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The irreverent Britishness of Warhammer Online

Adrian Bott

This blogger, being a Brit himself, is wondering whether Warhammer Online won't be the most significant (and successful) British cultural export since Monty Python. Yes, it's made by EA Mythic, but there's no denying that Britishness saturates it through and through. Hardly surprising, given that the original Warhammer wargames and roleplaying games were a product of the British gaming scene. But how is that fish-and-chips lovely-cuppa-tea flavor different from what gamers are used to?

The most obvious point of contact is humor: like the aforementioned Python, the humor is unmistakeably British. All the same elements are there. For example, snotty high-class attitudes and the mockery thereof. The satirical portrayal of some of the Elves, both High and Dark, isn't a million miles from Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year, and the snide cut-glass voices of the Dark lot (and their interactions with the greenies) recall Blackadder.
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We Brits also love to lampoon our own more cloddish citizens. It's common knowledge that the Greenskins derive some of their loutish cameraderie from British football hooligans. In fact, the one thing the British love to do best - and arguably do better than any other culture on the planet - is to mock the British, in all our social divides. Mickey-taking and sarcasm are in our blood. The nation that has God Save the Queen as its national anthem is also the nation that produced the Sex Pistols' punk classic of the same name.

The other thing we do rather well is snark. Dry, nasty snark, as Yahtzee frequently broadcasts to the world. For some reason, and Stewie Griffin could possibly enlighten us here, snarkiness in an English accent is exceptionally tasty. Could it be because we're so used to thinking of English voices as polite and deferential?

With irreverence so fundamental to British humor, we should expect to see irreverence towards the genre itself emerge in Warhammer Online. (And indeed, we do. Relatively early on, characters are likely to unlock the 'Ow, my eye' title for excessive clicking on yourself.)

Games in the fantasy genre frequently partake of a peculiar ongoing legacy - a sort of wistful self-importance, in which regal scenery and soft-focus smiling elfin maidens represent what is 'good' in the world. That's characteristic of a kind of romanticism that the Brits are far less prone to than others, possibly because we have grown up with the warts-and-all realities behind many fantasy tropes: a monarchy, a country sprinkled with castles, pubs older than entire democracies, neolithic monuments a train ride away. Because we're exposed to it on a daily basis, we're irreverent towards it, and that same irreverence shows through in Warhammer Online.

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