Meta Gaming: Gamers, Privilege and the Matter of Heinrich Kemmler

I’m breaking the only-every-three-days rule because this post, this conversation, is probably more important than my arbitrary meta-rules about when I do and don’t blog.  I’m posting it here because 1300 words is far too long for a comment thread in my opinion.

“Should GW have changed Heinrich Kemmler’s name?”

I don’t think it could have hurt. I’ll be honest, the Himmler connection didn’t occur to me until someone on the blogs pointed it out in the last year or two, and while I acknowledge it as a problem, I’m not sure the reference is as big, embedded as deeply in the historical Himmler and representing him as directly as people make it out to be (is it just a phonetically similar name picked to enhance Kemmler’s villain-cred? it’s definitely why I didn’t catch it…), and… well, I don’t want to say ‘storm in a teacup’ because I think there IS a legitimate problem here, but how big a problem is it? It’s a shock, but is it a fairly superficial reference, is it even as deep as the historical cheap shot of having an inquisitor named Torquemada?

These are largely rhetorical questions. Answering them would be the work of a potentially full and fascinating research piece, which I may in all honesty write, but answering them isn’t the issue here.  The issue is whether what I think of Kemmler is important, and why it’s not – though it is important that someone think, and that I think about what they think (savvy?).

It’d have been the work of a few minutes to simply have the character have forgotten his name, which tallies with and reinforces the effect of his years of deranged wandering – whoever he was before he struck his pact with Nagash, now he is simply the Lichemaster. Much less problematic, arguably more sinister, and not a gapingly huge retcon. You’d get complaints, from the sort of people who feel that respect for the established canon (*nerdy snort*) is more important than issues of taste, privilege and historical respect, but fuck ’em, that’s a position born of the same unexamined privilege that causes problems like these in the first place (“it doesn’t affect me so it’s not a problem for anyone” being the unconscious, unacknowledged response) and catering to or defending that sort of attitude isn’t on. It doesn’t affect me – but I lose nothing by changing it and nobody loses anything of real importance by changing it.

"I don't give a toss what you call me. I'm a fictional character, dammit!"

“Is it ok to want to play the villain?”

I… think so? I’ve done it a lot and I’d honestly hope I’m not that un-okay a person?

I think there’s a way of doing it tactfully and in keeping with the fantasy genre (playing a villain with roots and sources in fiction rather than history) and I think there’s a scale on which it’s acceptable to do it (which falls short of the unqualified, uncritical glee with which I’ve often seen it done).

The issue is more whether you play a villain in a way which validates their choices by uncritically representing them, or which highlights their choices as part of a time and place where monstrous people could do the things they do and find an easy excuse to hand. Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks “moo hoo ha ha, what evil shall I do today?”, that’s a shit villain or a comedy one. A ‘real’ villain, a rounded villain, thinks and believes that what they’re doing is right.

The challenge lies in representing that without condoning it and that needs a more extensive ‘text’ than I think many gamers produce with their characters’ and armies’ actions. Most of the time it’s just “he does this” or worse “I do this”, and we don’t stop to engage in the kind of qualification that might happen in a novel, for instance, where those actions can be contextualised and commented on and critiqued by the authorial voice, or the thoughts of the character explored in the kind of detail that – doesn’t vindicate them, but explains them, highlights the differences in morality and ethics that make that character think they’re in the right. Perhaps the games we play don’t have room for responsible storytelling, or perhaps we don’t feel the need for it (cf. unexamined privilege, previous)…

Quickly, my minions, cross-reference!

“Is the entire act of playing wargames an endorsement of violence?”

Tacitly, yes. If we really wanted to live in a world without grand-scale violence we would not enjoy representations of it so much. We are part of the problem. We are not the biggest part of the problem, we are (as H. G. Wells argued) a more reasonable approach to the problem that at least allows people to deflect their tendencies to violent conquest into a medium where real people don’t get hurt and killed, but in terms of ideology and representation and perpetuating a culture in which wars can happen… yeah, we’re part of that.

We exercise our privilege, our ‘right’ to be problematic and not to face problems that don’t affect us, every time we line up our pieces and play a game (not to mention every time we buy a hobby product, every time we spend time playing a game instead of directly resisting the ills of the real world and pressing to engage them). Being aware of that doesn’t make it not a problem, either. Neither does feeling guilty about it, but doing nothing.

I really value the trend towards charity tournaments that’s appearing in some gaming communities (I’m not going to talk about which because I don’t want this to turn into a less-privileged-than-thou argument ‘twixt company fanboys), because at least it’s an effort to offset the whole issue that playing wargames is an act of privileged indolence by having it do some good for a right cause. Throwing our money at charities to quiet our consciences and tell ourselves we’re doing the Right Thing isn’t enough by any stretch of the imagination.  It doesn’t address the root causes, the problems with the world that mean those charities need to exist.  It does, however, at least mean we’re doing something better with our hobby time than just playing games in perfect isolation.

China Mieville, in the interview ‘Fantasy and Revolution‘, argues that politically nuanced genre fiction has depth, has resonance, and is worth writing as an investigation of ideas, what he calls ‘sleight of mind’, thinking about worlds in which societies and policies have different contexts and different constraints – thought experiments from which something about the real world can be read back. He also argues that that’s no substitute for direct, real political action. I sort of feel the same way about gaming.

You can game thoughtfully and for a just cause. That doesn’t mean you’re excused from voting, and THAT doesn’t excuse you from actually breathing down your elected representatives’ necks and actually making them do the job they were allegedly selected to do, merely as a start, and THAT doesn’t excuse you from going out and doing something yourself… but doing any of those things at all is better than not doing them. I’d rather people thought about the things they play and the worlds they play them in and how those worlds tell us things about people in this one… than not thought.

We can do that and still have fun, says N. K. Jemisin, and I quite agree.  I’m not saying we need to live in a joyless world where endless, ceaseless political activity is the only thing we permit ourselves to do until all wrongs are righted and all institutions of exploitation and power-concentration done away with.  I’m saying that anything’s better than nothing.  I’m saying that it starts with thinking about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  I’m saying that we need to give a shit about Heinrich Kemmler, even if it doesn’t affect us in the slightest (and it doesn’t me).

And for the record, I still like the model, and the character – but I think I’ll be calling him the Lichemaster.  Doesn’t hurt anyone to be tactful, after all.

24 thoughts on “Meta Gaming: Gamers, Privilege and the Matter of Heinrich Kemmler

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  1. a really excellent read, thanks.

    I am not a particularly politically correct person. i laugh at irreverent jokes on a daily basis and believe the way that society is no longer allowed to poke fun at anyone is a great shame and is generally very bad for everyone. However, as someone whose family suffered directly as a result of Himmlers actions (only a single member of a very large family survived after 1945 – my Grandfather), i find the re-use of this character name extremely offensive. sure, it doesn’t directly affect me and my life today, but my god it makes me angry on such a basic level, i just cant justify it.

    …it is just wrong

    In fact, i am in the process of writing a complaint letter to GW. This almost certainly makes me hypocritical, because if they had named a character after someone equally evil, i don’t know, a fat, jolly, female but slightly manly looking halfling cook called Polly Pot or something, i would find it disquieting that someone had used that as an idea, but wouldn’t get angry about it like you average Cambodian would. But at the end of the day, that is human nature, most of us can’t get angry about all the injustice and evil in the world, only the stuff that actually affects us directly. however, you are right, even the small act of disapproving, and letting other people know you disapprove, is helping in a small way, so i am glad there has been a small outcry against this, and lets hope that in the next iteration of the Vampire Counts book, Kemmler is gone for good, to be replaced by The Lichmaster.

    1. I quite agree that most of us do need to be personally touched by something in order to give a toss about it. It disappoints me and it’s something I try to fight in my teaching work and infrequent, inadequate bouts of activism, but there’s no point sticking my fingers in my ears and ignoring it.

      As far as Kemmler goes, I disapprove because there are just enough people who are bothered by him, and because the change arguably strengthens the IP, never mind weakening it. There’s literally nothing to lose.

      Someone I discussed the issue with elsewhere pointed out the existence of William Kemmler as a possible reference that isn’t Nazis; if he must have a ‘real name’, how about Wilhelm instead of Heinrich?

  2. I will note one thing: villains do not always believe what they are doing is *right*, but rather they believe it is *necessary*. And if something is right, then it must by default be necessary. Many villains take no pleasure in doing deeds (think, perhaps, assassinations in the Godfather movies), but rather that on some level (revenge, respect for the proper order, setting examples) these villainous actions must be done. This may be semantics, but I feel that there should be a distinction between villains who do what they do and take pleasure in it, and those who do what they do because of their view of the world and how it works (or ought/needs to work).

    1. Yes. Oh gods, yes.

      I stand by my distinction between shit villains and real, well-done villains being the distinction between “because I’m evil” and “because it’s right”, but I like the nuance that you add to it. There are antagonists who enjoy what they do and, for that matter, there are protagonists who do bad things and enjoy them too. I do tend to think the interesting ones are the ones who do what they feel the world needs, rather than who do whatever happens to turn them on… but that’s me.

      1. There’s also the case where the villain is doing what would be most anyone be considered a horrible, evil act, and the antagonist may realize this on some level, but because it is *the antagonist* doing it to the particular *victim* it’s ok in their mind. Fictionally, an example might be Joffrey from AGoT – he’s a horrible person, and he knows his acts cause harm, but because he’s king he feels he’s perfectly justified in indulging these destructive whims. For a real world case, sadly we need not look father than any number of sexist or homophobic acts (“that whore was asking to get raped. I’d never do that to a nice girl!”). It’s not doing evil acts and believing that they’re doing the right thing, but doing evil acts and believing that rules don’t apply to them.

  3. I think that a much bigger problem in Games Workshop’s fantasy worlds is that the heroes of 40K are space fascists drenched in far-right iconography.

    However, I’m not sure how you get away from characters and forces being based on / borrowed from history. Not unless your game designers have originally genocidal imaginations. In which case, I don’t want to buy his or her game. And, excepting a such an imagination, those borrowings / inspirations will almost certainly be taken from pretty nasty people / events / cultures. I’d rather that the clear *villains* in a game be ‘joke Nazis’, than have the heroes being based on racist colonialist butchers, or a slave holding elite, or religious fanatics, or… etc. EVERYONE agrees the Nazis were bad. There are a hell of a lot of people willing to romanticise (whether in games, in films, in fiction, or worse, in historical/political myth-building) the non-Nazis who were responsible for mass killings and murderous political systems.

    Perhaps the WWII was too recent (though, if the Nazis hadn’t committed the Holocaust, but had only killed nearly 25 million Russians, I guess we’d be wargaming the Eastern Front (in historical and fantasy analogue form) without most of us having a moral or political problem. ‘Too recent’ doesn’t seem to stop people deriving entertainment from the Vietnam war.

    Non of this is to justify naming a villain Heinrich Kemmler, just to say that I don’t think offensiveness or personal distaste (even if that encompasses the sense of offence of others) is enough – decent objections have to be political, and if they are, have to encompass a little more than a ‘joke Nazi’ as a villain in a game written for a largely left-wing audience of adults in the 1980s.

    1. I can’t quite work out if you’re taking me to task for not making a ‘decent objection’. It’s not a discussion-stopping issue if you are, I just want to work out what your intentions are so I know what tone to take in going forward, and what kind of conversation we’re having here. For now my defences are not up and what follows is intended as an explanation and clarification of my perspective, not as an attempt to shoot you down.

      I think you’re absolutely right re: there being bigger problems with Workshop’s worldbuilding. I didn’t want to make a big deal of that in my post, being instead more interested in the discussion of why we don’t let ourselves be bothered by things. I tend to think ‘why’ is more important than ‘what’, especially when a lot of people genuinely don’t see these problems in the first place, or even see why they SHOULD see problems in game texts.

      To be quite honest I would rather not have ‘clear villains’ (or heroes) at all. That hero/villain model of storytelling and the moral conditioning it offers are perhaps more dangerous to the political and ethical perspective of readers than anything that might be depicted (cf. the problem of the Imperium as ‘heroes’ when as an organisation they are utterly vile and vindicated only by many of the alternatives being worse). When we think in terms of story we start expecting things to work like they do in stories. That’s not a problem with the act of storytelling, more with the kind of stories being told.

      However I do concur that you can’t get away from drawing on real sources – society is always in the chair with us and all that. We can draw on them intelligently and critically or we can use them for cultural-capital cheap shots. That’s all I think Heinrich Kemmler is, if he’s even that (given that I don’t see many other parallels between him and Himmle), and I’d like to reiterate that I, personally, see Kemmler as a storm in a teacup.

      BUT: giving a toss about Heinrich Kemmler is better than giving a toss about nothing at all, though not as good as giving a toss about the Imperium. Kemmler’s a strange place to draw the line, but better that a line be drawn somewhere than not at all. At least that line can be moved. At least there’s an indication that someone is prepared to object to something they find problematic, even if it’s not for the best reason.

      1. Sorry, the comment wasn’t meant to be so antagonistic – I think my comment was a little too confused for that!

        I think that one of the problems with GWs world building is that, in the 1980s, everyone was a villain, or, at least, there were no good guys. The Empire, the Imperium… it was pretty clear that they were miserable societies, with an elite maintained by obscene levels of human destruction. It didn’t matter who you picked, chances are you were playing the bad guys. Which seems a pretty good way to wargame. There aren’t that many good wars, and fewer good ways to fight wars, at least from the point of view of a 21st century Westerner. So get your kicks, but remember you’re gaming something brutal, you’re playing an active part of the greatest human failure (even if the human you’re playing is a Dwarf!).

        In an roleplaying game, on the other hand, you have the chance to make moral choices. Which is why I’m not going to get annoyed by chainmail bikinis when the default playstyle of lots of people’s D&D is ‘exterminate the subhuman primitive tribes that obstruct the advancement of White civilisation into the wilderness’! Of course, roleplaying games allow you to do a lot more than simply make war. Despite my childhood attachment to this playstyle, I’m increasingly drawn to games such as Runequest and Pendragon, in which a semi-realistic world is presented – you might raid the neighbouring village in a Glorantha-type game, but, if played in the spirit that I read in the material, that is going to kill husbands, fathers, farmers etc. which will have real social and economic consequences. Even if they’re Trolls.

        Still got to be fun, though.

        With regard to the the Heydrich vampire in Fighting Fantasy, it did make me go ‘ugh!’ when I first realised the link. I did think it distasteful, while basing a vampire on a man who murdered tens of thousands of people a few centuries earlier just can’t summon the same reaction. I think this is all about distance and lifetimes (and a little bit of cultural privilege – somehow colonial and neo-colonial atrocities of the mid-20th century are a long time ago, too long ago to worry about).

        Oh, bugger, I’m rambling away again. Again, this isn’t meant to be taking you to task – I just wanted to add my own thoughts, in a confused fashion. I suppose if I were to make a final point, it is that, politically, regarding cultural ‘object’, I’m not worried if people take offence, I’m worried about what the cultural objects do. Offence might be a indicator that the cultural object is doing something nasty – people might complaining that they find a racist cultural object offensive, but the real problem is that that object is part of the racist superstructure that legitimates a racist society. If it’s offensive, we’re told that we should turn over, or that we shouldn’t buy it, etc. But when I watch fascist propaganda such as ‘300’, I’m not really concerned at my own disgust. So, back to Kemmler – I’m not sure that he does very much, he certainly doesn’t breed Nazis! He’s a cheap shot, he obviously causes offence, and without making any political point, or even using the horror of the Nazis for any artistic effect, it probably isn’t worth it. But selling watered-down fascistic iconography stripped of any satirical message to 8 years olds is very different from selling satirical, but much ‘harder’, fascistic iconography to teenagers in an era when levels political awareness were much, much higher. They’ve toned down the offensiveness, and yet, politically, as something capable of having a effect on the way people think, of doing something, it is far worse!

        1. Hehe, that’s fine then. I may have been feeling a little bit more sensitive than usual yesterday myself, so I’m sorry too.

          Anyway – yes, I agree that there’s a ‘no more heroes’ attitude permeating either of the Warhammers. Thing is, I know a few people who’d be absolutely convinced that their High Elves or Empire are the good guys, despite the decadence or political corruption/religious fanaticism implicit within those factions… and a few more who gleefully wallow in the ‘excuse’ to ‘be evil’ afforded by playing an explicitly villainous faction.

          That tension within the RPG is something that I spend a lot of time dealing with; both the ‘race war against orcs’ aspect (I couldn’t agree more in re: living, breathing world where there’s a little bit more going on than Manifest Destiny With Swords) and the expectation of gleeful, consequenceless murder (I had endless trouble with my last WFRP game, which was run in a living city where I actively tried to discourage people from cheerfully slaughtering anyone who didn’t co-operate with them). I’m going to get annoyed by chainmail bikinis _as well_, though, ’cause… well, problematic representations of women are still problematic. They’re problems of a different kind with a different source, for sure (I think rooted in What People Think Gamers Want rather than What Gamers Choose To Do), but I think they’re still worth making a fuss about.

          That’s pretty much what I’d have gone for with ref: Heydrich too. Time is a great healer, or at least a soother of troubled consequences. There’s an element again of cultural capital, of ‘known-ness’ there too – I know, off the top of my head, who Vlad the Impaler is, he’s been represented and re-represented and co-opted for fictional usage so often that he’s (ahahaha) defanged to an extent. I had to look Heydrich up; although perhaps Heydrich is subsumed, to a greater or lesser extent, within the whole edifice of The Nazi Atrocities, whereas Vlad sort of stands alone. I think that may change things, or at least be a factor? Not quite sure.

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the last paragraph – I don’t really have much to say that I ain’t said before, really. I accept your point of view and I think that it is important to challenge the object and the structure – but I’d rather that people were personally offended because at least that gives some basis for discussion of the object and the structure, in a “this thing causes you problems, well what about these other things like it, what are they embedded in” kind of way. It’s a step toward having the conversation about the things you identify as genuinely important – we have to convince people that there is even a problem in the first place, though, and if that involves appealing to their personal sense of disgust… so be it. I’m not above a cheap shot or two myself.

  4. One thing to ask – what are the moral / political differences between naming your villainous vampire after Vlad the Impaler or after Reinhard Heydrich (Fighting Fantasy’s Vault of the Vampire)?

    That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way.

    1. See above re: your objectives in asking that question. How nuanced an answer would you like, and are you taking me to task for either the quality of my objection or what I am objecting to? This is not an intentionally hostile enquiry – I want to know what you’re demanding of me and whether I should be getting my serious academic research trousers on. If I should, I’m afraid your question is going to have to wait until some existing commitments have been cleared.

  5. I suppose the thing I find most amusing about this is that a lot of folks are complaining about it, while not quite returning those army books to the GW store in protest.

    1. Mmkay. I know you’re only having a wee jest, and that’s fine, but you’ve given me an opening to express something.

      That something is problematic does not mean it’s an ENTIRELY VILE PRODUCT to be RETURNED WITHOUT DELAY. It’s like the discussion around The Lord of the Rings that keeps cropping up (most recently iterated here). I think Tolkien’s masterwork is pettily conservative nostalgia for the industry-hating middle-class country Tories who live in that imaginary place called Middle England that is nothing like the actual middle of England (and the worst thing that can happen in Middle-Earth is that the Shire actually resemble Birmingham). It largely erases women (yes yes one badass female character – in a ratio to how many men?), demonises the working classes and treats the southern and easterly regions of its world as ‘debatable and desert land’ full of hideous goblin-men and half-trolls (note: these are descriptions of physical features of humans and if I could find my copy I’d show you the full references to prove it). On top of all that, in terms of inspiration it can quite easily be dubbed Wagnerian fanfiction.

      Does that mean it’s bollocks and that every copy ever sold should be returned to the publisher post-haste? Of course not. Does that negate the breadth of Tolkien’s linguistic invention, the scale of his storytelling, or the occasionally arrestingly moving passage of prose or song? Hell no. That something is problematic means it has to be discussed, the problems identified and discourse begun. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we give up on the something altogether and refuse to engage with it.

  6. I’d like to just bring something up which maybe you’ve discussed elsewhere (I didn’t read any of the original discussions you linked to), but deciding “Kemmler” is a reference to Himmler seems like a pretty remote conclusion for people to jump to in the first place.

    Here’s an obvious counter-argument: The Empire is inspired by medieval Germany in terms of naming conventions. Himmler is a German name. “Kemmler” at least sounds like a German name. Stacks of incidental characters in the WFB background are called Heinrich. It’s a common Germanic name. The only things we have to go on that Kemmler refs Himmler is our knowledge that Himmler is a historical villain and the GW studio back in the day were prone to that sort of black humour.

    But I didn’t notice, you didn’t notice, and I think that’s a pretty big signal that the name is just an english writer’s idea of what a German name sounds like. I mean, we can’t just decide every bad man with a German name with “-mmler” in it is a reference to Himmler. Can we?

    So I agree with all your points about politicizing, but I’m severely skeptical that there’s any actual reference here in this case. Even if there is, I think it’s just a case of a name being invented by a writer for sinister effect because it sounds vaguely similar to that of a man demonized in the British national psyche. So not an actual reference (Kemmler is not Himmler the same way citizen Kane is R.W. Hurst), but just a cheap sound-bite playing on snap emotional reactions. And I find it hard to judge that as morally dubious. It’s barely even a conscious use of language, and if we’re going to object to that then we need to object to every piece of colour, aesthetic or linguistic symbolism that refers to our cultural demons. Which is going to make our creative works pretty bloody grey.

    1. I don’t know if ‘objecting’ is necessarily what we’re, or what I’m, doing here (my replies to your other comments cross this same territory and I shan’t repeat myself). Objecting is a kind of personal, nascent form of challenge and critique and I suppose what I’m saying is “that’s good for starters but let’s not stop there and think we’re terribly enlightened or somehow Better People because we’ve found something Offensive to Be Offended about, because we’re really not.” I think that’s a conversation that warrants being had publically.

      I’m sort of regretting that I started it over this storm-in-a-teacup Kemmler thing, which isn’t necessarily worth seriously objecting to. Thing is, if I’d have done it over a proper -ism, I’d have had the unconscious privilege to contend with – things like “X isn’t sexist/racist/ablist”, “we live in a classless society” or other defensive non-arguments of that ilk. This not being quite so hot-button, quite so big, means I can actually have what I think is a necessary conversation to have before you get into negotiating the Big Isms, to whit identifying the things that affect your ability to do so.

      1. Oh right, so your more interested in discussing the uncritical acceptance we often have as gamers when our hobby sometimes sails dangerously close to trivializing real world evils. That we often just let clumsy references to Very Bad Things slip by us because we are decadent, 21st century softy-boys to whom everything is a game? I can see that. I do it myself sometimes. Other times I get pensive and start wondering if it’s really morally OK to be pretending to fight a war.

        Definitely worth discussing, but I think I’ve done too much of that here already . . .

        I got from the article that you’re not entirely convinced Kemmler is a big deal, and I think he’s a fine example to discuss. He’s not too important.

        Also, for the record, I think Lichemaster is a better name too, and I really hope your PhD gets off the ground because someone really needs to write a PhD about evil wizards :)

  7. PS I wonder if he’s called Kemmler in the German translations? If he’s not, then maybe there is a problem here.

    If he is, then that’s a pretty good indication that the name doesn’t conjure up nazi imagery for the average German, so for English speakers to presume that it does is almost racist.

  8. I’m so sorry I keep spamming up your comments Von but this is a fascinating topic :)

    Another interesting thing I wonder in discussions like this is what is it that people are actually objecting to? Assuming Kemmler = Himmler, should we never speak the names of former tyrants? That’s just superstitious. Don’t name the demon.

    Or maybe people are worried that kids might become interested in nazism through GW? As one of the other commentators said, the Imperium is more likely to do that than Kemmler. Not to mention that such fears are pure moral panic a la the anti-D&D waves of the 80s.

    Or perhaps people are objecting to the fact that the reference occurs in a trivial context? We shouldn’t make jokes about nazis? I can sort of get behind that, but on the other hand *cough* Hogan’s Heroes *cough.* If people much closer to the actual war could do that, I don’t see how we can claim to have a legitimate problem with it today.

    I think in discussions like this I always err on the side of creative freedom rather than censorship. You know who else practiced political censorship? The nazis :D

    1. If we can’t laugh at the darkness, it’s already beaten us. Thing is, I don’t think we’re laughing at Kemmler, or even thinking about him. I think what I’m discussing is not so much the fact that it happens and offends people as the fact that it passes over people’s heads (mine included until quite recently), and that it’s trivial but it’s not funny. ‘Allo ‘Allo (where everyone, members of the Gestapo included, is a total buffoon) it ain’t.

      Personally I don’t object to the actual naming. I did after all name one of my necromancers Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels for reasons which were not terribly clear at the time. Presumably my nineteen-year-old-self thought it was either just a cool evil-sounding Teutonic name or a great idea – but my nineteen-year-old self was also a second year Literature student and identifying as a political liberal and should have known better, and I suppose I’m interested in challenging the intellectual climate that made me lose track of my principles so.

  9. It’s a definite pun. Heinrich Himmler is infamous in conspiracy and cryptohistory circles for being the chief Nazi Occultist i.e. ‘necromancer’ or black wizard or whatever. Actually HH did have some interest in the Occult, but not as much as the conspiracy theorists would like you to believe.

    And Mengil Manhide is obviously a pun on Joseph Mengele.

    Also, other than something about ‘privilege’, I don’t think you’ve outlined what the actual problem is with these puns on Nazis names are – I’d be interested to know what damage they are doing.

    1. On Himmler as occultist: very true – something I’d allowed myself to forget at some point (I do remember there being a chapter on him/Nazi occultism in Lucifer Rising but it’s been years since I read that).

      I haven’t outlined the actual problem because dethtron did that in the post I’m responding to (linked at the top), and others have done so in the comments to that post. I’m not entirely convinced it is an actual problem, more an indicator of Something GW Does (cheerfully and uncritically refer to far-right ideologies and invidiuals) and the extent to which people don’t always catch it and think about it.

      I forget which blog it was now, but there was some brouhaha over a Greek magazine article which discussed the far-right content of games and the less-than-nuanced attitudes of gamers to it rather more frankly than was comfortable for some. I didn’t wade in to that because frankly I could care less about the misrepresentation of privileged virtual minorities, but I’ll see if I can dig it up as corollary to this discussion (I think it was linked on the House of Paincakes a while back too. I think that’s the problem – that not every person necessary challenges what’s represented in the fictional worlds they play games in, or even notices what’s being represented. To me, that’s a problem in its own right, but then I’m a professional arguer-with-fictional-worlds. It’s a bigger problem if what’s being represented is ethically vile and if it’s being represented to a group which tends toward either the young and politically impressionable or the slightly older, jaded and irresponsible (SWEEPING GENERALISATION IS ROOTED IN SIXTEEN YEARS OF ANECDOTAL EXPERIENCE INCLUDING PERSONAL HISTORY, YOUR GAMING SCENE MAY VARY).

      (By the way, the “‘necromancer’ or black wizard or whatever” line has struck a chord, since that distinction, or lack of distinction, is the subject matter of my proposed PhD. Just thought you’d find that amusing.)

  10. ADDENDUM: Being tactful does no harm… or does it? A case can be made that not doing something because it offends the sensibilities of others does more harm than good. As Kenan Malik argues, over business infinitely more serious than anything we’re discussing here:

    The ‘never give offence’ brigade imagines that a more plural society requires a greater imposition of censorship. In fact it is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In a homogenous society in which everyone thought in exactly the same way then the giving of offence would be nothing more than gratuitous. But in the real world where societies are plural, then it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And we should deal with those clashes rather than suppress them. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, diverse society.

    I feel like I should believe in this.

    However, I also feel that the Kemmler thing is a trivial matter and not worth drawing any lines over for the sake of offence. I still feel that offending people is better done with forethought than by accident. Nothing is lost by changing Kemmler’s name. The question I’d like to ask now is ‘what is gained by having it?’

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