Saturday, 21 August 2021

Hot Take: Fear And Loathing In Battletech

 Did... did I do the algorithm click-bait right? Is this how you click-bait algorithms? 

OK, so I guess we're doing this now. And just when I thought I had been doing so good at keeping positive on here. 

So lately there's been a lot of talk within a certain science fiction tabletop game's fanbase, who are currently very disgruntled and angry with the company that makes it (which I'm having a hard time with managing my schadenfreude about. I mean seriously people, what did you expect?). They are, it seems, proposing a mass boycott of this one science fiction tabletop game, and to migrate over to a certain other science fiction tabletop game that once was almost as popular, but has since fallen into decline (we'll get to that later, maybe. If there's time after lunch). 

And by 'lately' I of course mean that this whole drama seems to have largely wrapped up weeks ago, because I live under a rock on a cold dark planetoid orbiting a Black Hole approximately 42 billion light years away from the Earth, so if the electromagnetic image wave-forms of this whole debacle are only just now reaching me then I can only assume everyone involved has since largely moved on with their lives. 

Which naturally means this is the perfect time to cash in on the trendy thing! 

Except that's not really what this post is going to be about. Well, I mean it sort of is, but only in a very tangential way. See I'm doing that thing again where I talk around a thing for a little bit before cutting into the main thrust of the post. So no, what this post is really going to be about is a story, a story that has been festering and corroding for some time now, and it seems like as good a time as any to finally vent it out into the depths of the internet to be forgotten so I can get back to moving on with my life. 

This is the story of a sad little nocturnal parrot and his long journey to find a Tabletop home. It is largely still ongoing, for said nocturnal parrot has not really had much success anywhere. And it's also probably going to get lengthy and symbolic and maybe even a little trippy (no Tricia Helfer though, sadly - there wasn't enough in the budget to hire her), so I dunno maybe go to the bathroom or get a snack or something before strapping in. 

Alright then, let us begin. 

Once Upon A Time, a long time ago in a Living Room far far away, I had sat down like many 7-8 year olds in the Pre-Internet era to watch Saturday Morning Cartoons (historians debate whether the show in question was actually on Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings, but regardless it was a weekend morning cartoon show of some description). In late-90s/early 2000s Aotearoa these particular weekend cartoons were packaged within a larger children's show called Squirt, which was glorious and centred around the misadventures of a human presenter, a CGI fish and a CGI penguin as they roamed the universe in a CGI spaceship doing kid's show stuff. 

This was a common format for weekend kid's TV in late 90's/Early 2000s Aotearoa, and it's important here because they also included a few features around the cartoons. 

One morning one of these features included a review of a bundle of videogames. They all centred around a common theme of giant piloted robot walkers, so naturally as a ravenous consumer of all things science fiction and explosions (I was around 7-8 years old, remember) that got my attention. But the commentary about them went straight over my head, because what I IMMEDIATELY fixed on was the visuals - the pre-rendered trailer footage they ran the commentary over, which gave a glimpse into a world of giant heavy metal stomping machines blasting the tar out of each other

Naturally this mysterious video game world rocketed up to the top of my things to obsess over in the way that children do, and hovered there for a good few weeks or so (which is a long time by 7-8 year old standards). It was a shame then, that in my excitement I completely failed to pick up on what these video games were called. It was something like Mach-fighter or Mechwarrior or something... 

So without any further context to go on, that world of stompy robot action eventually faded from memory... until about a year or so later. This time I was sitting in a waiting room for a Doctor's Appointment, because I got sick a lot as a kid. But we had been referred to a different Doctor from the one I usually went to. This is important, because it meant I was now sitting in a waiting room where the range of old magazines on offer was LEGIT. What was arrayed in front of me to pass the time? Was it outdated tabloids? Home decor magazines? Oh no friends, what was splayed out on the side coffee-desk of this waiting room was nothing less than an array of PC gaming magazines. 

Fuck. Yeah. 

I only got to leaf through one, but it was enough. Because nestled in there, in between the reviews of Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds and pieces on Tiberian Sun multiplayer and Mechcommander 2 coverage (wait what? Never mind now, we'll be back for you!), there was a computer game advert that would change everything. I no longer remember the title it was advertising, though in hindsight I can narrow it down to either Mechwarrior 3, Mechwarrior 4, or Mechcommander 2 (or an expansion pack for one of those). But what I do remember was the centrepiece of the ad. It was an image for a giant piloted robot, but one dramatically different from any I had ever seen before. Up until now all the giant stompy robots I had seen were essentially some flavour of 'human man, but made out of metal. Add face to taste'. They looked something like this: 

Alas the world will never know my awesome plans for a live-action Stars and STRIPE

Or this: 

Good 'Ol Mechanismo strikes again

Or very occasionally this: 

Though we never actually got Macross or Robotech over here

The only exceptions to this rule were the AT-ATs and AT-STs from Star Wars, the aforementioned video game trailer footage, and an obscure RTS computer game called Robo-Rumble that was the first video game I ever played. 

My fondness for reverse-joint legs and shoulder guns started early

But this new stompy robot that I beheld in this PC Gaming magazine ad, this one turned all that on its head. Unlike all those others there was nothing even remotely humanoid about it. Like the AT-STs it had reverse-jointed legs, ending in wicked-looking three toed feet. But where the AT-STs had this big awkward head-like box on top of their legs, this thing had a sleek cockpit with glazing like the TU-4, my favourite piston-engine bomber. There were no weird humanoid arms with silly oversized novelty hands on this thing, just a pair of out-rigger like appendages that had more in common with a Krokodil's wings than any ape's limbs, each one tipped with a gun-turret like pod holding an arsenal of energy weapons - one was firing a stream of colour in the image. And the whole thing was topped off with a pair of massive shoulder-mounted missile launchers. 

I didn't know it then, but I had just had my first sighting of a Timber Wolf. 

It's hard to properly convey just how much impact this chance event had on my formative self, but to use a historical analogy it would have been roughly equivalent to the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 - sure, there had been metal boats with guns on them before, but never like this. It completely changed the entire way I thought about giant stompy robots. From then on, when I thought 'Giant Stompy Robot', my first mental image was that thing. From then on, when I scribbled out crude drawings of Giant Stompy Robots, they were in that style. 

After that this mysterious giant stompy robot I had spotted became something of a White Whale for my childhood self. Every time it had begun to fade from memory, I would suddenly come across another depiction of it - a screencap here, another advert over there. Yet no matter how hard I tried I could never seem to find any additional information on it - what was it, who made it, what was the story behind it? Sometimes there would be a modest blurb about the computer game it was appearing in, but those almost invariably left me with more questions rather than any answers. Thus, this giant robot next door remained an enigma to me until well into my teens. 

That was when I finally got Mechcommander 2 to work. 

I had gotten a copy of Mechcommander 2 for Christmas one year when I was a kid - I think I must have been around 8 or so, it was either just before or just after I had (re)discovered 40k. I was really excited about it at the time, not least because I recognised it as one of the components of that giant robot video game bundle I had seen on Squirt so long ago (I had since spotted the box at a video game store and inspected it), but my aspirations were quickly dashed when it turned out to be a little-bit too resource intensive for the household PC at the time, and refused to run at all on the PC that succeeded it. 

But when I was around 14 or so I suddenly remembered it and, on a whim, tried installing it on the trusty old hand-me-down laptop I had been given, and it worked like a charm. The game itself was great fun, and I enjoyed it for a good couple of years before the disk lost its mind and refused to run. But the really important breakthrough here was that game featured this little mini-encyclopedia bible thing as well that talked about all of the different game units. And it was there, at long last, that I finally began to learn about that awesome looking giant robot I kept seeing pop up. Granted, it wasn't a great overview - not least because they gave it the wrong name - but it was enough to start making serious google headway, and it was enough to point me to 

It was at that I finally learnt the machine I had been seeing was called a Timber Wolf, and that it was a 75-ton ass-kicking machine built by some group called Clan Wolf. This Clan Wolf intrigued me and I tried to research them a little more, but following that rabbit hole again ultimately left me with more questions than answers as most of the information went over my head. It did however point me to some of the other hardware fielded by this 'Clan Wolf', most notably the Jagatai space fighter and the Mars and Huitzilopotchli tanks, and so after discovering the Iron Wind metals catalogue I decided they had enough cool looking models attached to the name to warrant a possible tabletop army project at some point in the future. 

But eventually the setting they were all native to reared its ugly head. It turned out that all these cool things inhabited a world where a rigid centrally-dictated metaplot ruled with an iron fist, a world filled with massive piles of in-universe quantitative information that left nothing to chance, with every last Timber Wolf being accounted for. Such structure for a tabletop universe was and remains utterly anathema to me. I guess it's not a problem for the type of Historical-style tabletop gamers that were clearly the target audience here, but as discussed before such creative straight-jackets are something I just cannot accept. No, the truth is I didn't really want to build a Clan Wolf tabletop army, I wanted to build a tabletop army for my own Clan, my own invention with my own backstory and identity, and one that also made liberal use of the Timber Wolf. But there was very clearly just no room for that, in either the game's background fluff or the player base, so after several years of desperately trying and failing to like any of the existing game factions I finally gave up and washed my hands of the whole thing. The fact that I was by now mired in University work was a factor too. 

For years afterwards the world of the Timber Wolf barely even crossed my mind, until one day just a couple of years ago. I had stopped in at the local second-hand bookstore to check for any 40k or Warhammer material that had been traded in there - I've had some pretty amazing finds there in the past. There weren't any army books or codexes or rulebooks there though. What I found instead was this: 

If ever there was a real-life Helm Memory Core, this was it

That wasn't even the entire pile either - there was a bunch of RPG gamebooks there too that I ultimately passed on since I didn't think they'd prove relevant to my needs. I was initially hesitant to adopt any of them, having been burned before by that setting, but their price wasn't terribly unreasonable so I decided that if they were still there by June I'd take it as a sign from the universe to give the franchise a second chance. Sure enough they stayed there for a good couple of months, so come May I dropped a few hints to the people around me and arranged for them to come in as a birthday present that year. They were later followed by a few others I had missed in amongst the RPG books. 

And it was through them that I finally discovered Battletech. 

I immediately fell in love with the setting of Battletech, the war-torn future of 3025, where the remnants of humanity's once-great space empire now exist on the fringes of the universe following a cataclysmic civil war, the survivors having fled the pan-galactic nuclear firestorms and reorganised themselves into a civilisation of warrior Clans that feud among themselves with genetically engineered warriors commanding giant robotic fighting machines armed to the teeth, getting into adventures and fighting each other within a careful framework of limited tabletop-friendly warfare strictly regulated with a rigid code of honour. 

What an amazing space for a table-top game! A cool, fun pulpy science-fantasy setting with a fresh twist of not having any extraterrestrial alien game factions, just groups of human heroes and villains getting into adventures in the unknown expanses of the Kerensky Cluster for prizes and glory. With cool looking giant stompy robots and spaceships and powered armour and stuff. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. After all these decades, everything had finally clicked to me. It all made perfect sense. All of it. The history of the exodus to the Pentagon Worlds, the outsourcing of all armed conflict to a specific group of genetically engineered fighters that would never leave any grieving loved ones behind when their luck finally ran out (it helps there are a lot of times where I wish I had just been grown out of a gene-tank and sprung out into the world fully formed with abundant resources at my fingertips). The drive to use restraint and avoid collateral damage wherever possible. 

Even the tenets of Zellbrigen combat all added up to me. For a long time one of my favourite factions in Warhammer has been Bretonnia, the faction of honourable chivalrous knights backed up by faithful if humble retainers and supporting troops, loaded down with the best weapons and armour available, practicing a strict form of honourable fighting and getting into all kinds of exciting adventures. And now here was the chance to have Bretonnians in space, with giant stompy robots instead of horses, and laser cannons instead of swords and lances. AWESOME!!

And that was even before I fully discovered the sheer amazing meta-coolness and relatability of the Jade Falcon clan, an entire civilisation of bitter disgruntled tabletop grognards. Just like me! Such a shame they don't really do Timber Wolves though. 

I was totally pumped to give this whole Battletech thing a go, building up my own Cluster to conquer the galaxy for myself - sure I might run into some problems with that stupid metaplot nonsense down the line, but it looked like the Battletech community was so fractured along era lines that I could probably just play around in this cool open-ended 3025 setting and ignore anything afterwards without anyone making too much of a fuss about it. 

If you're particularly familiar with the intricacies of the Battletech player-base, you may have been able to guess where this is going about a couple of paragraphs ago. It turns out that divisions of era are one thing, divisions of tech base are another altogether. 

There's a special kind of prejudice that I've observed in tabletop circles over the years. It includes and is deeply connected with Gatekeeping, but the two things do not entirely overlap - a lot of what goes on with this phenomenon is a kind of Gatekeeping, but not all Gatekeeping that goes on in tabletop circles is the same as this. There's plenty of the other regular toxic-fan Gatekeeping that can be found in depressing quantities throughout most nerd circles (above a given population level at least), which is directed at targets not always in alignment with what I'm describing. What separates the two, I think in part at least, is that this special kind of prejudice I'm describing is altogether far more ridiculously petty than even 'vanilla' Gatekeeping, yet - from firsthand experience at least - hurts much the same. 

What's particularly frustrating about this kind of prejudice is that it seems to have slipped under the radar of public discourse. This is pretty understandable, since Tabletop Games are a tiny niche within the already niche world of traditional 'nerd pursuits', and Tabletop Miniatures games moreso as they live under the shadow of D&D dominated Tabletop RPGs in the wider pop culture eye. The aforementioned pettiness doesn't exactly help either. The problem here is that this means that this particular phenomenon is actually talked about and addressed so little that it doesn't really have a specific name, when it really probably should. 

So for now let's call it 'The Meg Faction', so named after the character Meg in the cartoon sitcom Family Guy. If you are at all familiar with either American TV from the last 20 years or internet meme culture for the last 10 years, I probably shouldn't have to explain much about the concept of Meg. For everyone else out there (both of you!), Meg Griffin is a main character on the show. She was first voiced by Lacey Chabert (who is otherwise probably best known as either Eliza Thornberry or Gretchen from Mean Girls), but today is better known as being voiced by Mila Kunis. In the show Meg is the nominally teenage daughter of the protagonist family, and for much of the series' run she has been singled out by the showrunners as a lightning rod for all kinds of venomous vitriol. 

I think my favourite lowlight of this was when during one episode one of the other main characters, upon the reveal that the episode's plot was going to focus on Meg, immediately halted the story to address the audience with the line "Yes, that's right. This is going to be a Meg episode" before expressing his understanding if the audience wishes to leave now. Seriously? I'm interested in a Meg episode, she doesn't get a lot of screen-time normally so I want to see where this one goes. You can probably tell by now that I'm one of those people who never found this particular aspect of Family Guy's humour funny. 

Anyway. The Meg Faction. As I was saying I've noticed this weird pattern of factional prejudice in a lot of the tabletop games I follow. In all the tabletop games I look at, there always seems to be one game faction that's singled out as a target for wildly disproportionate levels of shade from the bulk of the player-base. It becomes normalised to hurl vitriol at the faction, in much the same way that it's become normalised on Family Guy to hurl vitriol at Meg. 

In Warhammer 40,000, the Meg Faction is the Tau. We'll talk more about that in a future post. In Battletech? There are around 20 or so Meg Factions, and together they comprise the Clans. 

It's telling, for instance, that while each of the 20 or so Clans in Battletech is in fact a distinct faction in its own right, in my observations most Battletech fans lump them into one generic category - it's always 'The Clans' in discourse, despite it never being 'The Successor Houses' when talking about the major groups of the other part of Battletech's setting. There's a lot of these other weird double-standards around the Clans with a lot of the player-base too. 

Consider one of the core premises of the game: a universe where the fate of whole worlds (or similar high stakes) is often decided by one pivotal confrontation of a small handful of mechs. This is something I've seen lauded as fun and cool in the game's Succession Wars setting. Except when the Clans are doing it, they're silly and ridiculous because it makes no sense to just send in a tiny handful of mechs to decide the fate of something so high-stakes. 

Similarly, having regulation in-universe to mitigate collateral damage during the many armed conflicts that take place. It's a laudable and pragmatic thing to do. Except when the Clans do it, at which point it suddenly becomes a threat to a lot of peoples' suspension of disbelief. 

Or how about the concept of Mechwarriors themselves? Long, proud distinguished lines of skilled and cunning warriors, uniquely able to expertly pilot the setting's titular giant mechs, often ending up forming hereditary positions within the space militaries they serve. I've often seen it lauded as a cool concept and fun aspect of some of the more space-feudal elements of the game universe... except when the Clans do it. 

There's a bunch of other examples, but this post is already turning into an epic and I'm sure you get the idea. Point is, when you get right down to the nuts and bolts of it, when you sieve it through the finest sieve, there is very little if any difference between the world of the Succession Wars and the world of the Clans, outside of semantics and cosmetic surface details. So why is it that the one is lauded as a gold standard for the game, and the other is dragged through the mud? 

And dragged through the mud the Clans are, by much of the player-base. I recall one post in a facebook group - now lost to the mists of time no doubt - from a (presumably) newcomer asking for recommendations on what Clan to start out with in Battletech. The wording was pretty specific that they were interested in the Clans. You would think, given the nature of the question, that the post might have received comments giving some insightful overviews on how the various Clans differ from each other in outlook and preferred combat doctrine, maybe a few notes on what their different colour schemes were like. Instead, the vast overwhelming majority of the comments consisted of various permutations of the following 3 themes: 

1. "Pick an Inner Sphere House instead" 

2. "Go Merc instead" 

3. "Oh no not another Furry/Nazi/Incest Freak" 

Yikes. Guys, the poster was clearly interested in starting with the Clans. That they were the main entry point of choice was pretty evident from how the question was worded. Yet a good nine tenths - at a conservative estimate - of the Battletech fans responding still insisted on proselytising parts of the game setting that were clearly not asked for. The rest of the social media discourse I encountered wasn't much better. Whenever the Clans did get mentioned, it was almost always as a collective, and almost always to say something mean-spirited about them. Incest allegations and Furry accusations were popular. Allegations that the players who enjoyed the Clans were either horrible people or not true Battletech fans were not far behind. The other times were largely to sling stale Tex memes at people who enjoyed the Clans. 

Ah yes, Tex. The star of the BlackPantsLegion Youtube channel. Recently involved in some unpleasant controversy around a certain unpleasant 40k commentator, as I am led to understand. Tex is in many ways symptomatic of a lot of the problems the Battletech fanbase has (and I should add that it is far from without its good points - there are reasonable and decent Battletech fans out there, and I was even able to observe a couple in the wild - but that does not mean that the fanbase is without its problems or above reproach). Not because of the whole ArchWarhammer debacle mind - I'll leave that whole drama for those more educated on the matter to assess. 

No, the thing is... Tex is just sort of, well... Basic. 

Don't get me wrong, the videos have their merits. There's clearly a lot of effort put in to giving them high production values, and while it seems there's very little information within them that can't be found on, I'm sure there are a lot of young whippersnappers out there who appreciate it being collated into a digestible video essay format, so it's providing something good that way. No, the problems stem up more in the framing. For one, there's a very visible anti-Clan bias that permeates a lot of the content - most notably the feature on the Clans themselves, which lavishes enormous amounts of run-time going over the exodus of the SLDF in meticulous detail, only to spend a fraction of the run-time glossing over the Clans in their 3025-3055 'modern' states. But more than that... in the videos I've watched the conclusions drawn to the information presented are all takes and angles that were old 10 years ago. I know that because I found them combing through archives of forgotten Battletech discourse from 10 years ago, and they had already passed into Popular Consensus even then. 

And this wouldn't be a problem - after all it's pretty clear that the BlackPants folks just happen to agree with those angles, and that's fine - except that they seem to be the only conclusions that circulate through most of the Battletech fanbase, and is compounded by many fans religiously pointing everyone they can to those videos for their primer. I've observed a kind of creative sterility at work among a lot of the Battletech fanbase, which seems in my eyes to be in rather dire need of some fresh new thoughts and takes on things. Heck I'd be happy enough to supply a few myself, if it weren't for the fact that I lack the resources (recording and editing equipment for youtube videos, and a large online platform otherwise) to do it, and I'm almost certain I'd get immediately buried under an avalanche of commenters relentlessly pontificating on how I'm not a true fan and don't know what I'm talking about, or how I'm a horrible person, or how I'm out to destroy the thing they love. 

Because the thing is, my first tentative contact with the Battletech player-base wasn't welcoming. I didn't feel accepted by them. In fact, my first tentative forays into the Battletech player-base also ended up being the first time I felt genuinely AFRAID of online interaction. It was the first time I felt genuinely SCARED to write something online. It was the first time I felt actual, real, genuine honest to god Maisie-Williams-In-Cyberbully FEAR when talking tabletop stuff online. Even at the nadir of my feelings around the course Warhammer and 40k have taken, even during the release around the 8th edition Wood Elf book, I'd never felt fear of posting online before. Which is why it took several months for me to finally deduce why it was that I started hesitating around clicking refresh buttons, and why I was getting a weird knot inside whenever I saw online notifications, and why my general productivity was taking a particularly noticeable downward slump despite no obvious real-life cause. 

Posting all this up is in part at least an attempt to face that fear. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't even now a little worried about what might become of it. 

"But Millitant!" you say, "So far you've only looked at the social media and youtube discourse! Obviously you're going to be in for a bad time if that's your only exposure to a fanbase, everyone knows social media and youtube are both festering pits of toxic depravity! Surely there must be better, more open discourse out there!" Well that's true. There is much more to any fanbase than the pit of Chaos that bubbles up to the surface on social media and youtube. So let's look at the official forum for this game system. 

There's a discussion thread on the Battletech forum titled Does Anyone Else Dislike The Clans. It was wisely locked down by the forum Moderators a little over a year ago, but it's a fairly good microcosm of the sentiment expressed throughout a lot of forums talking about Battletech whenever the Clans come up. The first thing to note is that it's a lot more, well, civil than the social media comments - there's far less crude insults thrown around - but a lot of the underlying attitudes remain. I've been silently looking through the Battletech forum for a little over 2 or 3 years now, and the impression I've been left with is still that, as someone who enjoys the Clan side of Battletech exclusively over the other parts of its setting, I am not welcome there. That I, as an enthusiast of all things Battletech and Clan, do not belong. 

The rationalisations are a lot more developed though. They can be largely broken down into four categories: 

- The Clans do not fit the setting 

- The Clans are silly make no sense as a concept 

- The only purpose of the Clans there should ever be is faceless guilt-free NPC bad guys to beat 

- The Clans are overpowered in the game rules, which breaks the game 

Well gee Carl, maybe I think the Successor Houses are pretty silly and make no sense as a concept. I dunno Steve, maybe the only purpose the Inner Sphere should have is to be a faceless NPC to conquer that's only good for yielding Isorla and Bondsmen. Maybe I think all those gritty down-to-earth Mercenaries don't fit my larger-than-life pulpy Space Fantasy setting, Carol. What if all that BV-cheap, spammable Inner Sphere tech is overpowered and breaks down my nice fast-playing Clan games, Shannon? 

Yeah, I don't buy it either. I don't buy it because I see most of these same sentiments levelled at the Tau in Warhammer 40,000 too, almost word-for-word sometimes. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say the Tau don't belong in 40k, I'd be able to afford multiple Forgeworld 40k-scale Manta models. With change left over. This can't be a coincidence. After almost a decade of observing the patterns at play here, I'm convinced there's something deeper at work. Something very deep and dark and ugly, nestled somewhere at the heart of tabletop fandoms, perhaps even at the heart of traditional nerd circles themselves. Not unlike Derry in It

The Fanbase's not right, is it? 

There's a website called Whitemetalgames that featured an article titled Why Do Tau Players Get So Much Shade Thrown At Them. It's a very good read, and I strongly recommend it if you're more interested about the phenomenon of Meg Factions in tabletop gaming, particularly in the context of 40k. Among the many true words spoken in the article is this little gem of a passage: 

'And when I read or hear about people deciding to wash their hands of the hobby completely… sell off the minis and the armies that they spent all that time and resource on… then it’s very much NOT okay. That’s literally toxic fandom gatekeeping others out of the community and the pastime. And without new people and new ideas, the pastime and the hobby is a doomed one. “Oh yeah. I heard of that game. Unless you play a certain faction, you get a bunch of crap. No thanks.”' 

Well, a little under a year ago I reached the stage of washing my hands of Battletech (again). Not completely mind - I still value that pile of game-books as an academic collection, and I'll likely still paint up a Timber Wolf model or 5 just as a promise to my childhood self. But at this stage I don't see much more Battletech in my future. I've pretty much abandoned my plans to grow a scene of it in my local FLGS, and my plans to build an entire Cluster's worth of models to game with have been slashed to a token Star of Timber Wolves at most.  

And the truth is, I'd still like to come back one day, look over the forums and other online discussion space, and see a whole flourishing community of other Clan enthusiasts out in the sun, talking about cunning applications of Zellbrigen and the latest exciting adventures of their Novas, and whole waves of people waxing lyrical about just how awesome and iconic of Battletech the Timber Wolf is. I'd love to look over there one day and see the part of the franchise I love the most openly treated as an equal and integral component to the Inner Sphere side of things. I'd love to see just as many people enjoying 3025 Political Century games as there are enjoying Succession War settings. I'd love to see room for my cool fun ultra-violent Space Bretonnians. 

But I'm no longer holding my breath for it. 

The great tragedy of Meg Factions is that they're often a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, because often these designated Meg Factions can be gateways that introduce the franchise to a whole new audience and thus grow the player-base quite a lot, which is a win-win for both the players themselves (more people to play games with and talk about the franchise with) and the companies producing the tabletop games (more customers buying their product). The Tau for instance, can and do introduce 40k to a whole range of people who might have otherwise given the setting and franchise a hard pass - I know this because I am one of those people. 

Which brings us back to the recent talk among disgruntled 40k fans about jumping ship to Battletech. See, from the point of view of capitalising on this sentiment and using it to grow the Battletech player-base, now is the perfect time to embrace the Clans and elevate them in both the franchise and the fanbase. Why? Because, from the point of view of attracting 40k fans, you could not ask for a better gateway to Battletech than the Clans. 

Think about it. Think about 40k - larger than life, revels in being over-the-top, hard on the Space Fantasy end of things, dripping with overdramatic pathos yet also at its heart a heavy-metal powered vehicle for power fantasies involving blasting bad guys to kingdom come with an arsenal of sci-fi death. Just like the Clans! 

Consider the Space Marines, the flagship of the 40k franchise. A force of genetically altered superhuman warriors, governed by stern codes of honour, armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment that are the bleeding edge of human technological achievement in the setting, roaming the stars getting into adventures. Consider that the archetypal 40k player probably has that as their central point of reference. When one of these 40k players comes over to your Battletech discourse, expresses interest and says that in 40k they started with and played a lot of Space Marines? You'd have to be crazy not to point them towards the Clans! It would be a slam dunk to steer them in the direction of the Clans. 

But hey, what do I know. I only studied Communications and Marketing at University. 

Which is why, a couple of days ago, I was so saddened when I came across a youtube video titled 40k Fans Are Coming Over To Battletech! Should We Be Worried? I was a little disappointed that, over the entire 24 minutes of the video's run-time, not only were the Clans not mentioned once, but that instead the commentary specifically warned that "There's no fantasy aspect really in Battletech", and that "If you like being a non-human with like its own weird wacky culture, you're not gonna find that in Battletech", and "If you're looking for the science fantasy aspect, if you're looking for those sorts of things like the Primarchs and all this other heavy metal type of stuff then you're probably not gonna find that here", and then suggesting the closest point of reference to a 40k-style character as Victor Davion of the Federated Commonwealth. 

In the immortal words of housewives and mothers everywhere, if I take a look and find something closer than that to 40k and its weird wacky science fantasy cultures.... 

But as disappointing as that was, it wasn't the thing that really finally drove me to write this thesis novel. No, what did that was the comment section below the video. Yes yes, I know reading youtube comment sections is like reading the mind of the talking cat in Rick And Morty, but look that video was 24 minutes long and my wifi is ass (I live under a rock remember), so I had to pass the time while it loaded somehow and the comment section was fairly short. Here are the ones that stuck out at me: 

"I'm giving you a fair warning this mass Exodus will bite your community ass in the long run. The parasites and vipers that are taking down 40k will come for Battletech. How Tex's community treated him is evidence that these people already inside.

Gatekeep the shit out any of us 40k guys and make sure we know and adopt battletech for battletech. Don't let any of the new people try to change your community.

Good luck to you and the wider battletech community. You people are going to need it."

As well as: 

 "Yes, gatekeep very very carefully as there are a lot of wokists that will come with them and will seek to make battletech something its not, just as they have been trying to do to 40k for years now.

Other than that be welcoming"

And then there was: 

 "As both a WH and a BT fan, my advice is: KEEP YOUR GUARD UP.

Yes, embracing the new fans is good and all, but watch out for those trying to change things to be "more inclusive". I hate to admit he is right, but when Arch advocated for gatekeeping, by now even i recognize he was right..."

Emphasis mine. 

I know that youtube comments should under no circumstances be taken as representative of a given fanbase, but dear god I wish these ones represent a tiny impotent lunatic fringe of the 40k and Battletech fanbases.  If my 24ish years of being into traditional nerd pursuits has taught me anything, it's that Gatekeeping is never the answer. It's part of the problem. It's the whole reason why a lot of people find us off-putting and why the fanbases for these things stay small. 

Look, I get it. There's a lot of tabletop stuff I'm really passionate about that I hold as a Sacred Cow. I was so dismayed by the 8th Edition Wood Elf book for Warhammer that I practically denounced modern GW overnight. I love Battlefleet Gothic so much that I cringe with dread every time there's mention that GW might be making a different game with that name. Even now, what I really wish I could do more than ever when it comes to tabletop games, is play some games of Early 4th edition Warhammer 40,000, with all the right codexes (that would be the 3.5 ones, for those playing at home), on a table full of cool-looking homemade terrain made from odds and ends with some Jungle Trees and Gothic Ruins scattered around and two armies of period-authentic early 2000s 40k models. 

But the thing is, I also have no real serious expectations that these games I play will ever return to the mainstream ubiquity they once had. I've largely resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to be left with a tiny niche of a tiny niche forever when it comes to the tabletop games I'm into. As much as I'd love to one day wake up and discover that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who are just as passionate about Battlefleet Gothic, 3.5/Early 4th edition 40k, 6/7th edition Warhammer and all things early 2000s GW, I'm fully aware that the chances of that happening are negligible at best. 

Battletech though? That has a real shot at growing its fanbase. There's a real chance to gain some wider appeal and build that franchise up more. And I'm glad to see people excited about that. But you have to remember that you just can't grow any fanbase, for anything, without making at least a few compromises. Change, for better or worse, is the inevitable cost of that growth. For me, those compromises typically take the form these days of being fairly flexible about what models gaming opponents bring to my 3.5/Early 4th edition 40k outings, or my Warhammer and Battlefleet Gothic ones, and biting my tongue whenever I see online discourse around Gloriana battleships and Battlefleet Heresy and post-2008 GW fiction. I have to do these things if I want to have any chance of keeping the games I love in peoples' minds. 

For Battletech? Well, a good start for those compromises would be giving the Clans and their enthusiasts a bigger place in the sun. Because like it or not, the Clans are one of the better - or at least more underrated - gateways to the franchise. It's no co-incidence, for example, that the introduction of the Clans in 1991ish resulted in the apex of Battletech's popularity and success (for now at least), nor is it a co-incidence that Mechwarrior 2 was the computer game that launched Battletech's setting into mainstream video game discourse. As much as many crusty old Battledroids Warhorses might be loathe to admit it, the truth is if it weren't for the Clans Battletech almost certainly would not have survived to the present day (not least because that whole Harmony Gold business would have been even more of a problem for FASA, since there'd be less of their own original robot designs populating the setting). 

People often talk about what killed Battletech. About why it failed to find the same success that Warhammer and especially 40k did. After my experiences with the Battletech fanbase, I can't help but wonder just how much of that maybe, just maybe, might have been a self-inflicted wound. But there's a big chance now for Battletech to grow, and that means there's a big chance to fanbase to learn from their past mistakes. And if they do that, I might just revisit those plans to build a full Cluster of my own. 

So that about covers it, I think. At long last we have reached the end of the tale. I wish there are some important things that can be taken away buried in my raw emotional venting. I don't really wish to scare anyone off Battletech, or to rain on the parade of these disgruntled 40k fans, merely to release my own experiences out into the ether to provide, perhaps, a different perspective on these things, a vision from the Other Side. And to explain why, for the moment at least, I probably won't be among those jumping ship. No, instead I feel more and more compelled to press on through the cold empty void of today's Tabletop Industry and continue my search for the shining lost 13th Colony of 3.5/Early 4th edition Warhammer 40,000 (even if it's without the help of Tricia Helfer in a sharp red dress). 

But whatever else, one thing is for certain - the Timber Wolf is one hell of a badass giant robot.