It is, I think, largely impossible to read very much in the arts and humanities, probably particularly in theology and philosophy without encountering the idea of power, its use and abuse. In fact, in some areas of both subjects, you run across quite a lot of analysis and polemic about the fact that, historically, white, heterosexual males have largely run, or at least been seen to run, the show. This perceived domination and its concomitant oppression of everyone who does not fit the bill is now the subject of a good deal of argument. For example, we have liberation theologies, which shade into feminist ones, which shade into queer theologies, which themselves borrow from queer philosophy, and so on. To someone who was bought up in a more or less straightforward, white, straight context, the whole gamut of voices now being heard is a bit bewildering.
However, not being one to be deterred by my own bewilderment, I started to ponder on the power structures of wargaming. It is quite possible that, in fact, there are no such things, but the human condition being what it is, I doubt that. Nothing, it seems is above the general flawedness of humanity, its propensity to argue, exclude that which it does not understand and so on.
So, then, who has power in wargaming? Firstly, I suspect that, in many circumstances, it can be one player in a game or another. An early memory of wargaming was with someone who seemed to think he was actually Napoleon. I, of course, was given the British, but I was not given a sight of the rules. I confess that I was deeply suspicious of this, particularly as no longer-standing members of the club were involved in the game. Given the option of walking away before the set up (in both sense of the word) was completed, I did. Obviously, the guy with the figures and the rules has a certain amount of power, the only problem being that they cannot exploit it too nakedly because if the other party walks, there is no game.
At higher levels than the individual, can we suggest some places where power in wargaming exists? I think there are some obvious candidates, such as figure manufacturers, magazine publishers and rule writers. All of these people could exert considerable influence over the direction that the hobby takes.
To take a perhaps extreme example, Games Workshop does show something of such an influence. When White Dwarf, many moons ago, stopped being a general role playing game magazine and became a vehicle for GW products, influence over the hobby was felt. Similarly, the figures they produce and the rules they sell influence the hobby in its broadest sense, although the target demographic is, perhaps, less influential in the overall hobby.
Nevertheless, figure manufacturers could be power holders in the hobby. After all, they make the products that we play with. As I recall from the hobby thirty years ago or so, if the figures did not exist, it was hard to have the game. These days, of course, this influence is less, due to the plethora of manufacturers and figures for almost any conceivable conflict in history being around. As an aside, however, I still cannot find any nice Roman and barbarian civilian figures to have a skirmish game with, at least, ones that fit my pocket.
So figure makers have, probably, less influence over the hobby than they used to have. What about rule writers? I suspect a similar thing has happened here. It used to be that Wargames Research Group pretty well held the field in many periods. They were always held up as the gold standard, as I recall. However, more and more voices have entered this field as well, and there are now so many rules for a given era that it is hard to know where to begin, let alone to start assessing ‘accuracy’, ‘historicity’ and ‘playability’, whatever those somewhat contentious terms might mean.
How about magazines? Well, recent changes in the landscape suggest that magazines are not as influential as they used to be. Most printed media is having difficulty with the transformation from print to digital, although the death of the book is, I think, overstated, usually by vested interests. But magazines, as with figure makers, have to sell their products to people like you and me, and so their freedom to operate (or in feminist, queer or liberation terms, their ability to oppress) is limited. If we do not like the articles (which, after all are sourced from individuals within the hobby) we do not buy the product, and it fails or folds.
So where, then, does power in the hobby lie? Perhaps I am not looking in the right place. Possibly, except in some situations like the one I described with ‘Napoleon’ above, or in wargame clubs (where politics rather than wargaming can take over) there is no power to be held in a hobby. But I somehow doubt that; as my explorations of various aspects of the hobby hopefully have shown, wargaming is an intensely human activity, and so political factors, or even simple personality clashes will come to the fore.
I suspect that power in the hobby does lie in the bulk of wargamers, the ones who have wargamed this way for twenty years and see no reason to change. Even after a couple of decades of 6 mm wargame figures, for example, I still seem people at shows walking past and sniggering at them. This, perhaps, is the power, but it is a negative one, a power of derision and belittling the different. Any wargamer not conforming to the dominant paradigm, which, even now seems to be big figures in small numbers, seems to run the risk of a certain amount of public derision.
I think, also, that it applies to wargamers who take a slightly different view of history. History, as interpreted by wargaming, seems to be a history of great and bad generals, good and bad units or armies, and so on. This, possibly, is the oppressive power in wargaming that I have been wondering about.