Warhammer 40k gender language critic: “I got death threats”

Warhammer 40k fan Commissar Draeci (a.k.a. Benny), author of an open letter to Games Workshop suggesting it hire sensitivity writers to make its games more inclusive, says they have received “hundreds of abusive messages” over the letter, including “death threats and sexual abuse threats”. It comes after hobby blogger Matt Austin (a.k.a. BitsHammer) added his voice to calls for an official GW response on the issue.

Speaking to hobby site Wargame Explorer in an interview published on Tuesday, Draeci said their open letter – prompted by a passage in the new Horus Heresy Age of Darkness rulebook referring to “the hormonal and biological make-up of the human male” – was about improving the hobby’s gender inclusivity, not interfering with Warhammer 40k’s well-loved fiction.

But they told Wargame Explorer’s Robison Wells that “for simply asking GW to consider hiring sensitivity readers (not change the lore, not redact the book), I received literally hundreds of abusive messages”, including “death threats and sexual abuse threats via email, Twitter and [their website]”.

They added that “the sole tweet I made about the letter has over a hundred and thirty quote retweets, and the vast majority are abusive, viewing people like me as a presence to remove from ‘their’ hobby”.

In the interview, Draeci said they’d written the letter “largely speaking from a community point of view about the unfortunate phrasing used” – arguing that GW’s “inflexible” choice of wording for the biological makeup of Space Marines has “handed a weapon to those who spend their time chasing anything that threatens their world view out of the hobby”.

“Responsibility lies with those hurling abuse, but after thirty years, I cannot believe that nobody at GW would think this could happen”, they said. “I believe they didn’t think about it at all.”

Draeci explained to Wells they were raised as female, medically transitioned to male in their late twenties, then later began identifying as agender (a type of non-binary identity) – and, while female-presenting, had only felt able to safely get involved in the wargaming hobby online, “as long as I didn’t ever say I was female, or later, transgender”.

Warhammer 40k Horus Heresy gender language death threats - warhammer community photo showing the contents of the horus heresy age of darkness box set

The Warhammer: The Horus Heresy – Age of Darkness box set contains two tabletop forces for the 40k spinoff game, as well as the aforementioned 336-page rulebook (the relevant passage on Space Marine biology can be found on page 31). The set went to pre-order on Saturday, June 4 for $299 / £180, and was released on June 11.

Wargamer contacted Games Workshop for comment on both Draeci’s comments in the interview, and the content of their original open letter. At press time, we had received no response.

As of 5pm UK time, Thursday, July 14, 2780 people have signed their name to Commissar Draeci’s open letter – you can read it here.