You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher, but, I don’t know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in. James Boswell.
It might be thought, by looking back at the six months or so of posts on this blog, that I don’t have much regard for wargaming. It might be considered that I think most wargaming to be inaccurate, incoherent, ethically dubious and, quite possibly, imperialist. I dare say that evidence for all of these, and some others, would be available from the posts here.
In other words, I seem to have a real downer on my hobby.
Actually, I have no such thing, although all the above accusations could still be true. I think wargaming is in something of a golden age. When I remember the difficulty of acquiring toy soldiers, the dearth of rules and other paraphernalia of wargaming when I started, the range of services available today is truly remarkable. It is unclear if this will continue, although perhaps the internet will facilitate the exchange of ideas and goods. The real problem, I suspect, will be weaning people off computer games to “the real thing”. But that isn’t my problem, at least at present.
What I am trying to do is to think as clearly as possible about the phenomenon of wargaming, how it works, and what it means, in so far as any hobby means anything. As a case study, there is the development of some rules for ancient Greeks, but what I am trying to do is to get below the ‘just do it for a laugh’ layer and try to see what is really going on.
To suggest that wargaming presents a philosophical or ethical problem is already starting to reflect at a deeper level than simply deciding what soldiers to buy next. But can we define what the philosophical question (or questions) raised by wargaming are?
Pondering this over the last few months, it seems to me that there are both philosophical and ethical issues within and about wargaming, and both revolve around exactly what it is we are doing, or rather, what it is we are representing on the wargame table.
Now, most people who react badly to the information that I’m a wargamer do so, I think, because they imagine that there is actual representation of the violence of a battle on the table. In this sense, I think, that the same people should react in the same way to, say, a violent movie. Not too many people reacted badly to the violence of, say, Saving Private Ryan, but would a wargame of Omaha Beach engender the same muted reaction?
If not, then the difference must revolve about the engagement of the individual with the representation. The representation of the violent act in the movie is “out there”, on the screen, perhaps even a matter of historical record. But the representation of the violent acts in wargaming is also out there, on the table, but the player has some degree of control over what happens.
Perhaps, then, the genesis of the ‘yuck’ response that some people have to wargaming is due to this control. I can choose whether this company, platoon or whatever is placed in harm’s way or not. A wargamer has control over who “lives” and who “dies” in a way that a movie-goer does not. It is perhaps that control which raises, in a few people’s minds, anyway, that question of whether it is ethical to wargame this or that event.
Anyway, I do think, in accord with the quote at the top of this post, that the positives of wargaming outweigh the negatives. Wargaming, mostly, promotes social interaction, historical perspective, literacy and numeracy skills and an inclination to research. It may also provoke philosophic reflection, as well as resource management experience and, finally, it is actually fun.
So I’m not really negative about wargaming, honest. But I am going to try to continue thinking about what it might mean, both to itself and within a broader social context.