I often wonder, when I’m writing these pieces, why I’m doing it. It may be a familiar feeling to you too, but on the other hand, you don’t have to read them. But it is an interesting question: why try to understand wargaming or worry about its ethics, rather than just paint soldiers and play games?
I suppose that, for someone attempting to engage with classical Greek warfare and culture, a bit of philosophy can be excused. After all, Socrates was a soldier too, and he came to think about things rather hard. So perhaps a bit of philosophising, without the excuse of so much as a pint of beer to do it over, can be excused.
However, that does not answer the question of what I/we are trying to do here. I’m not sure that there is a particularly good answer, or that it is a particularly well formed question. After all, I’ve written about rules, dice, ethics, logistics and wargame periods so far, to name but a few and there need not be a common theme running through them all.
There are, I think, two broad views of philosophy and its relation to life. The first, which we might term the ‘engineering’ point of view, arises when we have a rather high flautin’ view of our thinking. This view emanates, for me, from Simon Blackburn, who argues (in Think: A compelling introduction to philosophy) that philosophy is conceptual engineering, that is, constructing edifices of thought for the good of our fellow man. Well, maybe, but it certainly is not what I’m doing here.
The other view comes from, for example, Mary Midgley. Her concept of philosophy is the plumbing one. That is, it is largely unseen and not worried about until something starts to smell, and then we have to get under the floorboards and see what has gone wrong. Philosophically, this means that we run on understood concepts until something goes wrong, and then we have to pull the concepts out and see what smells.
As you may have gathered, I’m more in favour of the latter, rather than the former model of doing philosophy. But, at this point you may object that, in fact, in wargaming nothing smells. There do not seem to be too many philosophical, ethical or conceptual issues around wargaming. Everything in the battle-game garden is smelling of roses.
So, are there any issues that might have us wrinkling our noses, just a little?
In 2007, the clergy of Manchester Cathedral protested that a computer generated visualisation of the inside of the cathedral was being used as the backdrop to a violent computer game released by Sony Corporation, entitled ‘Resistance: Fall of Man’. Aside from issues over copyright and defamation, the Dean also objected to the ‘virtual desecration’ of the sacred space of the cathedral’s nave. The game is set in an alternate time line in the 1950’s, and part of it depicts a gory gun battle in the cathedral, particularly ironic in the light of the cathedral’s outreach to victims of gun crime.
Does this make our noses wrinkle at the smell? Is there, indeed a smell here to be discerned? When I’ve written about speech acts and performative utterances, offence and the harm principle, do those considerations apply? Is this something, as hobbyists, we should be concerned about?
In 2003, a miniature war game journal published a short article relating to British SS ‘Freikorps’ troops in action against Soviet forces during World War Two. This provoked a significant reaction from the readership, including a detailed refutation of the premises of the original article. The original was, in its historical interpretations, alarmingly close to neo-Nazi views.
Again, is this something we should worry about? Why was there such a reaction? On a similar notethere was a distinct problem at a UK show a few years ago when a group of World war II re-enactors turned out to be re-enacting the SS. There were protests, the group were removed and the show organisers issued a highly apologetic statement. Why? I’d be willing to lay a small amount of money that somewhere in the show you could have seen SS soldiers in a demonstration game, or bought some, or bought a book about them at least.
So, there are some smelly corners of wargaming, ethically at least. If you can think of any more, please do let me know, because this is the way that the thinking about the hobby can be developed.
Are there similar things in the concepts of the game. Quite possibly, but I think I need a bit of a lie down now.