A number of you will, by now, have read the article to which I am referring, namely:
Yarwood, R., 'Miniaturisation and the Representation of Military Geographies in Recreational Wargaming', Social & Cultural Geography 16, no. 6 (2015), 654-674.
But I shall continue, partly for anyone who does not have access to the article, and partly for my own engagement with it. Yarwood notes three reasons for focussing on historical miniature wargaming. Firstly, it permits an exploration of the concepts and effects of miniaturisation. A scaled down world can block reality and immerse the viewer in a miniature world. A miniature wargame, it is contended allows greater opportunities for self-expression and creativity than a video game. Secondly, as noted, miniature wargames have relatively little input from the military. A miniature wargame is a co-production between commercial manufacturers, individual wargamers, amateur historians and key figures in craft consumption. The representation of warfare differs considerable from that produced by MIME-net, the argument is; amateurs are more likely to admit the impossibility of authenticity. Thirdly, Yarwood is interested in the representation of the military. Scale models are widespread, and often represent the military, yet military spaces (of a sort) are produced by playing with them.
Yarwood notes that a great deal of effort goes into producing terrain, particularly for convention games, and painting the models. He does not explore the effects of the various scales available on miniaturisation. This is perhaps a shame (although, as a major part of the research involved wargame conventions, perhaps the options were a little limited). He does note that there is a sense of enchantment, delight or wonder, a respect for the skill and effort put into creating a game. My experience is that this can even (perhaps bizarrely) be true for solo efforts as well. Or perhaps I am just a self-regarding narcissist.
Playing the game reveals imaginative possibilities in the miniature world. Different versions of ‘what might have been’ are available. A wargame enables an action to be run and re-run. Yarwood notes that Deluze argues that a battle is not one “true” event. There is never an overarching view such as the wargamer obtains.
The wargamer can, therefore order and control the space and time of the wargame, as well as the participants in the miniature world. Time and skill are devoted to collecting and painting the models. Collecting armies is a never-ending process. History is classified, moved from temporality to a fixed order. History is rearranged to suit the needs for the wargamer and the rules, partly at least through the medium of army lists. The world of miniature armies enables a creative self-expression. For example, some wargamers prefer underdog armies. They allow exploration of less known aspects of military history as well as an assertion of individuality. Often these statements of individuality are co-produced, however – a wargamer persuades another to collexct the opposition.
Yarwood then turns to playing the game. Rules, obviously, are important, as is chance. However, wargaming is not just about chance, and rule writers try to balance playability and authenticity. Rules enable different sorts of imaginative possibilities. Ahistorical match-ups are possible, as are tournaments or tests of particular tactics. A wargame starts with various possibilities which resolve into a distinctive narrative. A wargame presents its own ‘what-if’ reality. Wargames resemble not only warfare but other games. Thus, Yarwood argues, wargamers can disengage from uncomfortable aspects of war.
A game is a safe, sanitised simulation of war. Death, mutilation, civilian casualties and so on are represented only as the abstract removal of figures, of addition of counters. War is denatured. Generally, casualty figures are not used – the dead and wounded are simply removed. Death and dying are not widely represented in wargaming. Airfix boxes have heroic scenes. Only Charles Grant’s Battle has a casualty on the cover. Wargaming ‘others’ groups such as civilians, women and children. It presents a male gaze of warfare and focusses on tactics rather than social or political impacts.
That said, wargaming hardly promotes militarisation, being largely sedentary and not the sort of hearty outdoor masculinity that the forces seem to encourage. Playing wargames does not encourage aggression, as video games have been accused of doing. The space of wargaming is removed from reality. Imaginations are used to increase the gap between the game and the reality represented. History happened – a wargame is not going to change that. Some wargamers are uncomfortable with ‘ultra-modern’ games (including me). Fantasy and science-fiction games increase the gap and are, often, much more bloodthirsty than historical wargames.
In wargames we see the spectacle of war. There is a contradiction running through argaming of the juxtaposition of fun and death. In play, death is not final; the figures rise again, live to fight another day. Yarwood quotes Sabin as arguing that, in fact, historical wargaming creates well informed participants with a good understanding of the horrors of war. Wargaming can even be viewed as a sort of remembrance of the past and its futile deaths over causes we cannot recall or understand.
Wargames are, in a sense, political acts. Realities are pushed aside (the models of war distort) and war is presented as a banal cultural activity, rather than a political one. Wargames are, superficially, apolitical; try suggesting that the Waffen SS should not be presented on the table.
Miniaturisation is hybrid. It is a social construct supporting certain political visions of the world, yet it relies on a scalar narrative to live. The models represent the wargamer’s interiority. They transform space and open up imaginative possibilities. Miniature wargames may make geopolitics banal, focussing on only one aspect of reality and ignoring or distorting the rest, but that does not make the meaning of the wargame banal. Everyday experiences, perhaps possibly those of choice, such as hobbies, might indicate how we negotiate broader political discourses, or explore social and cultural boundaries.
As a cry for taking historical miniature wargames a little more seriously than they often are, even by wargamers, I think the paper is very useful and interesting. At least, it relates, mostly, to my experience of wargaming. My current campaign, much delayed as it is, is precisely a separate world, a ‘what if’, granted, but a world where the armies are well fed, the civilians uninvolved and the battles are bloodless. Not only that, but I can justify why this might be the case.
Still, I have run out of room, so my own responses to the article will have to wait. In the meantime, if you have read it and feel I have missed something important (or even apparently trivial) out of my summary, please feel free to point it out. And if you have been piqued by something and haven’t read it, don’t be shy…