I have been reading, for no wargame related reason, a book about the problem of housing in rural areas in the UK. The problem is, as you can probably guess, that the prettier rural areas suffer from wealthy people moving into them, buying up the housing stock and forcing the prices up. The poorer paid local people and their children thus cannot afford to live in their local area anymore and have to either move to urban areas and commute back to their poorly paid jobs on the land or hope for some low cost housing to be made available to them.
The essay on housing, however, makes some interesting comments about the power of discourses over our views of rural housing. The dominant discourse is that the countryside is to be protected, and this is agreed by everyone, indigenous rural population, incomers buying up farm houses, planners and politicians.
The policy of protecting the countryside benefits some of the people above. Thus, for those who can afford to move to pretty country villages, it ensures that property prices stay high and their investment remains valid. They can claim that the communities they move into do not suffer from urbanisation because their pressure keeps development at bay. It also gives local planning officers, local politicians and national figures something to do, in that they seem to spend a fair bit of time considering planning applications for huge sprawling edge of village or town estates that no-one in their right mind is going to accept.
The interesting thing about this discourse of protecting the rural landscape, communities and way of life is that everyone, whether in one of the benefitted groups or not, accepts it. The rural poor, who would in fact benefit from more housing (thus being cheaper) and bigger local towns (bringing more jobs and amenities to a nearby location) are just as clear about not wanting development as the richer, more powerful voices. In short, the discourse of protection has been swallowed, hook, line, and sinker.
Now, while this might be an interesting debate over the rural landscape, I think it does pertain to wargaming. Not, I hasten to add because there is any sort of politicking going on in wargaming; I think it is too disparate for that, but because I do think there are some dominant discourses within wargaming which the hobby might benefit from examining.
I dare say that I have banged on about a few of these discourses over time, but it might do no harm to have another bash. Writing the blog, in fact, trying to describe my own ideas and thoughts on the subject and also to see what others think.
I think my biggest beef with most wargaming, at least of a historical nature, is how out of date much of the history is. Wargaming generally seems to be stuck with its sources in the A. H. Burne and Sir Charles Oman. Now, don’t get me wrong, both did sterling work in their time to write history, and specifically, history of conflicts, in an appropriate manner for their time. But historiography does move on, and I cannot really believe that I am the only wargamer who gets frustrated (and possibly slightly depressed) when I see another article or demonstration game which is based on their interpretation of the sources.
For example, the battle of Neville’s Cross is, for a medieval action, quite well documented. But the most recent wargame interpretation of it was exactly that from Burne. Burne seems to have been unaware of some of the sources (not necessarily his fault). The upshot is, of course, that we present to ourselves, and to the public who might have a look, a wargame which has little relevance to the actual original conflict (insofar as we can know it) and also little relevance to modern research and consideration of more recent concerns. In short, our discourse of wargaming here is woefully out of date.
Now, we might argue that this does not matter, because the game is the thing. However, the devil is, I think, in the detail. If we claim that the wargame is historical, should it not be so to the best of our ability? We can comment on the niceness of the figures, the accuracy of the heraldry and so on, but when the action on the table is based on an account of the battle written nearly a century ago, some question over its actual historical accuracy might need to be raised.
Often, I think, well-meaning wargamers fall for these powerful discourses. We want our battles to be full of colour and activity. The line of least resistance is to take down Oman from the shelf, leaf through to the relevant chapter, and start recreating the battle. But we recreate Oman’s view of the battle, which is likely to have been superseded. Oman, fine writer as he was, is not the last word on the subject; it is not that hard to find more modern accounts of battles and the circumstances leading up to them. In the case of Neville’s Cross, the differences can be significant.
So I think that one of the discourses which silences some wargamers, in the same way that powerful interest groups silence the rural poor and actually make them agree to things which are not to their benefit, is that the game is the thing and that historiography does not change that much. This argument implies that the interpretation of the sources can only be the same today as it was nearly a century ago. Thus, all we need to do is to make a table that looks like the present state of the battlefield, bang out a few nicely painted figures and, bingo! we have a historical recreation.
Present company excepted, I am sure, this does seem to be the dominant view among a significant set of wargamers. It might not even matter that it is historiographically impaired. But as a discourse that potentially silences other voices, other ways of wargaming and more recent historical research, I think recognising that it does happen might be a helpful thing.