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Once Gabriel received his digital camera, his destiny was clear – he was to become a remote wargamer.

337 hits since 25 Jun 2020
©1994-2020 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0125 Jun 2020 8:57 p.m. PST

""To a wargamer," writes Greg Costikyan in the just published collection Tabletop: Analog Game Design, "wargames are not abstract, time-wasting pastimes, like other games, but representative of the real. . . . You can learn something from wargames; indeed, in some ways you can learn more from wargames than from reading history" (180). I take the theatrical curl of the lip at "abstract, time-wasting pastimes" to be spoken in character, but that aside, what can we learn from wargames? Which is to say, what can wargames teach, or do, that other game design traditions—including serious games, independent games, and art games—cannot? Is brute simulationism—some sort of interactive history textbook, presumably—really the answer?

My investment in this question goes deep, since as an academic and a good left/progressive at that I often find myself wondering about—and occasionally asked to outright explain—my passion for these martial pastimes. A wargamer, especially one who follows military history and current military affairs, looks suspiciously like a closet warmonger, complete with Mission Accomplished banners furled in back behind the winter coats. (It goes the other way too: announcing "I'm an English professor" isn't exactly a conversation-starter when the person sitting next to you is dressed in ACUPAT fatigues.) I've written about some of the appeal and interest of these games before on Play the Past, but the other week I had an opportunity to see how wargaming is presented amid the formal trappings of Powerpoints and plenaries. Connections is an annual conference designed to fit the niche at the intersection of professional and recreational wargaming, with active duty military personnel, hobbyists, academics, designers, industry representatives, and policy wonks all rubbing shoulders. I'd never been to one of its meetings before, but as an academic I'm no stranger to conferences—I have literally hundreds of keepsake badges adorning my office. So, on a sticky August morning I hied me down to the Washington, DC campus of National Defense University at Fort McNair, just across the river from National Airport. There I found lots of people talking about what wargames can and can't do, but very few talking about "representing the real."…"
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Yesthatphil26 Jun 2020 2:29 a.m. PST

He's mostly talking about boardgames.


Tango0126 Jun 2020 12:50 p.m. PST

True… but a wargame is a wargame… even with clothespins!(smile)


arthur181527 Jun 2020 2:45 a.m. PST

Personally, I think wargamers tend to learn historical information in order to play wargames, and are often inspired by wargames to study the historical background further, but do not learn much about war from playing the games, so much as learning how to play that particular style of game/set of rules better.

Professional military wargaming is a different matter because of its practical training purposes and the fact that the players are participating in a game whose subject matter is familiar to them, as they have already undergone training and practice.

As far as hobby wargaming is concerned, I think HG Wells summarised its value perfectly at the end of Little Wars: it teaches players what 'a blundering thing Great War is' and how much better it would be to confine warfare to the tabletop, living room floor or garden lawn.

I'm quite content to play 'abstract, time wasting pastimes' with my toy soldiers; when I feel like studying some serious history, I'll read my books.

Jeffers28 Jun 2020 3:38 a.m. PST

Arthur +1

My thoughts exactly & far more eloquently expressed than I ever could.

arthur181528 Jun 2020 4:46 a.m. PST

Thank you, Jeffers, for your kind words. Much appreciated!

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