Saturday 25 February 2017

Outside the Wargame Wall

All of them are in tears,
The ones who really love you,
Walk up and down,
Outside the Wall.
Some hand in hand,
Some gathered together in bands,
The bleeding hearts and the artistes,
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all,
Some stagger and fall, after all,
It’s not easy, banging your heart
Against some mad buggers wall.
                                                Roger Waters, Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979)

There is a certain amount of peace which is available once you have admitted that you have hit the wargame wall. Admitting there is a problem is, perhaps, part of the solution. I have given up worrying about hitting a wall, but that does not mean that the wall has vanished. I think it is still there, I am just trying to stop it having any power over me.

The estimable Mrs P has, in fact, banned me from wargaming, unless I really want to, until the end of the month. This might seem a very odd thing to do, but it does have its advantages, namely in stopping me worrying about it. If I’m not allowed to wargame, then the Wall has no power. I’m sure there is an interesting study in psychology going on there somewhere, but I’ve no idea as to what it might be.

I think part of the problem here for me is that of identity. Life is hard enough, perhaps, without having to shed part of who I am. I have been, one way or another, playing with toy soldiers since, ooh, well, pretty well as long as I can remember. It is a part of who I am. If someone said to me ‘who are you?’ part of my reply would probably include that I am a wargamer. It is not the whole story, of course, but it is a part of my identity.

One of the problems with the Wall, then, is that hitting it throws my identity as a wargamer into doubt. A wargamer is someone who wargames, paints figures, reads rule sets and so on. If some or all of these activities are in question or doubt, then my identity as a wargamer is in question. The answer to ‘who are you?’ becomes more problematic.

Of course, I have not always been a wargamer. I mean, when I started playing with toy soldiers that is what I did. I think I started with the Airfix ‘Beachhead Assault’ - German infantry, British paratroopers and a command post and gun emplacement. The gun fired matchsticks, as I recall. Somehow the British always ‘won’, although I cannot recall what winning consisted of.

As with many of my friends we progressed through various sets of Airfix soldiers. Extensive collections of plastic warriors paraded their way across our floors. Somehow history and contemporary events got muddled up. The Russians, as I remember, usually got brigaded with the Germans (no doubt to the chagrin of the originals, the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact notwithstanding). I also remember energetic discussions as to whether the Ancient Britons or the Romans were the good guys or the bad guys. Mind you, that is something that continues to some extent in modern historiography.

I found, as did most of the rest of the wargaming world, books by Charles Grant and Donald Featherstone in the library, and devoured them. The world of my imagination expanded to include 15 mm figures; much was the family hilarity when it was discovered that the Miniature Figurines shop in Southampton was on the edge of the city’s red light district. I was warned to be careful about what models I brought back (I was far too young and na├»ve to know what that meant).

And so things progressed. I played role playing games at college and university – they were smaller than wargames, after all. But I returned to figure wargaming, perhaps via the Flashing Blades route, which I mentioned a while ago here (OK game, great setting).  I re-arrived in wargaming with the English Civil War.

The point of this ramble through memory lane is not any claim to interest or uniqueness of experience or route, but simply that wargaming is part of my identity. It is not just a hobby, I submit, but it is part of who I am. For example, I quoted Santa Anna to the estimable Mrs P last night (something like ‘poor Mexico, so far from heaven and so close to the United States). ‘How did you know that? Are you an expert on that too?’ No, I am not. But it happens that I read it while I was reading about the war. I don’t remember when that was: probably around the time I visited Texas, and went to the Alamo. My visit there was one of the oddest I have experienced at a historic site, but to explain why would be to digress too far.

Anyway, I do not think that I can just stop wargaming, or being a wargamer. Perhaps you can never stop being a wargamer, you are just an active one or a passive one. If you hit the wall, you do wonder what happens next but, I suspect, for many for whom wargaming is a primary hobby, there is no way of becoming a non-wargamer. It is always there, dormant, like a volcano, ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.

Of course, this is all subjective. It is my experience, my way of dealing with the wargame wall (or of not dealing with it, we shall see).  I have these experiences, this view on my identity and how I might or might not be willing to change it. There are very likely other ways of dealing with it, although the experience of hitting a wall seems to be more widespread than just me.

I have a few days left of my enforced sabbatical. After that I am supposed to do something, wargame wise. I’m not sure what it will be, but I am starting to form a few ideas, incoherent as they may be. I am still thinking about Hussites, but I am not sure that creating a completely new army without foes is a great idea. I am reading Richard Vaughn’s Charles the Bold, and that is another army of interest. I might go back to the Spanish doubling project, and I did discover a box of GNW Poles in the cupboard as well. The future lies open; I wonder if I can grasp it.


  1. I've been lucky, my fascination with toy soldiers snd wargaming has been a bit like Mary's little lamb. Occasionally (very occasionally) when either work or emotional turmoil (whether loss or love) got too much it has run off but always came back wagging its tail as soon as the coast was clear. One of the last crisis's became serious enough that I ended up cancelling the life so to speak and retired to the country prematurely. Not everyone's cup of tea but my wife and I are enjoying sone of our best years together and the hobby lamb is frolicking.

    I've seen plenty of wargamers who have wandered from the hobby or gone from involved to sporadic. Some eventually came back full force, some just occasionally, mostly to rejoin old friends, even a few who never came back but, as hard as it is to understand, appear to have lived full lives without it. Life is full of mystery.

    1. Ah, the lucky man indeed. Time to wargames as well as everything else. My reply started something like 'When I retire....', but then I started musing on how many things would be included in the rest of the sentence, paragraph, chapter and book. Far more than I would actually do.

      Ho hum, but I do hear occasional reports of non-wargamers who seem to have happy lives, and even a few ex-wargamers. But really, what are some counter-examples against what we believe is true?

  2. I find that when I lose interest in mini gaming I can switch over to board wargaming for a while. No building or painting required, less space required (usually), quicker setup/pickup (usually). Then when the itch returns, I get out the minis again. Once I left the minis in storage for 5 years, but I have never gone more than two or three months without some board wargaming, I think.
    I last packed them away in December, and I am still futzing around with the Conflict of Heroes board wargames Awakening the Bear and Storm of Steel. Then maybe I will do an operational east front game, or maybe I will be back into mini mode by then. No pressure, no guilt, just recreation. I call it RAT -- Reality Avoidance Therapy -- which also includes books and movies and hiking and aimless drives listening to my favorite music.
    Hobbies should be a relaxation rather than a chore or an obsession. When it starts to have a negative connotation, I leave it alone for a while. When it feels right, I will be right back in the groove.

    1. Recreation, yes. But wargaming is usually where I escape to. if it isn't working, then I have a bit more of a problem. And usually that happens when real life kicks in the hardest and I need it the most.

      It is of course possible that I'm a particular, rather sad, case. I've no idea.

  3. I'm fascinated by the idea of identity as a wargamer. Actually, I'm fascinated by the idea of identity and how people define it more generally, but let's keep this about wargaming. Does being a wargamer define me in part? I'm not sure it does. I am a gamer, and I think I would miss the social aspects of gaming were I never to game again. I'm not sure that I would feel that I had lost a part of myself though. Wargaming seems more like an addiction with its attendant compulsion to buy new figures instead of getting on and painting the old ones. I do sometimes wonder if I might find it equally satisfying to invite my gaming buddies round for a cup of tea, slice of cake, and a chat without all the whinging about dice rolls that accompanies a game.

    1. That is interesting Ruraidh. (hope I'm not out of turn by answering a remark). It reflects in part the broad church that "wargaming" is. I have gone through spells where I lacked anything like a regular opponent but even before I learned to play solo it did not interfere with my self-identity as wargamer and I went on painting miniatures, reading history, thinking about rules etc. Board and computer games did not replace it or other social activities. The degree of identification used to worry me slightly for a while when I was younger.

    2. Hm. Identity. yes. It is a fine, nebulous thing, nicely ill defined for a throwaway line, but vanishes like smoke on trying to nail it down.

      I am a wargamer. It is part of who I am. It is what i do. We hardly wince when someone says 'I am an Arsenal fan' (US readers can substitute their favourite team), although we may sympathise. Being a football fan of a certain team is a part of an identity.

      That does not mean it is our whole identity, of course. But Ruaridh is a wargamer, not a tea and biccies chap. The wargaming is perhaps a lens through which to view the social aspects?

      Actually, I seem to recall some research indicating that ladies do social things qua social things and chaps do social things as task oriented. Thus most rugby clubs are male dominated, task oriented social institutions.

      I'm not sure I wholly agree with that, and it is anyway perhaps changing, but being a wargamer is a specific thing. It orients our lives, to some extent, but is not exclusive (except a few rather unsettling cases).

      I think there are degrees of identity, yes, and these can vary. Being a wargamer is not the first thing I say on being introduced. But if someone asks 'what are your hobbies' it would be listed.

      I'm not sure that brings us any closer to wargaming as a bit of identity, however.

    3. I think Ross is right, that wargaming is a broad church and that there can be degrees of identity within it. Perhaps my wargaming identity is dwarfed by my other identities to the point where I do not recognise it as a significant element of myself. And yet, as Polemarch remarks, it may well be that I view at least some of my social interactions through a wargaming lens, given that my interest in wargaming specific periods actually directed my PhD topic, and afforded me the opportunity to make a few good friends.

      Identity is, indeed, nebulous, but that may be because people seek simplistic answers to a complex question. It's only when we are young that we might identify purely as one thing, but even then identity comprises a multiplicity of elements, many of which can be hard to identify and define.

      For the record, I am very much a tea and biccies man too. Loose leaf tea is a large part of my identity and I love to try out my newest teas on my poor, long-suffering opponent.

    4. Yes, I think that wargaming is a broad social sweep, and encompasses all sorts of levels of interest, commitment and interaction. As a solo wargamer my view of it isn't social, but many, if not most, would place social interaction high on their list. On the other hand, I read a lot of history, something which many, if not most, wargamers do not do.

      Beyond that, it tends to very across time - I have wargamed one way or another mot of my life, but it has never driven my non-leisure (or even most of my leisure) activities; I can't claim my PhD was wargame related!

      As to tea, I do like a nice one, but can't cope with Assam....

    5. I think my wargaming was shaped by my early RPG experiences. D&D was largely a sort of structured hanging out with my mates. This may well be the case with many wargamers today. In moments of no opponents, I have tried solo gaming but it always falls by the wayside and I am more likely just to not game than to play solo.

      Reading history certainly does put you in the minority, and your explorations of it as described on this blog make you an even rarer bird.

    6. Ah, well, I was a solo gamer before I was a RPG player, so maybe that's the difference. Mind you, I was a sad enough teenager to also do RPGs solo....

      As for reading history - I've probably done that for longer, having been always pinching my sister's history O level books when I was but a nipper.

    7. Did you come to gaming as solo player? I doubt I would ever have become a gamer were it not for the social element.

    8. More or less. Once I'd gone beyond rolling marbles at unpainted Airfix figures, none of my friends were particularly interested, so it was solo or not game.

      Mind, my local library had a copy of Featherstone's Solo Wargames which gave me ideas and probably validated the activity anyway.

    9. Ah, interesting. I imagine you went down the path less travelled then.

    10. I often do - it is a bad habit, I know, but usually everyone is out of step except me.

    11. Heh, that's what I usually say! :D