Saturday 7 June 2014

Scale Models Again

Someone was kind enough to post a link to my ‘Scale Models’ post on The Miniatures Page recently, and it got quite a serious reply (you can see it here:

A serious reply deserves a serious reply, I think, and so I will try to explain what I think some of the points raised mean, and what I think can address them.

The first issue seems to be about the scale model of a toy solider participating in a Platonic way with the idea of the original soldier. The question that this then raises is does this, therefore, mean that my figure of a SS soldier is also linked to the activities of the original SS solider, and, if so, does that make me in some way responsible for those original activities, such as the atrocities the SS carried out.

My first reaction to this is that I have never understood exactly how this participation is supposed to happen. Perhaps I am an insufficient Platonist, or too much a physical scientist, but I have never bought into the idea of ‘participation’ in the Platonic sense. No-one has ever explained to me how an object in the real world can participate in the ideal form in the ideal plane. Nor do I think that such an explanation exists. But I have been shown to be wrong before.

Now, the original responder on TMP quite rightly rejects this view of toy soldiers and the ethical and philosophical minefield that such a view would open. Our model soldiers do not participate in some ideal form of the particular soldier they represent. My view is that the two key words we must keep in mind are ‘model’ and ‘representation’.

Firstly, ‘model’. Well, Ruarigh commented a few weeks ago that we were due for another post about models, so here is a bit. It is in the form of a reminder that a model is not the real thing. We model things to understand some aspect of the world, not all of it. A scientific model is restricted in what it models, because to model everything would be to recreate the original thing, and, in most cases, that would be too complex to understand (if it were not we would not need to model it) and so the purpose of our model would be negated.

Thus a model soldier is a limited model of the real thing, essentially a scaled down version of the appearance of the original. If our model were to be any closer to the real thing, it might have to move, shoot and, yes, carry out atrocities. But it does not, because it is really there as a representation of the original a model, not the original itself.

So model soldiers are representations of the real thing, not the real thing itself, nor a participation in the real thing (whatever that means). Now, Aristotle suggested that a thing had two parts, a form and some matter. The form was the part which gave the shape to the thing, the matter was what made it up. I do not think that I want to dive into problems with this concept, but we can see, perhaps, that a model solider might have a scaled down form of the original, but not the matter. Thus, the model stands for the original in some sense, in looking like it, but aside from that need have no other properties.

So, if we say that a solider has various properties, such as being in the SS, wearing such and such a uniform, carrying a particular weapon and carrying out particular atrocities, we can see that, in fact, only really the uniform bit is required for the model, and the other properties are ignored in the model itself (and others are added, such as ‘made of metal’).

So a model soldier is a representation of the original, but in a specific and limited way.

Now the other question is whether model soldiers are mere tokens, that is whether a given model can be used simply as a marker in a game and, if not, why not? I could, if a model is a mere token, use my Assyrian cavalry as Panther tanks and my Roman legionaries as bazooka teams. But in general, wargamers do not do this.

I think that the reason for this has two aspects. Firstly, there are the limitations imposed on the model by the real world. We want some sort of representation of the original on the table. I can use Romans as GIs but I do not because the model does not even come close to the original. The limited form of the model, as described above, is wrong for the representation of the original.

Secondly, the purpose of the model is to help us to understand the original in some way. Thus, my model solider standing for a GI does not have to look like a GI, but it helps if it does. I could, for example, paint all my GI models in bright pink uniforms, but that would probably detract from the game as I would have to play imaginative games with myself to convince me that they were GIs. To a greater extent, my imagination would not be helped at all by using legionary models for GIs. The disparity between the limited form of the model and the form expected for the representation would simply get too great.

So to summarise, I think that we have to view our model soldiers from a perspective of ‘limited representation.’ The representation of the original soldiers is limited, in that the model only represents limited parts of the form of the original, along with a set of attributes of its own. This means that we do not have to worry about lead widows and orphans, because they are specifically excluded by our model.

On the other hand, our models are meant to represent a limited part of the real world, in modelling uniform, weapons and equipment. So our models are models and not simple tokens which are interchangeable across the whole of history.

So I suppose the last word on this for the moment is ‘its complicated’….


  1. I like models! :)

    It's not explicit in your post, unless my fuddled brain has missed the important point, but one function of our tin soldiers is also to help our opponent understand what they are facing. I can tell my opponent that the Mongol horse archers are actually T34s, but they might forget part way through the game or have to keep checking, so the models are also an aide-memoire for the pieces' functions in the game.

    1. Not just our opponents, I would get confused unless the models look like the originals.

      I must revisit the aesthetics of the game again, sometime, too.

  2. Hi

    I, too, like models :-)

    It's in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

    Medication could assist but there may be after effects.


    1. Not entirely in the eye of the beholder, perhaps; our models perform a functional role as well, as Ruaridh notes.