Whether you were a nerdy collector, a friend dared you or it was an honest mistake while you were looking for a copy of Call of Duty, you will have been into a Games Workshop store at least once in your life. Chances are, once inside the high street home of Warhammer, you noticed it was populated exclusively by men.
However, women do play. I spoke to some about the gender split in the world of Warhammer.
"For me personally, the main aspect of the hobby that I enjoy is building and painting them, and seeing them come to life. It's really relaxing. The Hell Pit Abomination [pictured below] took me a day-and-a-half. I love the look on people's faces when they see these fully-painted creatures; it's something that just makes me very excited to continue doing it.
"But some of the past miniatures – and even some of the ones today – can cause a problem. The whole culture around this hobby is very male-dominated, and I think men can sometimes find it quite difficult to understand what is crossing the line for the female aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong, I understand in the 80s it was all about "big boobs, curvy hips and a big ass holding Gatling guns with very little armour", but it's not like that in 2019. If they were just to tweak them slightly I think they'd be more appealing. Whether [Games Workshop] need to hire more women, whether they need to have surveys done by women, I think it would benefit them hugely in the long run."
"This is my Cave drake. I really like the model's design, as it looks super cool and it really gave me license to go with any colour. The game itself has played a really important role during the hard times of my life, and having that escapism and focus has really helped me personally. I also love how everyone is really accessible, and being close to the games designers [who are often active in fan Facebook groups] has made it into the great game that it is today. Winning the Team World Championships last year was a real highlight for me.
"I'm not treated differently [from men]. We are all playing the same game and all have the same chances and potential to win, and on and off the table I am treated fairly and have no problems. That said, it would be really nice to have more girls playing."
"I've always loved the fantasy genre of fiction, as well as board gaming. I started Warhammer around six months ago, and everyone has been nothing but welcoming, whether in the physical Games Workshop store or through my Instagram account. I've been supported and given great advice from both males and females alike. It can be difficult being a female in any male-dominated hobby, but this isn't something I've personally experienced. There are lots of females getting into the hobby too, which is awesome, and there's an incredibly supportive female network. Everyone in the community has made me feel accepted and I haven't felt uncomfortable being a female hobbyist.
"The Nighthaunt Lord Executioner is the miniature I had the most fun painting. Warhammer is an awesome creative outlet and something completely different. It's definitely challenging teaching yourself to paint something at such small scale."
"The Ultramarine is a model that I finished most recently. I’m so proud of him. I haven’t painted Space Marines in a long time, but the sculpts for the Primaris are fantastic. He was a test of how much detail I could get onto a model, so I spent a week on him.
"I love the competitive side of things. I had a very competitive Blood Angels list I took to tournaments in the fifth edition [around 2008]. I went a total of 63 wins, six losses with that, but still, there are sometimes assumptions that I don't know as much about the hobby, or that I’m not as competitive. That usually ends with people's shocked faces when I table them on turn three.
"Sometimes you do get some interesting interactions where I'd get overshadowed by men’s opinions. There's also a lot of assumptions that this isn’t a hobby I’d enjoy, even though I’m there enjoying it. Or from certain members of the hobby assuming your lack of knowledge, or lack of ability. You have to get to an attitude where it's like, actually, I need to prove this [person] wrong, so then maybe the next time this person goes into a situation like this, they won't have the assumption that a woman won’t know what she's doing."
"I'm really proud of the colour scheme I got on these Elves – I managed to capture the tones from the movies really well, which can be a challenge. I love the aesthetic of Peter Jackson's Elven battle equipment. As a teenager I was super into Lord of the Rings and quite artistic, so when I went into a Games Workshop one day thinking it was a video game shop and saw these cool miniatures, I decided to have a go at them.
"The biggest thing I've noticed is that the Games Workshop stores are just so uninviting. I feel like an alien when I go in there – literally everything stops, customers and staff alike, and it's just a really weird vibe. It's just not a great experience. For many people that’s the first step into the hobby, and I think to really grow the audience the first step is to revamp the in-store experience.
"In some hobbies you can get a lot of negativity around women and their accomplishments, but the reception online in the Middle Earth communities has been great. I think it's just the kind of people that like Lord of the Rings, really – we're all good folk!"
Different people have different experiences in a hobby, as they do in life, but it’s interesting to see how the hobbyists who are in the minority approach Warhammer, and how they interact with miniatures that don’t always fairly represent them, and a community that sometimes struggles to even speak to them. Evidently, some players have less of a problem with it than others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The miniatures and attitudes of Warhammer are slowly coming into the 21st century to represent and include everyone who plays. There’s still a way to go, but things are improving, especially for new players. The immediate future of Warhammer holds brand new and eagerly anticipated Sisters of Battle miniatures – who are an all-female order of fighting space-nuns – and perhaps that’s just the start.