It is actually quite interesting to ponder the various communities of wargaming. At least, I find it so, and as I am the one writing the blog, the rest of you will simply have to put up with it. But the Fact is that communities of practice come with histories and those histories are, by the nature of the world, contingent. Things could have been different.
Now, I am not about to launch on a history of wargaming. I do not have the time, skills or, to be perfectly honest, that much interest in it. Wargaming is a hobby; it might be of interest to sociologists or social historians, but I am, in fact, a wargamer. Such sociological studies or histories may be of some peripheral interest to me, but I am not the one to create them.
Nevertheless, a quick perusal of wargame blogs do show some pervasive influences. The influence of, say, Don Featherstone is widespread. Most blogs mention him at some point, or one of his books. And that was the case even before he died.
Another unsung hero of the hobby is whoever invented the six sided die. Without such a tool how on earth could we actually wargame. I know that several rule sets use more esoteric die shapes, often imported from the world of role playing games, but the six sided die is, as it were, the workhorse. Many rules use only those die.
What is, then, the influence over the game of the shape of the die? It does limit, in some way, the possible outcomes of the question which is put to it. I mean, a simple sort of question would be ‘hit or miss’? You have six options to map onto these two, on a single D6 roll. Of course, you can throw two dice and increase the options, or you can throw matched pairs of dice and subtract one from the other. By these options you massively increase you range of outcomes, but those outcomes are still dictated by the shape of the dice.
It is an interesting question as to how we actually arrived at this point. My guess is that early wargames (or rather wargamers) simply purloined six sided dice from, say, Monopoly games or similar. The six sided die is pervasive because it was available. It is, of course, so widely available because it is easy to make, I suppose.
Similarly, the early wargames were often made up of Airfix figures. I started with such, and recall my surprise when I encountered in, I think, Tony Bath’s Battles With Model Soldiers an Airfix Plains Indian chieftain figure on a horse masquerading as Carthaginian light cavalry. Charles Grant’s Battle was full of Airfix WWII figures, and so on. I confess to having been somewhat startled recently at my local gardening emporium to discover they have started to stock Airfix kits and figures again. I was sorely tempted, of course, but I have quite sufficient wargame projects going n at the moment, however.
Clearly, though, even the “big names” of early wargaming were not above pressing suitable (or even marginally suitable) figures into use. Without Airfix plastic figures could wargaming have got the boost it did? I am not going to attempt to answer that question, but it might be worth pondering. Furthermore, if, for example, Airfix had actually managed to produce, say, English Civil War figures, might the relative popularity of the period be greater than it is now?
All of these factors, and many more besides, all feed into the history of the wargaming community (or communities) as they are now. We do, as a hobby, have a history. As a result, we have some aspects of the hobby which are, to use a rather charged word, rituals. Again, a swift perusal around the blogs indicates that the ritual of attending a wargame show is quite common. I confess, I hardly go to shows these days, because living next door to nowhere rather precludes attending, but when I lived nearer to civilisation I did usually go to one or two a year.
I suggested above that wargame shows are something of a ritual, and I think they are. You get to meet people. You get to put faces to traders and, in modern times, faces to bloggers. You see the latest trends, the latest releases, try out some games for yourself, and, of course, see what is becoming trendy. The overlap of this and, say, scientific conferences that I used to attend is quite significant, I think. It is about creating and maintaining a wargaming community, probably inducting new members into it as well.
Some of the blog reports of shows I have seen bear a startling literary resemblance to Pilgrim’s Progress – a group set out, have adventures on the way, tell each other tall stories and arrive at the destination. At that point, of course, the tall stories carry on, and lots of purchases are made. Mind you, judging by the quantity of pilgrim badges you could buy in medieval Canterbury, some things clearly do not change that much.
The point, if point there be, of this ramble is that the community of wargamers, in its broad sense, is informed by this sort of history. I have only picked out a few bits and pieces, more or less at random, to indicate the sorts of contingencies which make up the hobby as we know it today. But the claim I would make is that it could have been a different hobby, if things had turned out differently.
Thus, I would claim that wargaming has a history, which is contingent, and which shapes the sort of thing that wargaming in the present is. This does not mean that wargaming in the future is not going to evolve, or even take some startling jumps in content and process, but that it will still, in all likelihood, be within the contingent history which will remain behind it.