Saturday 28 December 2013

Community and Horizon

A few weeks ago there was a bit of discussion about wargame communities. In particular, it was suggested that, in fact, the wargame community is a set or family of communities, some of which struggle to interact with each other, sometimes.

Assorted examples of this are possible. We can start with the difference between science fiction and historical wargames. The latter, could, according to the former, be deemed as boring because history has already happened so the outcomes are already known.  This implies at least an entirely na├»ve determinist view of history, but it could, I suppose, be defensible. Nevertheless, it does rather undercut the ground for holding a dialogue.

Now, please note that I am not saying that all science fiction wargamers are like this, nor that historical wargamers are any paragons of virtue when it comes to communicating across boundaries. Just that these boundaries do exist, even within the overall hobby (whatever that might be).

Now, I have commented before on our wargaming horizons. There are three classes of object within our horizon. Firstly, those which we know, understand and are familiar with. We can think of them as known knowns. To some extent, they are over familiar, rather boring. To think of them is like being asked over and over again about who won the battle of Waterloo.

The second class of objects are, so to speak, known unknowns. They are objects which fall within our interests, but which are interesting to discuss, find out about, research and so on. To find out more about a subject we are interested in enriches our mental models of events and things, and enlarges our knowledge. Furthermore, we feel comfortable with these ideas and methods. We like to discover more in these areas which interest us.

The final class of objects are those which hold no interest for us. They are, so to speak, beyond our horizons. We simply know little about them, and care less. When the conversation starts about them, we switch off, of change channel, or daydream. If we do have to look at them, we struggle to see interest and relevance. We can characterize these as unknown unknowns, although uninteresting unknowns might be more accurate.

Now, these horizons are, of course, individual. I have my interests, you have yours and there is no reason why the two should overlap. We might be able to have an interesting discussion about painting techniques for toy soldiers, but your interest in the Third Gallician War may make my eyes glaze over, while my enthusiasm for developing a philosophy of wargaming cause you to offer to buy me a drink, just to interrupt the flow (I can hope, anyway).

If this is true of the individuals who make up the ‘wargaming community’, it is also true of those communities themselves. While I am not first in the queue to claim that a community is simply the sum of its members, the interests of the members of the community do direct the interest of the community as a whole. Thus, the interest of the Napoleonic wargamer community is directed to the period of 1792 – 1815, or thereabouts. There may be peripheral interests as well, such as the Indian sub-continent during the same period, but essentially, the interests of the community cohere around a fairly well specified core.

Of course, you do not need to be a member of just one community of interest. You can be a Napoleonic wargamer and an Ancients wargamer as well. You might also dabble in World War Two games, and so on. The point is that these are all communities which have a well-defined (more or less) core interest. As a member of all these communities, you do actually bring a different viewpoint to each.

Thus, your outlook is not defined by a single wargamer community. You can bring together the insights of two, three or more communities to a single wargaming issue. Drawing on the resources of all these communities, it is possible to have some sort of sensible conversation across them, such as ‘what does disorder mean, and what does it lead to?’ The answers from the different communities may well be different, but you might be in a position to find some underlying essence to the concept of disorder, or some overarching description of it.

The essential point here is, I suppose, about the context of the individual wargamer, embedded in as many communities of wargamers as they choose. We can be single community wargamers, fascinated by, say, Napoleon, and content to become a community expert on that single topic. (We have to bear in mind that these communities can be geographically and temporally diverse, as well as dynamic). Or we may dip into one and then the other community, never staying anywhere long enough to gain more than a taste of this or that issue, or even being turned off a particular topic and community by some particularly objectionable behaviour or  obscure argument which seems vital but is entirely opaque to a newcomer.

The human being tends to direct their interest to a given topic, within a given community. The history and interests of that community also direct the interest of the individual who is a member of it. Thus we get a (hopefully) virtuous cycle, of interest reinforcing interest, knowledge sparking learning, more research and more knowledge. The care which we need to take, however, is that our particular community does not start to see itself either as a gate-keeper to a given subject, nor at the authority which should be obeyed without question.

You might think that this does not happen in wargaming. We are all nice, easy going people with a relaxing hobby, after all.

However, my observations over a good number of decades suggest that wargamers are no different from other people, and can try to dominate, grab authority, exclude others and do all the things that cause, for example, board room politics (or for that matter, soap operas like Dallas) to grab the front pages.

But that is simply the penalty for being members of these communities. If we did not have them, our lives would be much poorer. But being part of a community with knowledge and, thus, a degree of authority is no excuse for us running amok with authoritarian views about that community and its activities.


  1. Another interesting piece. To further compound things, each community is also broken into smaller groups which may have little in common with or to do with others in the same nominal grouping. I and my buddy Bill, for example, could be Alex. the Great enthusiasts in Antarctica who have no connection at all with a wider 'ancients community'. Too many spokes to the wheel, perhaps?

  2. I think another point is that membership of the different communities isn't fixed. You might read a particularly well-written book on a subject which didn't previously interest you and decide that you need to know more - before you know it, you're buying the armies and joining the community!

    Often in a club context, one player can inspire others to break into a new period just by turning up with and showing off an interesting new army.

    Mind, to take your first example, I don't see me ever playing sci-fi, however well the Klingons are painted. Some boundaries are not to be crossed.

  3. Thank you, both.

    I think that you are both right. you don't have to belong to a wargame community; a solo wargamer can be entirely solitary (although would, of course belong to assorted other communities associated with living in a certain place, work, family, etc).

    But the population of a community is both self-selecting and dynamic. A problem with what i have written above is that it does suggest a static set of communities, which would be incorrect. We shift around, move interests and physically, and so on.

    As well as that, we may be partial members of communities, or sub-groups. Particular views of a given historical period, for example, may form sub-groups within a community of, say, Napoleonic gamers. You might be an ACW gamer mostly, but have a passing interest in medieval skirmishes. The possibilities, and the changes possible thereby, and, more or less, endless. I guess a club gives more options for partial membership of a community; I'm not sure, I've never belonged to one.

    As to science fiction games, the thing to bear in mind is that they, along with fantasy games, are based in our current reality anyway (or a historical period). So you are simply refighting, say, the rise and fall of Rome with bigger weapons....

  4. Off topic but....Happy New Year sir to you and keep on doing what you're doing on this blog.

    1. Thank you; and I'll try.

      And a happy new year to everyone who reads this.