Saturday, 11 July 2015

Wargaming Leisure

For most of us, wargaming is a leisure activity, a hobby, something which is chosen to indulge in, rather than being something required, ordained or made necessary.  There is a distinction here between what is necessary and what is chosen. It is (sadly) necessary for me to get out of bed from time to time and go to work. Not to do so would, eventually, have undesirable consequences, such as my work not being done, being rendered unemployed, unable to feed my family and so on.  However, I choose to get out of bed. There may be some constraints to persuade me that getting out of bed is a good idea, but (assuming that humans do have some sort of free will) I do choose a particular course of action.

What, however, do we make of leisure activities? I am not constrained to do them, by definition. A leisure activity is something which we choose to indulge in. if this were not the case, it becomes work, possibly drudgery. But a freely chosen leisure activity is, almost by consequence of that set up, something that we choose which, we think and believe, is a good for us. Our leisure activity might not, of course, ultimately turn out to be good for us. Our whiter water raft might capsize and we might drown, or a mountain yak might push us off a Himalaya to our detriment, but nevertheless, we chose that activity because we believe in its good for us.

Given that we are not all the same, our choices of leisure activity vary. Some people seem to find riding bicycles up hills with gritted teeth and sweat by the bucket load a pleasurable activity. I can only imagine that the pleasure here is in looking back and thinking ‘I’ve done it’, but who am I to criticise someone else’s leisure activity? I can only, by definition of the term leisure activity, assume that they enjoy it somehow.

Nevertheless, humans are fairly practical people. In our work we are often presented with practical problems which we respond to with a plan, a course of action, and some activity such as laying bricks or writing computer programs. One of the hall-marks of this sort of activity is a certain degree of efficiency. My line manager is perfectly happy to see some scrawl on my desk which does contain a plan, the kernel of an idea or something of that sort, even though a doodle would probably make them suspicious that I am not really doing anything.

But the project, the plan, the efficient execution is not really a part of leisure activity as leisure. It might, indeed, be part so such an activity, but it is not the point of it. Leisure activity is a point in its own content. There is (or, perhaps should be) no point to the leisure activity except that it is an leisure activity. It is an end in itself.

Thus, I might have (and, in fact, do have) a plan for my wargaming in the short, medium and / or long term. I am painting armies. I plan to have wargames. The armies are of such a type, the wargames are between such forces, and so on. The point here, surely, is that as these plans refer solely to my leisure activity, no-one is going to get hurt, grumble or throw a wobbly at me if they are not done. The plan is a plan but it is not a serious plan. The fate of millions (no matter what my wargaming megalomania might suggest otherwise) is not in the balance according to whether I complete this next base of Thracians or not. Which is just as well, as work on the Thracians has stalled a bit.

Wargaming, however, is something of a creative activity. Something is created by our efforts in our leisure. If we have a wargame, the creation is a wargame, a narrative, a series of connected events. The events are connected, and connected to us, by our decision making processes. This process might depend on plans (formal or informal) but is also completed in the concrete, the wargame itself. A wargame throws at us a series of decisions we have to make to move it forward. That move, of course, might well (and probably is) driven by a pre-existing context. For example, a mile wide cavalry unit belonging to my enemy might just have appeared over the hill. This context drives my decision to, say, concede that the game is lost.

In some senses, that decision making context is the same as my need to remove myself from my slumbers and do some commuting, but in another sense it would be different, because the drivers for making the decision are different.  In leisure activity, no-one would mind too much if I failed to make a decision, or, indeed, made the wrong one to the detriment of my army. In real life it might matter rather more, unless you are a highly paid bank executive in which case they simply increase you bonus the more bad decisions you make.

We can, of course, in a leisure context, simply make a decision arbitrarily. I can attempt to turn my grand battery to pound those horsemen, just to see what happened. I might even get away with it and blow them away while the rest of my army is busy winning the battle elsewhere. The point here is surely that my decision does not have that great an impact on the real world; it can be treated as something of a thought-experiment. No people or horses were, in fact, hurt in the preparation of this post.

So wargaming as a leisure activity actually has no point at all. And that is the point of it. If everything humans did had a point we would all be workaholics and very, very, boring. But perhaps we do need other activities as well. After all, someone who had an infinite quantity of leisure time and spent it wargaming might, in due course, be regarded even by fellow wargamers as being a bit dull.


  1. I had a work colleague, years ago, who belonged to a very evangelical and very disapproving faction of the Free Kirk, and he used to be extremely hard on anything which he felt was a waste of time. I shall skirt around any meaningful discussion of the fact that he felt that all time which was not spent praising his particular Maker was a waste of time. Thus, for example, the works of Mozart were dismissed as rubbish because they were not hymns. Feeding yourself, keeping yourself clean (and uninteresting), looking after the kids, all that sort of stuff was regarded as essential, and justified taking some time off the praise thing, but anything beyond that was getting into self-indulgence, and the gates of Hell were yawning wide. I am happy to say I have not met or thought about this chap for a long time, but his views left a mark, and I fear there is a faint whiff of Puritanism in my own view of leisure time - I would not choose to judge the efforts or the tastes of others (well, maybe a bit), but I am very hard on myself. If I am going to have a hobby then I should organise it properly and do it as well as I can - my own personal work ethic has always been (and probably i regret to say this) that we have a limited amount of time here - if you don't do your best, whose time are you wasting? - whom are you letting down?

    I don't really enjoy painting soldiers, never have, much, but I love having finished painting them. I treasure my armies, which, now I come to think about it, must represent in total a sizeable chunk of all the fiddly, irritating grunt work I have ever put in. If the pain is a part of what I feel is necessary to justify or get the most out of this hobby, then I'd rather not examine that too carefully.

    Whatever, planning is an important imposition - has to be done. Lead mountains really do depress me - that nagging, constant accusation that I have failed again. Of course, i do have unfinished projects, but they bother me quite a bit, and I tend to shift them via eBay if they really are permanently stuck. I do not need my leisure activities to be another catalogue of failure - that is the role of our working lives...

    Might I also add that I thought the bit about riding bicycles up hills was a most unkind analogy for the use of DBR.

    1. I think, according to Max Weber anyway, that we al have a whiff of Puritanism running through us. As my wife observes occasionally, but darkly 'The Protestant work ethic runs deep'.

      I try to have a 'what happened, happened' approach to my wargames and campaigns. it rarely works, but stops me re-doing battles because I missed a bit. Reading history is reassuring because the originals tended to miss a lot of bits.
      As to your colleagues, the best riposte to that sort of thing I ever heard was along the lines of:
      Puritan (to Christian Smoker): I don't know how you can be a Christian and have such a filthy habit.
      Christian Smoker: Nor do I, but it is better than your filthy habit.

      Further investigation disclosed that the smoker had no idea what the other's habits were...

  2. I suppose all leisure activities must contain parts that aren't much fun, but we put up with these for the joy of the whole. Basing figures is the bit I tend to detest with a passion, but it has to be done (I suppose.) Not that keen on painting either really.
    You have a point - why do we do this?

    One of my stepdaughters plays football. Quite good at it, apparently. Anyway, she was watching one of these interminable football tournaments on the telly the other day and I grumbled that she was wasting time watching it when she could have been doing something interesting. 'But,' she rejoined. 'it's an IMPORTANT GAME.' (Eh? Oxymoron check.)
    'Did they enjoy the game?' I asked later.
    'No, they lost.' (?)
    WE have a lot of mutually incomprehensible conversations like that.

    1. It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts.

      Possibly not in terms of football, anyway.

      But I think we do this for differing reasons. Some people produce miniature works of art. For others, the game is the thing. For yet others (on the third hand?) research and planning is the key. And so on.

      But I still think the point is that there is no point.

  3. You are sticking it to the man by doing something "pointless": (or subverting Fordism/Taylorism by doing something outside spectacular Capitalism: playing a game, if you prefer...)

    1. Ah, yes, the wargamer as radical anti-capitalist campaigner.

      It'll never catch on.

      But maybe laughing at capitalism is the best way forward for us all.

  4. I sometimes wonder if wargaming is more of a habit for me these days rather than a leisure activity. I buy new rules every so often, collect new armies and paint some of them before getting distracted by the next shiny thing. Perhaps the hobby is buying and organising armies, not the wargaming per se. After all, I get a lot of pleasure from making spreadsheets to work out my armies and organise how I shall paint them, or for recording the uniform details. so, the leisure activity is perhaps organising and researching. Playing a game with the painted figures just puts a full stop at the end of the leisure activity, and provides an excuse for some socialising. Painting figures is certainly not pleasurable, as I have written before. Like cycling uphill it is a necessary evil that gives a sense of accomplishment when it is done. Comparing it to banging you head against a brick wall might be a better analogy: you do it because it feels so good when you are done and can stop.

    1. i guess this is an aspect of a multi-faceted hobby. We like some bits but not others.

      I do get as great deal of satisfaction from painted armies, just not from painting them. But I have to paint them myself to gain that satisfaction. And the wargame gives extra delight as they soldiers are used, not just admired.

      So it all fits together. Somehow.