By David Adams
Drop pods rain from the sky, colliding with the scorched earth. Grotesque creatures claw their way out of the oozing sacs, gnashing their wicked teeth. The Tyranids have landed on another planet and are driven by only one goal: the destruction of all other life in the galaxy.
Nearby, a middle-aged lady picks up a dark grey sweater from a clothes rack.
As hideous as they are numerous, the Tyranid swarm bursts forth across the barren plains of this godforsaken world, searching for their prey. Termagants swell in massive numbers whilst the Hive Tyrant lets out a bone-shaking battle cry. Suddenly, the hivemind senses something – life, or what is soon to be death.
She reaches down through the collar to find the price tag and as she draws it to her spectacled face, her joy is apparent – half price! And it’s such lovely fabric.
Inside a ruined warehouse, a band of men have found themselves amongst the swarm. Swearing allegiance to their God-Emperor, these Space Marines know no fear. Not even in the face of the scourge of the galaxy do these brave warriors lose their resolve and will to fight. As they clutch their bolt-guns and flamers they prepare to attack.
Obviously pleased with herself, the lady clutches her Myer bag and walks out of the store. Hearing a commotion over her shoulder, she pauses. There is a crowd forming around a table inside the Games Workshop store. Looking inside, she sees dice thrown onto a table and miniature models moved across the immaculately detailed landscape. The Space Marines open fire on the Tyranids, eager to rid the galaxy of their noxious presence. The battle has begun. Bemused and a touch curious, the lady continues on her way. Such is the nature of a Thursday night at Westfield Tea Tree Plaza: Amidst the turmoil of late-night shopping, the fate of the galaxy is determined.
Warhammer 40,000 (40K) is a tabletop war game, created by the company Games Workshop in 1987. Players amass miniature armies of varying types and march them across detailed landscapes with the goal of securing checkpoints or simply destroying the opposition. The game plays like chess, except the pieces have plasma blasters and chainswords. All of these facts are eagerly explained to me by Cameron, staff member of the TTP store. Perched on a stool behind the model-adorned counter, he is animated as he speaks. He has an obvious passion for the game, and the story of his employment mirrors that of the middle-aged lady casually peering through the window.
“I was one of those ‘cool kids’, but I came in with some of my friends, just to check it out. They left after a while, but I ended up staying,” Cameron tells me. It almost seems that amongst the books and rows of tiny paint jars, he could have stayed in here forever. Like the variety of species available to play, ranging from the undeadNecrons to the rampaging Orks, there are many different ways enthusiasts can play the game. Talking with sweeping hand movements, Cameron details the four major aspects that players can focus on: collecting the miniatures, painting them, using them in the game format and taking the original model parts and creating new combinations of tiny super-soldiers. Naturally, players can do all of the above, and I am shown some resplendent red and gold Space Marines that Cameron himself has painted. They’re incredibly small and just as detailed, requiring obvious forethought and a considerably deft use of a paintbrush.
“A common misconception behind gaming is that it is a mindless form of entertainment where people just use gratuitous violence to accomplish goals, but it is far from the truth. While many games incorporate a certain level of violence, many games require the players to use abstract problem solving skills and team work and collaboration to overcome all sorts of challenges”, another gamer, John, tells me. As a member of UniSA’s own gaming group UniSA Gaming Alliance (I prefer the suitably epic-sounding acronym UniSAGA), John has much knowledge to impart on the subject. He continues, stating that “Most importantly, gaming is a way for like minded people to get together, socialize and have some fun along the way.”
John’s compatriot, Adrian, says that “The main misconception would be not realising how diverse the hobby actually is.” He’s totally right – UniSAGA members find themselves playing numerous tabletop, card and video games ranging from “Magic: The Gathering” to “Dungeons and Dragons”. Yet one thing these gamers seem to agree on is the appeal of the fantastic settings each game can provide. John continues, “I enjoy gaming as it is a form of escapism. It lets me do thing or be someone that would otherwise be impossible. Dungeons and Dragons is my favorite, ‘cause the fantasy- magic, dragons, monsters, epic adventures – just appeals to me.” Meanwhile at Games Workshop, the science fiction elements of Warhammer 40K have drawn Cameron and other likeminded individuals in.
As I’m in the store, a customer walks in and talks to Cameron. The only words I manage to catch involve ‘Tau overwatching marker lights’, yet to a newcomer, the conversation seems to flow exactly like two mates discussing a football game or chatting about new car parts. Granted, the hobby can be expensive and I’m told it takes a while to understand the rules. Cameron concedes these facts, but the steady influx of customers seems to belie the considerable monetary expense and the amount of time dedicated to the game. I ask him if he would like if tabletop gaming would make a resurgence in popular culture in much the same way that comic books and fantasy novels have; the answer was a resounding yes. There are even tie-ins with current fantasy fares – Games Workshop also offers The Hobbit as a tabletop game.
Our middle-aged hero may have gone home, given that brand-new sweater to her doting husband and retired to their lounge room to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones; but surely the television hit and the fantasy world of tabletop gaming aren’t that far removed. Perhaps one time she’ll venture into the store and end up staying. I asked Cameron if he had any last words. His response seemed to sum it all up: Don’t judge it ‘til you try it.
Games Workshop is located on the ground of Westfield Tea Tree Plaza. They have game nights in-store every Tuesday and Thursday. UniSAGA have weekly get-togethers at Mawson Lakes Campus from 5-9pm every Friday. Contact them through their Facebook page for more details.