Now, I imagine the first response to last week’s post is that ‘it doesn’t apply to me.’ Of course not. It really does not apply because I am not a historical gamer. I am a fantasy or science fiction gamer, or I am a historical gamer but I play in an imagi-nation. The implication here is that these occupations get us off the hook as wargamers. In an imagi-nation, or any of the others, the wargames can exist in as much or as little a vacuum as we choose.
Thus, as non-historical wargamers, we do no need to worry about what our toys eat, where they sleep or what they believe they are fighting for. The game is the thing. We can prescind from all these rather dull and boring bits of social, cultural and intellectual history, and just play games.
This is, of course, all very fine and dandy. It enables us to cut through all the clutter of messy human lives and living, and gives us a clean cut wargame without worry. Something set in a world of imagination carries a lot less baggage than the real thing.
Except that it does not quite work like that.
A fair bit of our culture focusses on the present day. I have noted before that, for example, homosexuality is a major political and cultural issue across the globe. There are countries who are busily banning it and putting perpetrators in prison, and there are countries just as enthusiastically permitting members of the LGBTIQ communities to marry and so on. Is it any wonder that, for example, classical historians are taking an interest in Greek homosexuality?
The point is that the sorts of things that we as a society and culture are interested in tend to be reflected in our literature and research. We can argue, for example, that some of the best science fiction of the 1960’s came out of the Vietnam War. We can also suggest that one of the most popular comedies of the era, MASH, was, while set in the Korean War, also really ‘about’ Vietnam. And so on.
The point is that the best of our cultural creations, however heavily disguised, can be seen as describing our current situation, as developing it, commenting on it, describing and criticising it. Thus Gordon Gekko in Wall Street was, according to the writers, being cynical and critical when is said ‘greed is good’. The fact that this was taken up as a mantra by the financial sector and ultimately caused the 2008 crash is an unfortunate side effect. We are not that good at understanding stuff like that. Similarly, the government of Yemen had to put out a statement a few years ago that there was not any salmon fishing available in the country. This had to be done despite the fact that the book and the film were really about government and how things are spun for the news. The salmon, the fishing and the Yemen were not the real target.
So, do wargames, even imagi-nations, have a topic rooted in the present day? Are they just pure escapism from the problems of today, or even, can they be?
I was reading a book review recently of a new tome (600+ pages) on the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. I have noted before that I have no intention of wargaming this. You might suggest that repeated denials might undermine the belief in that statement, but I shall continue.
Aside from the fact that the reviewer was a bit startled to have 300 pages per year of the rebellion, they did make a few astute points. Firstly, that the question was about the relationship of Scotland to England. We could possibly wonder where the Scottish Nationalist Party would line up – with the Stuarts or the Hanoverians?
Secondly, of course, there is the presently live issue about Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe. In part the Jacobites failed because of the support from the French government. The French, of course, were playing their own military and diplomatic game, and the Jacobites were hung out to dry when it suited them. The main failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie was to be unable to attract the lowland Scots and English to his side.
Thirdly, there is the issue of how to invade a hostile or potentially hostile country with some hope of succeeding to hold it. Armies throughout history have been faced with this one. The only way to hold territory which is hostile is to build garrisons. This has two effects. First, the strength of the army is dissipated into the garrisons. The field army is denuded of strength. Secondly, these garrisons have to be supported and supplied. This means that they either live off the land, and thus further alienate to inhabitants, or they need regular resupply, thus tying down even more of their colleagues running convoys.
The third way is to do as the Jacobites did, and strike at the seat of government. If BPC had taken London, who knows what might have happened. Failure, however disruptive to the other side, however, usually means defeat.
So, even as historically based book as one about the ’45 has some unexpected resonances with not only the political issues of the day, but also political and strategic (or even grand tactical) issues. Given that our wargames, of whatever nature are, inevitably, part of a cultural matrix, they may, however distant the feel of the game, have a rooting in the issues of the day. A Fuzigore rebellion against the local Rome look-alike state could have resonances which I really do not expect. An ECW game around the Covenanter army can be interpreted on the basis of modern Scottish nationalism. A galactic rebellion against an evil Empire can be freighted with ideas of democracy, totalitarianism and the fight for freedom.
Overall, then, we would have to conclude that a wargame is not just a wargame. After all, for most citizens, the weekly shop is the most political act they engage in. it would be unreasonable to claim that are wargames are not political acts.