Saturday 2 April 2016

Slow Wargaming

I am sure you have noticed that life seems to be getting faster and faster. We are expected to be instantly available. Someone at work has taken a fortnight in the sun, but left her email address just in case there is anything she needs to know about. This is perfectly acceptable, of course, but if you stop and think about it, it is utterly weird.

Work, although it fills a lot of our time, is not the only place where acceleration has taken place. In spite of promises of less work, we work more. In spite of declarations that all meetings could be done via video link, we fly more to meetings in remote places (at least, places remote from where we are) than ever before. We order things online and then get testy if they are not with us in a day or two. In fact, we pay, big time, for things to be with us the next day. If we want stuff, we want it now.

I have just been reading a paper of slow scholarship. You might consider that, measured by microsecond transactions in our stock exchanges that all scholarship is slow, and, in those terms, you might have a point. But scholarship arises as the fruit of reflection, and reflection takes time. Kant, for example, had ten years of silence before he produced the Critiques. Good ideas, good, sound, thinking, is the result of lengthy pondering.

The point of the article (which was written in a North American context) was that the neo-liberal university is opposed to slow scholarship, where slow scholarship is equated with good scholarship. That is that a scholar is only rated as good by their institution if they are producing measurable outcomes, and doing it quickly. In my own (UK) institution, an academic is expected to list their next four publications, and these are supposed not to be the same four as were listed in the review last year. Slow scholarship is non-measurable, and hence is disregarded by the institution. ‘I was thinking’ is not an acceptable answer to ‘What have you done this year?’

I am sure that you have heard, more generally, of the ‘slow’ movement. It started, I believe, in Italy, as the ‘slow food’ movement, consciously opposed to the idea of fast food. The concept is about food not just as fuel, not as a rushed stuff it down job in the car at a drive through ‘restaurant’, but as food as an experience, as a social encounter, as taste and flavour, fellowship and enjoyment. The idea was to consciously slow down and enjoy the experiences of food, not just to cram it in and rush off to the next thing.

The slow movement has spread, and the concept has spread as well. There are a number of slow types around. There are ideas about slow cities, slow churches, slow gardening, slow marketing, slow travel and even, I believe, slow sex.

As the pace of life increases, the idea is that we need to do somethings in a more measured way. The philosophy (such as there is one for a disparate movement) is that we have to choose a suitable speed for doing each activity. It is not appropriate to do some things as fast as we possibly can. If we spend our holiday frantically rushing from place to place, how can we tell the difference when we return to work.

I have little doubt that most of you will have already worked out what this has to do with wargaming. There is, in our culture, a pervasive desire, amounting almost to a requirement, to get things done as quickly as possible. But is this, should it be, a requirement for a hobby?

I am therefore proposing that a new wargame movement is started, dedicated to slow wargaming.

By this I do not mean that we abandon all fast play rules, or short scenario based games, or anything of that sort. I have, after all, perpetrated a few of these myself.  But what I am suggesting is that we need to be careful, at least as wargamers, to take out time with the hobby, to enjoy it in depth and unhurriedly.

I have mentioned before my unsettlement at people who buy up ready-made armies from manufacturers, paint them according to a pre-set guide, have a game or two with them and then move on to the next period, the next army, the next set of rules. This, I think, is the MacDonaldization of the wargaming world; fast food takeaway wargames.

I am not saying that such a view of wargaming is invalid, but I would like to suggest that perhaps slow wargaming should, self-consciously, stand opposed to this sort of thing. A slow wargamer should delve into the subject in more detail, be prepared to critique the existing rules on the basis of what is found, perhaps even write their own rules. Perhaps the definition of a slow wargamer could be a wargamer who reads some of the books and papers listed in the further reading section of a relevant Ospery.

Perhaps, underlying this, there is an ethical concern, one which has been raised by the plethora of World War One games I have seen recently. WW1 had a huge impact on the societies and cultures it affected. In the UK and many other countries, each village has a war memorial with a score or so names of men who died in the war. Perhaps what I am trying to suggest is that a slow wargame might be a better tribute and memorial to the participants than a quick splash of paint and stick the battalion in the line of fire of a machine gun nest. 


  1. Yes! I often say something very simlar t my students when paper-writing times come around. Start sooner than you think you should, so that your ideas have time to gestate and develop fully. Sadly, only a few get it. Most papers scream, "last minute, first draft" quality. Blah!

    Best Regards,


    1. I always took that as an invitation to do more work! Not to do it slowly. Not that I was one of your students (far too old) but you know what I mean. I preferred to, erm, 'read around the subject' (cough!).

    2. I often try to tell my students that the first draft you send to your supervisor is not the first draft. From feedback from supervisors this does not seem to work.

      We used to run workshops to persuade our students to become reflective researchers. That has been given up on; in the neo-liberal university the aim is just to get stuff out of the door, no matter the usefulness or quality.

      Perhaps I'm becoming an old cynic, but the opportunity for, say, Kant's ten years silence seem to be diminishing. Thinking is not allowed if it delays publication.

      But now I think I need a little lie down.

  2. Agreed. I hate painting and will always rush through it as quickly as I can. However, it is still possible to take time to get to know the period or develop the background for a game. Time spent writing good scenarios is never wasted. Time spent before the game getting into character through (e-)banter with my opponent contributes to the enjoyment of the game. There are many ways to game more thoughtfully and to more fully appreciate the game, even if, as in my own case, scenarios have to be played to completion in a 2-3 hour window on a weekday evening

    1. I think that taking things slowly adds to the fun (except painting). I think featherstone in Solo Wargaming contrasts the mad rush to get home from work, set the game up by 7:00 and finish it before 10 because of work tomorrow with the solo wargamer's hour or so spent cogitating the movement of red forces left wing. Something like that, but it is certainly slow wargaming.

  3. It just occurred to me that this post and the previous one may be linked. Colour me slow if you will; I just say that I like to think things through carefully before making comments. Honest! So, what if failed projects are really just extreme slow wargaming? I know that in a couple of cases my own 'failed projects' have actually reached fruition when the stars aligned correctly. It only took me ten years to get the armies for Helsingborg 1710 painted, and a further five years to build the terrain. Admittedly it has taken me thirty years to get around to finishing my Laserburn Imperial Assault Group, but the wait and the results seem worth it to me. At times I had considered these failed projects, but I now see that I was just savouring and relishing the preparation for both projects. So, no more talk of failed projects. Think positively and consider them to be slow wargaming instead.

    1. Neat, but I hadn't thought of it. Perhaps that is so, and so my Crusader Castle pristine in its box next door may be the project of my dotage.

      I guess a hobby project is never a failure, it is just incomplete. There is always a little more reading to be done, usually of books that are way too expensive; I find a few years incubation often renders them cheaper second-hand.