In even asking some of the questions I pose here, I run the risk of being classified as a postmodernist wargamer, even though I have no idea what one might look like. Even if we reject postmodernism in many of its forms (mostly because such pronouncements as ‘it is all relative’ are self-stultifying) , we have to acknowledge that there is something in some of the questions which are asked by it. For example, the hermeneutic of suspicion encourages us to question the texts which we read and, in a sense, turn them against themselves. This has, of course, significantly been done against religious texts, but most texts are open to this form of deconstruction. Of course, what the users of these techniques often have failed to recognise is that the same technique can be applied to their own texts. Again, we run into the issue of self-stultification. If the author vanishes, then that means that the author of any text, including deconstructionist text vanishes as well.
Nevertheless, it is useful to make some use of these ideas. The questions that are asked, about the limits and meanings of text, are important ones, even if we do not necessarily agree with the answers given (or, in some cases, even understand them). Some typical deconstructionist questions would be ‘where did these ideas come from?’, ‘whose interests do they serve?’, ‘what voices are silenced here?’ A text, as I have recently noted with respect to history, is selective and selected. We cannot know the full meaning, the intention of the author. We can only work out some of what they might have meant, some of what they left out and some ideas of why that might have been so.
As an example I will take a set of wargame rules and ask these sorts of questions. To be specific, I will use De Bellis Renationis, by Phil Barker and Richard Bodley Scott. This is not particularly because I have anything against (or, indeed, in favour of) these rules or the authors. I just want to ask the questions of the text as I bought it.
First, then, ‘where did these ideas come from?’ Well, clearly, DBR is a cousin, at least, of the DBM and DBA nexus. The authors are the same and many of the mechanics carry over. The authors also claim in the introduction (it is always worth reading the preface and/or introduction or author’s notes; we so often let slip what we are really doing in them) that they will bring to player’s attention the largely unknown campaigns of the later seventeenth century in Europe (Turenne, Montecuculi and so on). So there is a claim here also of input from history.
This is, of course, not beyond criticism. The rules, as presented, are, perhaps, more conventional, or at least more stereotypical of a certain view of the ‘Renaissance’ wargaming period that might at first appear. Recent research, so far as I know, does not support the claim that command systems were inadequate (or at least, more inadequate than earlier systems) nor that clumsy deep formations were the norm, or had slowed the style of warfare down. In short, the ideas seem to have come from an earlier period of the historiography of warfare.
Secondly, we can ask ‘whose interests do these ideas serve?’ here, I think there are multiple answers. Firstly, of course, the ideas might serve the author’s interests. Authors are usually interested in people reading what they have produced. I guess it is true to say that most wargame rules are written for love and not money (except GW products), and so the interest of the author is in having their ideas out there. Of course, the danger for the author is that they then get roundly criticised, but in part that is the idea. The ideas are also, almost certainly aimed at serving the interest of the wargaming hobby as community. They do enable us to play games, after all, and hopefully enjoy them. They give us a common language and experience to discuss and critique. We might also note that the rules might serve the interests of the publishers of older historiography, such as Oman.
The third question was , ‘what voices are silenced here?’ this is possibly a bit more interesting and less obvious, and also slightly contradictory to the answers to the second question. Explicitly in the Introduction it says ‘The simple mechanisms produce effects much more subtle than may be apparent at first reading and should not be tampered with.’ With this simple rhetorical device the voices of any other wargamer apart from the authors is effectively silenced, at least with respect to this precise rule set. Potentially, the answer to any question about why the rules are doing this and not doing that are ruled out by the simply expedient of claiming that the rules are too subtle for the questioner to comprehend. This is a pre-emptive strike against any critic of the rules.
This might be construed as working against the implied claim of the rules (and every rule set) that they are serving the wargaming community. Indeed, one of the criticisms of rule sets commercially produced is that they stile the individual wargamer’s ideas and creativity. Perhaps this is so, but of course many wargamers have neither the time or space to undertake the scholarship required to write rules, and simply want to enjoy a quick battle with low set up costs.
Nevertheless, there is a tension emerging between the statement silencing wargamers and the rule set in the communitarian context. We can, of course, ignore the authors, particularly as the next sentence, claiming that scouting, forced marches and so on will arise naturally in the game seems to me to be entirely wrong. But in doing so, are we not simply being postmodern enough to remove the authorial voice?
I suppose that the final point is that to most wargamers, the ‘do not tamper’ declaration would be a red rag to a bull. Most of us, I suspect are inveterate tinkerers; we would not be wargamers, to some extent, if we were not. Most of us like to push the boundaries set by the rules. Someone remarked once that you could play a perfectly good hoplite battle with Polemos: SPQR. I have never tried it, but I suspect it is correct, even though the rules do not cover the period.
So, DBR now lies before us, dismembered. Does it matter? Probably not that much, but it is interesting to consider what the authors are up to.