This aspiration, of course, remains simply that. Even if we did have more time, the perfect wargame would be out of reach. We have to settle, as finite beings, for the good enough, something that is sufficiently satisfying, aesthetic enough, and so on. We are both empowered and constrained by our language, for one thing. We can only think certain things, as those things we cannot think about we cannot articulate.
I am currently reading Rowan Williams’ ‘The Edge of Words’ (2014, Bloomsbury). This is not a project I have undertaken lightly, as the good former Archbishop of Canterbury has a certain reputation for impenetrability and, I have to confess, I have read occasional bits of his former works and emerged from as bemused as I went in. Anyway, thus far, The Edge of Words has proved to be a lot more readable than I was expecting.
The point here is that at one place (p. 57-8) Williams muses on our inarticulateness. A scientist moves the subject forward, he suggests, by puzzling over discrepancies. This is not a stimulus response mode of language, although the scientist is usually dealing with objects that do respond in that mode. What is meant here, I think, is that the scientist usually deals with such things as rocks, which when thrown behave in certain ways; these ways are independent of the scientist observer.
Within the stimulus response mode, then, there is no role for inarticulateness, but in the development of science, there is. Some scientific phenomena are not immediately intelligible. Indeed, one of the biggest tasks that science, as a whole, faces is making its deliverances intelligible, either within the scientific community or, what is even harder, in the wider community who, after all, foot the bill for most scientific research.
However, such bafflement with language is not limited to science. We have probably all found ourselves ‘lost for words’. Williams’ example is that of Cordelia at the beginning of King Lear, who cannot articulate her love for her father. That love cannot be tied up in words to satisfy the King’s need for love. There are, at least, some things we struggle to say.
Moving on, we can note that, of course, King Lear is fiction. The point here is that in a play (or, I suspect a film or even a football match) we cannot intervene. For example, in Terry Pratchett’s Weird Sisters there is a highly amusing bit where one of the character does intervene in a play they are watching, indicating the guilty party in a murder mystery and shouting ‘He done it!’ (or words to that effect). The humour is in the fact that the corpse is not a dead body, the murderer didn’t hurt anyone and intervention is from outside the world of the fiction. In Williams’ words ‘And so I am brought face to face with what I do not want to grasp or apprehend – my own limits as they border on the limits of agents who are absolutely and inaccessibly other.’
And so to wargaming. In a wargame the figures, the scenario, the rules and so are, in fact, other. It was suggested recently that a good analogy for a wargame would be a football match, and I agree. In a football match, the players and referee are other. I, as a spectator, can do little to influence the match. I can cheer or boo, but that might make me feel that my views are, at least, heard (or that I articulate them) but that has little or no influence over the outcome. It is unlikely that the referee will reverse a decision over a penalty just because a section of the crowd is catcalling him.
However, I think that one of the engaging features of wargaming that makes the analogies of film, play or match strain is, in fact, that as wargamers we are involved. Our decisions influence the outcome of the game. If I decide not to move the Grenadier Guards into line and thus the attack stalls, that is my decision affecting the game. In this discourse, taking language in a wider sense than just words, my actions influence the outcomes on the table.
Thus, alongside the fact that I am cut off from the activities on the table by the intervening layers of rules and models, I am also involved at quite a deep level. The words I use about table-top activities also imply that. I do not refer to ‘The French Grand Battery’ but to ‘My guns’. The relationship is mediated, admittedly, through the interpretation given to my actions and activities through the rules. The situation I am responding to is modelled on the table top, and that feeds back to me as decision maker. But the bottom line is that as a wargamer, I am involved in the table-top activity. It may be other, but it is also influence by me.
Those of you with very long memories might recall that I proposed a three layer model of a wargame: the real world of the player, the mediating layer of the rules, and the wargame table layer of the game. Again, this seems to work in this sense, except that the model does not seem to reproduce this level of involvement. This personal involvement, incidentally, seems to be what worries those few who regard wargaming as glamorising war (or have similar viewpoints; I’ve written quite enough about that previously). But the involvement of the players is a vital part of making a wargame worthwhile.
So, perhaps, we could regard a wargame as analogous to a film or football match, but we would have to admit that, even in the latter case, our involvement in a wargame is more intense, has a bigger influence on the outcome and, (to purloin a footballing phrase) at the end of the day is more personal.