Now, there is a title to send most readers, of whatever religious persuasion, running for the nearest hill, or, possible, loading up their intercontinental ballistic armoury of arguments for God / atheism /whatever-ism you might choose, and aiming it in the general direction of chez Polemarch. Please don’t. A blog post is hardly a cause for a flame war and, anyway, if that is what you are thinking of doing, this blog post will be a sad disappointment to you.
The estimable Mrs P has been reading a book about the spirituality of wine. Yes, really, she has and, I am told, it is very good, written by a real vintner. It is now on my book pile, but I thought I would pre-empt my reading of it by pondering what sort of spirituality goes along with wargaming. You might consider that the answer to that is ‘none’, but I think I might, by the end of the post, respectfully demur.
Right, well, obviously, wargaming is about toy soldiers being pushed around on tables. Actually, that is only one sort of wargaming. Role playing games may also have miniatures, but they do not have to. Similarly, computer games have figures, but they are not material. And that is surely the first point about spirituality and wargaming. A wargame happens much more in the mind than on the table.
I have mentioned before that the wargame figures, singly or in blocks, on the table are a sort of counter, a symbol of the unit they represent. To some extent the counter has resemblances to the original (assuming that there is one, in fact or fiction). It shows us what the unit is, horse or foot, perhaps something about its capabilities too. But the fact that, for example, coloured pieces of lead or cardboard mean something is imputed by the human mind. A wargame is not, or at least, not only, something material. A lot of it goes on in our heads.
There is something, therefore, transcendent about a wargame. It is something beyond the material, empirical world of the figures on the table. The figures are only part of it. The rules, similarly, are part of but do not exhaust the wargame. We need them to conduct the game, granted, but in all honesty, as someone who has perpetrated a few rule sets, they are pretty dull. Reading a set of wargame rules is not going to convert anyone to wargaming as a hobby.
The real part of a wargame, I suspect, which does get the pulses racing (albeit in a rather relaxed, staid sort of way) is the imagination. The figures on the table, the terrain, the rules and so on go together to make something interesting, and that interest is sustained by our imaginations. The lancer’s charge on the square is interesting. It captures our imagination. We crane over the relevant dice rolls to see what will happen. Our joy or disappointment is due, at least in part, to our imagination of the drama of the event.
A boring wargame, therefore, is one which does not do this. That does not mean, I think, that a one sided wargame is necessarily boring. There are always dramatic incidents along the way. The drama is in, say, how many of Blue force can escape before they are trapped. The fact that Red will inevitably win does not necessarily to create a dull game. A boring game is one where there is no drama.
I suppose I could go on along this theme, but I think there are other things going on with regard to the spirituality of the game. Why, for example, do so many of us spend so much time and effort in painting figures to the best of our ability? I suspect that the answer is something to do with the transcendence of the game. We want our figures to represent the best we can do. This of course varies from one wargamer to the next (I am, I happily confess, a fairly rubbish painter. But it is the best I can do). As objects of our imagination, our figures seem to somehow represent us. ‘This is what UI can do’ they say. Somehow, the figure is me.
All of this seems to add up to a statement that materialism is wrong, or at least that empiricism is not the whole story. Our wargames mean something beyond the mere pushing of objects around a table. The figures mean something to us, and within the narrative of the wargame itself. The narrative of the game is something that is hard to project. Many blogs ‘write up’ the battles the author engages in. I confess, I find them hard to follow. Even a large quantity of pictures and a good description does not ease this difficulty. I think that is because the word and image cannot capture the drama of the game.
A further point might also be that the drama of the game is intrinsic within the game itself. The dramatic crux of the whole story is one that can only be seen in retrospect. The story of, say, Marston Moor could have several cruxes, so to speak: the Scots running away early crying ‘Wae’s us, we’re all undone’, or the destruction of the Parliamentarian right could have been the points at which the battle was lost and won. As it happens, they were not, but that was not obvious to the participants. It is only in retrospect that the importance of these and other events can be described.
Thus, at least in the sense that a wargame is more than the material, a wargame is spiritual. Of course, any pure empiricist out there will be spitting nails by now, or priming their missiles, as described above. If so, I hope they try to identify, before committing to launch, exactly why they are so upset. I fear they might find that it is nothing to do with the empirical realm. It might just be because their beliefs, those things so hard to pin down empirically, have been undermined.