From The Collection #1: The Crookback Packrats
Over a month ago now, we trailed this series and then in classic TGAM style ditched it. This series is our way of getting some extra value out of all that stuff we've collected over the years, most of it travelling direct from the shop into the cupboard of shame. In surveying the collection we were in two minds about where to start. Should we mix it up and start at the end with the latest kipple we picked up in the HMV and GAME closing sales? Maybe start in the middle during 'our golden age of gaming' when we actually had the time/the inclination to play video games with every available second? Or perhaps we should go deep into the cupboard of Chinese manufactured goods and dredge out the things that started it all? Well we guessed you' expect us to choose one of those so in an elaborate twist we went waaay back. BEFORE the beginning. Perhaps this is where it all started with, sadly, all I have left of a once magnificent but also deeply shameful collection of Games Workshop miniatures.
Once upon a time I had a magnificent collection of Games Workshop products; Heroquest, Space Crusade, Blood bowl, Warhammer Quest (including all the character packs and expansions), Advanced Heroquest, Necromunda, a hefty Warhammer 40K Ork army, tons of copies of White Dwarf and a small Dark Elf army for Warhammer. However, the crown in the jewel was my beloved Skaven army. I had every unit, hero and war machine painted with varying degrees of finesse. I was a lucky kid there's no doubt about it, particularly given that my and my friends' parents used to cart us and all our gear to each other's houses virtually every weekend for four horribly awkward teenage boys to sit around for hours of figure painting and miniature warfare. Sadly due to odd family circumstances the whole lot of my collection got donated to a hospital without me knowing or able to do anything about it. That was sad for me but doubly sad seeing as the last thing a bunch of sick kids need is some toxic lead miniatures (this was in the days before the white metal and widespread use of plastic kits). The only thing that was saved from the collection was a random assortment of stuff that wasn't with the rest including my blood bowl team, the Crookback Packrats illustrated here, a lone dark elf champion, three books and my box of die. Over the years I've missed the collection but at the same time I'm grateful it was less stuff to hide when we tried to sex people.
We've been thinking about geekery questions recently such as where does it start? What are the gateway drugs? To our mind Games Workshop is a very British think for 'the kids' ('the boys'?) to get into. Many of our American associates can trace their origins back to D&D and other pen and paper games but certainly where I grew up it was pushing figures around a green painted MDF board with cereal boxes for hills and railway houses for castles and bunkers. This then lead into playing Magic the Gathering and at the same time into video games (and what seems to be international, an inexplicable fondness for wrestling, despite the fact that when we were growing up it was only on satelite TV and nobody had satelite TV). It's hard to write this without projecting my own neuroses onto it but being a geek growing up was really fucking tough. Especially the teenage years, when having a passion about anything that wasn't 'normal' (cars and football) made you an instant target for ridicule. Particularly, because some of our braver colleagues never wanted to shut it off, bringing up Lord of the Rings at the lunch table or writing their creative English homework on Resident Evil (never got a good grade for that). On the one hand I would have loved to have 'just been myself' and not cared what others thought, on the other life was just easier keeping it under wraps. It's why we're still self concious stepping foot in a Games Workshop, going to one of these events or admitting to colleagues that on the weekend a bunch of us like to spend the whole weekend playing card, board and video games like the last 16 years had never happened. And of course it isn't just a love of beautiful tiny figures, the systems in Magic the Gathering or the rules of a board game it's all about loving these things with a group of people who unashamedly love them too. You can let the guard down, you can be yourself, you can make some of the geekiest in jokes ever and everyone will get it.
Sadly, this is the only physical reminder of those glory days. The last remnants of weekends of happiness, of engaging fully with our geeky side and not having to hide it for fear of snap judgements. If we'd been growing up now I think things would have been a lot different but only because people my age now run the world. It's perfectly quotidian to love the Lord of the Rings films or to go and see the latest (cack) superhero movie at the cinema or to be addicted to the Game of Thrones or to discuss the Walking Dead around the water cooler. Which makes us think, were we alone as we thought? Is it just that the geeks now hold the positions of power in the creative industries? Was everyone hiding their love of fantasy and sci-fi?
Older veterans of the scene swear blind that you end up coming back to where you started and I'd be lying if my particular gaggle of geeks didn't occasionally buy a White Dwarf here, warhammer 40K codex there, a black library publication (read Ravenor) or the sneaky unit of beastmen from time to time. I think if we had more time we would go back to playing Warhammer again but it's difficult enough to get us in the same room at the same time for people's weddings and their children's christenings and it's still a bit hard to explain to a (particularly if they're new) partner just quite what it is you do and why you enjoy it so much.
As an aside, the Games Workshop has had an abyssmal record when it comes to expanding their Universes across media. There have been a fair few video games some of which were awesome (1993's Space Hulk), some passable (Shadow of the Horned Rat) and others a bit pap (Fire Warrior and honourable mention for the awful awful Ultramarines movie). At their best, the games capture the spirit and trigger the nostalgia of pushing around a gazillion skavenslaves and missing that key die roll but are never a replacement for the camaraderie and fun times shared between friends. Recently, I picked up Blood Bowl for the DS. It's a perfectly serviceable and accurate (if somewhat buggy thanks Cyanide) port of the game and I've probably played more games of Blood Bowl than I ever did with the team featured here but it's not the same as the warm feelings I get when I fondle and kiss these beauties. Lead poisoning be damned.