My goodness, it's Father's Day and looks like someone's inspired to write about "fatherhood/parenthood" in relation to games and pop culture, eh? That brings me to my second contribution for this month's Band of Bloggers theme. This time, it's about Warhammer 40,000 and the greatest (or worst) parent in the entire galaxy: The God Emperor of Mankind.
Such majesty will leave any true and loyal son of the Imperium to feel blessed and awed at the sight. For others, most notably his traitor sons, it is merely a glamor.
A facade. A hoax. It is a lie fabricated by the slaves of an authoritarian regime built to give empty praise to a false god of a broken empire, a corpse emperor feasting on the souls of the damned. Their prayers and cries left unheard, as the laughter of the true pantheon, the Primordial Annihilator, readily await mankind's inevitable doom.
Oh crap... I went full heretic there. You never go full heretic. Ahem!
So what exactly makes the Warhammer 40K franchise worth looking into with a theme of parenthood for this June? Even though it's a tabletop-game-slash-trove-of-novels first, it's also spawned dozens of video games based on the universe. You've got the Dawn of War series, Space Hulk, Eternal Crusade, Armageddon, Battlefleet: Gothic Armada, and new offerings such as Inquisitor - Martyr, plus many more. These games are a gamut of genres from turn-based-tactical scenarios, feverish real-time strategy, to action RPGs, and online multiplayer shooters.
Oh, and the basis for the entire lore -- or "fluff" as purists call it -- is bad parenting.
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. And there are also daddy issues.
The God Emperor of Mankind -- whether He's an immortal or Perpetual being, the collective manifestation of a thousand shamanistic souls, or the embodiment of a now-defunct Chaos God -- created superhuman beings known as "Primarchs." They were His sons. Each one contained His essence and part of His personality.
One known as Lorgar was a master orator who could make the masses weep with words alone. Another such as Roboute Guilliman was a genius in organization and logistics. Rogal Dorn was unmatched in defense and fortification, whilst Fulgrim was a perfectionist and intricate duelist. Each Primarch headed his own legion, forged from his own gene-seed.
Only one other being towered above them aside from The Emperor, and that was Horus Lupercal, the Warmaster, Primarch of the Luna Wolves. And yes, if you've never been interested in Warhammer, you'd have at least heard of Horus and his Kickstarter Project -- "The Horus Heresy."
It was a clash of literal titans in M30 of mankind's history. Half the super siblings sided with Horus in an all-out revolt. The other half remained loyal to Terra and the defense of The Emperor's dream. All of that could have been avoided if "Big Daddy E" Himself tried his best to be a good parent.
See, here's the thing: the Primarchs were all lab experiments whisked away by Chaos Gods to various planets when they were still in their respective test tubes. Many who landed in inhospitable areas were found by benevolent humans who became de facto father figures. Others were influenced by more corrupt and sinister practices. There's a little bit of "nurture versus nature" debate there as well.
Konrad Curze, the Night Haunter, became Space Batman -- if Batman went around killing everyone he met regardless of the severity of their crimes. It didn't make a difference if you stole a loaf of bread or a Baneblade tank -- to Curze, you needed to be brought to justice via public torture and execution.
Angron, the Red Angel and Lord of the Red Sands, was also a tragic figure. Crash-landing in Nuceria as an infant, he became enslaved in the gladiator pits. Like the Spartacus of the Romani Empire (circa M1), he led his own revolt. Outnumbered and outgunned, he wished for one glorious battle to the death against his captors. He wanted nothing more than to die with his beloved friends and comrades. Instead, "Dad" whisked him away on a spaceship, and he watched helplessly as his blood-brothers died without him. Dad didn't so much as blink. He simply said that Angron had new responsibilities as a leader of his own legion.
Lorgar, the aforementioned oratory wunderkind? He practically worshipped The Emperor, even though Daddy publicly forbade being worshipped as a god. He preferred a secular society. Superstition fed the desires of the Chaos Gods, you see, and so no belief in gods meant no power for them to draw from. Lorgar's spreading of The Imperial Truth, the blessed Word of The Emperor's divinity was forbidden. The poor Primarch was rebuked and humiliated, his whole legion forced to kneel in defeat. That pretty much led to him doing his own heel turn and replacing his teachings with The Primordial Truth, the worship of the Chaos pantheon.
Magnus the Red, the self-professed Daddy's Boy, and all-around nice-guy nerd? Yeah, he just wanted to empower humanity through Warp magic. Daddy could have at least stepped in to help him attune his powers rather than keeping a lot of important information secret. When Magnus learned of Horus' corruption, he beamed his psychic essence straight to Terra's Golden Throne to try and warn his Father. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned -- or did they, it was Tzeentch's machinations after all -- and Magnus was blamed for the destruction of The Emperor's grand work, The Space Autobahn.
In the end, The Horus Heresy was quashed but at great cost. Thousands of planets were destroyed, and entire populations exterminatus-ed. Primarchs battled and killed one another, and legion battle-brothers were forced to raise arms against their own kin. The galaxy burned. The Emperor was brutally beaten in His fight with Horus. Though victorious, He was but a shell -- a "corpse sitting on a Golden Throne." Mankind was no longer ascendant and it began a slow decline into superstition and anarchy.
All the Warhammer 40k games you've heard of for the past decades all came from the decisions of one "man" to play around with the lives and emotions of His sons, never expecting that the Dark Gods were also playing their own Great Game. He paid for His hubris. And if a recent audiodrama is to be believed, all the infighting, rivalries, plotting, wars, and deaths -- basically the entire Heresy -- all of these were planned from the start.
Warhammer 40k truly shows what bad parenting can do. If a simple kid can turn into a brat, or a messed-up young adult because his parents did not raise him well, then imagine what happens when that kid is a superhuman being flanked by thousands of gene-hanced soldiers? The setting may be different, but the characters follow the same tropes and concepts as the legends and myths of the past.
Instead of being a terrible dad, The Emperor could have been a good father figure instead -- just ask Grandfather Nurgle.
[Image sources: Black Library and Warhammer Wiki]