Saturday 3 March 2012

On Being Nasty

It seems to be a given of humanity that no-one can stop criticising someone else. I’m not sure why, but it does seem to be there. I suppose the greatest and longest criticism in the world was the Cold War, which was essentially two very large superpowers in a constant state of (highly dangerous, nuclear armed) snit with each other. It continues, to a greater or lesser extent, in geopolitics today.

I’ve mentioned it a few times on this blog, mostly in some of the earlier posts to do with orientalism. There is something about the ‘other’ that we really struggle with. We find the other threatening, for reasons we cannot quite put our fingers on. There is the fear of the unknown, yes, but there is also the fear of difference, of change. Maybe it comes down to tribalism, or, quite possibly, the suspicion that the others are having more fun than we are.

Even in wargaming this suspicion of the other is with us. Role playing gamers huddle at one end of our convention halls, while miniature wargamers are at the other. Board wargamers are now, sadly, a depleted bunch and they might manage a few retail stands in a corner, slipping furtively in and out clutching copies of Advanced Squad Leader in brown paper bags.

Only in retail do these areas overlap; some retailers, at least carry both board and miniature wargame supplies, and quite probably some role playing stuff as well, at least at shows (I speak from the UK, never having tracked down a US convention or store). Mostly, however, the different groups of wargamers sit in their huddles, greeting visitors from the other areas as if they have just come from Mars.

The closer within a group you get, the more you realise that there are deep fissures within them, too. I recall a deep divide within wargaming over whether published army lists should be used. ‘Do your own research!’ the cry was raised in hostility to, I suspect, the WRG Ancients lists. Times have moved on, and army lists are acceptable, indeed, some may argue, vital parts of everyday wargaming life.

Similar attitudes exist within the different figure scales. I recall, also a long time ago, the struggle for acceptability that 15 mm figures had. There were snide remarks about them being ‘versatile’, which meant that they were just lumps of painted lead, or lacking in character, or charm, or some other aesthetic but undefinable feature. Those of us who were not wealthy enough to buy ‘proper’ soldiers should, it was implied, know are place as ‘lesser’ or ‘improper’ wargamers.

When I returned to wargaming a while ago, considerations of time, space and money led me to the 6 mm route. 6 mm figures had been around for a bit, particularly for World War II and later games, but they were less popular for other eras. The first (and last) time I went to a wargaming club, one of the established members, when he found out what my collection of toy soldiers consisted of, smiled grimly at me and said ‘Well, they are versatile, aren’t they?’ I neither replied nor went back.

It does seem that there is a general cold war sort of mentality among wargamers, then. It breaks out, from time to time, in general snittiness (is that a word). A recent case again involved 6 mm figures and one of the wargame magazine glossies. You can read some of the sad story on the Baccus 6mm forum, but suffice it to say that sending 6 mm figures to be reviewed by someone who regards 15 mm as quite small enough is not the smartest of editorial moves.

As I’ve said, it is not just figures that raise this sort of issue. Rule sets too can get people’s blood pressure up to the point that otherwise fairly mild mannered would be Napoleons can be very rude to their co-hobbyists. Many such arguments simply come down to a ‘this is better than that’, ‘tisn’t’, ‘tis’ and so on sort of tiff that is out of place on a children’s playground. Wargame competitions have to have teams of referees and umpires to ensure fair play and resolve disputes over interpretations of the rules. Indeed, I believe some competitions even publish their own clarifications to rule sets to resolve in advance disputes over differing interpretations. I image that the clarifications are often longer than the rules themselves.

The question is, of course, why this happens. It is not, as I mentioned, unique to wargaming, but wargaming is, for most of us, a relaxation, a hobby, a chance to get away from the rat race and the arguments and work and so on. Yet we bring to it exactly the sort of behaviour which stresses us out so much in the rest of our lives.

The above, of course, is the reason that, mostly, I do not belong to a club, do not go to many wargame shows and play my wargame solo. I’m not a competitive type and prefer not to get into arguments over figure sizes, rule interpretations and so on.

I was once standing on the Baccus 6 mm stand at a show, when two attendees walked past, pointed at a rather nice Franco-Prussian War batters on display and laughed at the size. I had to wonder why they bothered. The stand wasn’t in their way, it was just selling things they didn’t want. I go past shops all the time in the street that sell things I don’t want, but I don’t point and sneer at them.

This post runs the risk of sounding like a rant, but it isn’t supposed to. I just look at some of the antics of my fellow wargamers and wonder at the mentality, sometimes. Of course, hopefully you will be impatient to get to the end of the post to correct me and say how wonderful most wargamers are; kind, honest, generous and happy to help, and I’d gladly agree with you. But some do seem to need to heed my old grandmother’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

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