I may well be repeating myself here, but I would like to ponder something that has come up again in recent discussions here. The thing is, in a wargame, we are taking multiple complex reactions to a human (and very stressful) situation, breaking them into models, and then reassembling them into some sort of intelligible, usable whole to play a game.
I think I would like to leave aside, at least here, the ethics of doing this. I have considered them elsewhere, but I do confess that the above description of what we do in a wargame makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. However, I shall simply ignore that for the moment and consider the actual problems of the reductionism that we employ and the possibilities of reconstruction that we hope for.
So, firstly, reductionism. We have a set of accounts of battles for a particular period, say, plus our imaginations and a framework for what we can produce as a workable model and what we cannot. So, for example, I know that my model, in order to be intelligible and tractable, is going to have to result in some sort of arithmetical operation, a dice roll for a bit of chance and some sort of outcome based on the numerical result. This may not be the only way of resolving wargame events, but it is the most usual one. We could call it a paradigm model of event resolution.
Now, in our accounts, in our imagination, various factors come into play. The men, for example, might be confident or treacherous (think about Bosworth, for example). The leaders might be, or might be considered to be, competent or not, careful with the lives of the men or not, and so on. The weaponry the armies are issued with might be effective or not; the tactics employed could be such as to amplify or supress the usefulness of the weapons or not, and so on.
I think the issue here is that, in real life, these things are all presented as a mass. Generals, I guess, do not go around thinking that if only they deployed their archers in hollow triangles they might be more effective. These things are largely dependent on tradition, training and other things that happen off the battlefield. Generals, deploying their armies, have to use what they are given. The men are armed in a certain way, trained in a certain way, have a set of conceptions and expectations about themselves, their comrades and leaders, and, probably, the enemy as well. But these are all of a mass; the men, their officers and generals do not necessarily split them into different categories.
Furthermore, of course, all these ideas and conceptions interact. I might be confident in the performance of my long bow, but nervous about the fact that my sergeant is incapable of hitting a barn with his bow, or that there seem to be an awful lot of Frenchmen about wearing heavy duty armour. Thus, my confidence, which might be high in one sense, could be low in another, and dependent on my own mental outlook and physical wellbeing (the fact that I have dysentery might add or subtract from my confidence). In short, there are all sorts of factors making up the outlook of one individual and, of course, many individuals whose outlook is a factor both in my individual outlook and in some emergent outlook of the unit, or the army, as a whole.
There is no way in which this can be handled as a whole, I think. In order to make a set of wargame rules work, we have to reduce this mix of personal outlooks, physical capabilities and so on to a set of models which reproduce certain aspects of the whole. Thus, I have a given model for the effectiveness of the bow. I have another model for the impetuousness for the French knights. I have yet another model for the use of crossbows in a skirmishing role, and probably another for the effectiveness of crossbowmen ridden down by those impetuous knights, and so on.
In short, what I have done is taken all the formally distinct bits of the world of the archer before Agincourt, and turned them into separate models. The thing is, though, that those models are only formally distinct. How well the ‘real’ archer shoots might well be a function of whether he thinks his weapon is effective at a given range against a given target, as well as his state of health, how confident (or scared of) his leaders he is, and so on. The different models in fact represent different bits of reality that we can think about separately. Reality itself is unitary.
The next step is to model these things as arithmetic calculations. This introduces another level of abstraction. The simulation is now grainy. Reality tends to be more gradual, more graded than simply reaching, or not, a numerical threshold. As wargamers we have to accept this as a consequence of attempting to wargame at all. Although there are sudden collapses of units, usually this is the cumulation of a set of circumstances and events in the recent past. While a sudden bad dice roll might reflect this, it also washes out that slow disintegration of the individual and communal morale.
Now, we attempt to put these models together in some sort of order, to reflect the reality which they are trying to simulate. But note that we have, in fact, changed things considerably. The continuous and fairly smooth behaviour we witness in real life has been replaced by a step-wise and clunky function depending on dice rolls, among other things. The integration of a person, their environment and world view has been replaced but a set of models for each of them, hopefully statistically derived for a mass of people. And so on. The models we use only reflect some formally distinct aspects of the reality we try to model.
We do, of course, gain some advantages. The models we use are tractable and intelligible. If a unit runs away we can give reasons, which the real life equivalent might struggle to do. But we do need to be aware of the things we have to sacrifice to obtain that intelligibility and tractability.