I cannot find my copies of those articles, but I vaguely remember the arguments and upshot, which I will try to summarize below. Aaron’s point, as I understood it, was that we self-select those wars which we do not wish to game for ethical or taste reasons. If we can identify these wars, and the reasons why they are not wargamed, then we might get what we might call an empirical handle on wargame ethics.
Griffiths, as I recall, decided that there were three categories of wargame which we do not play. The first were the boring games. In this category he placed trench warfare on the western front in the First World War, for example.
The second category were games which were far too one sided to make a good game. Here, I believe he referred to a variety of colonial small wars where a Stone Age technology tribe went up against a high firepower modern army and, inevitably, lost.
The third category Griffith defined, I think, were games that were too raw or political. By this, I think he meant wargames where some of the participants may have more riding on the outcome that was realistic for the game to manage. His examples of this were Elizabeth’s Irish Wars, where anyone with an Irish background might take offence at the representation of early colonialism, and, I think, he observed that an American Civil War wargame could, at least in some parts of the United States, cause offence as well, especially if the “wrong” side won.
Griffiths was writing a long time ago, sometime in the mid-1970’s, I think, and it seems to me that his list of examples may not be sustained today. Even as he wrote, Charlie Wesencraft was publishing ‘With Pike and Musket: Sixteenth and Seventeenth-century Battles for the Wargamer’ (Elmfield: Morley, 1975). This included four scenarios from Elizabeth’s Irish Wars out of twenty seven battles included. It has to be admitted that all except one of the rest were English Civil War, but nevertheless it was a definite indicator that someone, at least, did not find that war too politically hot to handle.
So, can we update Griffiths’ lists of examples? To be perfectly honest, I am finding this a bit of a struggle. Over the years since he wrote many of the subjects he ruled as grey wargames have, in fact, been played and, more often than not, become mainstream.
For example, First World War trench warfare is now frequently seen; at least, I have seen a number of articles on the subject in magazines, and also a few demonstration games at shows. I confess, it is not my thing, but they do exist as games and presumably people play them. I suspect that one of the things that makes the games playable is the design of decent winnable scenarios, although the fact that the war and its carnage has faded from living memory might help a bit too.
Again, with wargames that are deemed too one sided, sophisticated scenario design can make a big difference. This, I suspect, is related to the idea that the natives should stand up and fight like civilised people do – in ranks like real men. They can then be mown down my western firepower, and the result, of course, is a boring and one sided wargame. If the ‘native’ side is allowed to use its own tactics, with a scenario of which the winning outcome is not the standard wargame ‘annihilation of the opposing forces’, then an interesting and (so far as a wargame ever can be) instructive battle can be had.
I suspect that this second category reflects on the type and style or rules which were available then (and mostly still are today), where the non-western forces are forced into categories of western troops into which they do not really fit. The ‘Skulking Way of War’, to quote early North American settlers about the aboriginals, did not fit into the rules of war at the time, nor does it fit easily into our wargame concepts today. The upshot was that the colonists went and destroyed native villages, leaving only death and starvation, while our wargame forces do not really have a battle on their hands.
The final category that Griffiths defined is more of a moving target, I suspect. It is quite possible that a game based on Elizabeth’s Irish Wars would not play well in, say Dublin, even today. I have been trying to come up with a list of games that would today, fall into the ‘too politically hot to handle’ camp, and I am not sure I can. If you can, please let me know via the comments button!
Even so, I think that there probably are some currents in contemporary wargaming where things just are not done. I suspect, for example, that some things which were highly acceptable in the 1970’s might raise an eyebrow or two today. For example, some colonial games may well have been rebalanced, or at least renamed as such titles as ‘The Indian Mutiny’ may well be deemed to be inappropriate. For that matter I vaguely recall an episode of ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ where the events of that war had to be rapidly re-invented when an Indian politician came to visit.
I do not seem to be getting very far along this track, however. I cannot think of any particular period that wargamers in general avoid. Perhaps that is a sign of the times, or perhaps it is counter-cultural, in that wargamers, qua historians, at least accept that battles happened, they were not pleasant and someone often won. Maybe, our politically correct historical narratives cannot bear those unpleasant truths today.