting is a part of this hobby and is not a distant second fiddle to competitive play, is important. I’d like to see everyone encouraged to at the very least set having a fully painted army as an aspirational goal, because even in this golden age it does take time and sometimes you can’t get all your dudes painted before the big game. The more painted armies out there, the better it is for everyone.

Oh, and also don’t tell people who like painting or don’t absolutely hate painting requirements to go play 40K instead. That’s not helping grow the Warmachine community either.

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