Saturday 14 April 2018

Mapping My Mind?

Further to the last two blog posts, I suppose it is time to try to assess Yarwood’s paper against my views and experience of wargaming as a hobby. Not that my experience of wargaming is any more valid than anyone else’s, of course, but it is mine, and therefore I can explore it.

Firstly, I have to say I agree with a great deal of what Yarwood has to say. Wargamers are, on the whole, male, well-educated and from some sort of social elite – by which I suppose is meant professionals with a degree of money and leisure time. Guilty as charged. Wargaming also tends to be something of a hobby of words – rules and history books – and so does probably depend on a core, at least, of wargamers who are prepared to do leisure reading. Come to think of it, this could be a reason why it is harder to interest younger people in wargaming generally – leisure reading, vicarious experience in local schools suggests, is not something the present generation of children undertake in any great numbers.

A lot of what Yarwood argues about historical miniature wargaming resonates with some of things I have been trying to say here over the years of the blog’s existence. For example, there is a performative element to playing the game: ‘I charge the guns’ is a distinctly performative element, at least within the game world. Overheard by a bystander ‘I slash you with my broadsword’ sounds a bit alarming, but that is because the bystander is not within the game context. The wargamers (or role players in the latter case) understand perfectly what a performative utterance in the game world is and means, and what is an utterance outside the game world (say ‘I’d love a cup of tea, thank you’). The bystander might not have the cues to tell the difference.

The questions of creating miniature spaces and the distortions inherent in creating models are also coherent with some of the things I have written about here. Thus a model is not the real thing, and cannot be. It has to be selective. The question arises as to what the model selects of reality in order to be a functioning model. Wellington stopped the representation of the Prussians at Waterloo. A model of ranged combat will, almost certainly, neglect the characteristics of musket balls in smoothbore barrels (an interesting thing in itself, at least for early modern rivet counters like myself).

Creation of a miniature world is exactly what we do as a wargamer, and it is possible that Yarwood over-emphasises the disconnect between the original and the wargame. While he does recount a description from a wargame of the Battle of Cambrai, which relates the wargame to the events in 1917, he does emphasise that the wargame world is not the real one. However, it perhaps could be made clearer that there is some relationship between the two. Of course, in much wargaming the relationship is less clear. Many wargames, including my own, are only vaguely related to anything historical. Thus my Abbeys Campaign is based around a highly unlikely historical scenario, a ‘what-if’ that almost certainly would not have happened. My  360 BC campaign, similarly, is perhaps based around the nations and armies what existed at the time, but further than that it does not go. Fuzigore is, of course, an imagi-nation (or rather, an imagi-continent) which has, again, assorted historical armies but they are in a non-historical setting. Nevertheless, there is some sort of mediation of what happens by history. I suppose we have a sliding scale from a recreation of a given battle to something which is a game between ahistorical match ups.

Beyond this, I find in myself the definite inclination, at least recently, to distance my games from the reality of war. There are no casualty figures in the Abbeys Campaign. Shaken markers are blanks. In the Ancients wargames, the markers have casualty figures on them, but I have never been really comfortable with that. Partly I justify this historically and in wargaming terms by suggesting that in battles from ancient to early modern casualties ran, for both sides, at about five per cent of the participants. It was the pursuit phase which caused the casualties on the losing side to mount to around fifteen per cent. This phase is not represented in most wargames; after all, pursuing fleeing troops and chopping them down is not much of a game.

Similarly I have decided to ignore civilians – the Mayor of Whitby came to make his peace with the Spanish. I am also ignoring logistics and the fact that an army, even if it could pay for food and fodder often did not bother and, even if it did, would quickly run through the resources of a given local area. I suspect that most wargames are similar, partly because, while we know that civilians usually suffered in war, we choose to ignore it, but also because it is, again, a fairly boring bit of warfare to be modelled.

As I mentioned last week, I think it would be interesting to evaluate the effects of the different scales in wargaming on miniaturisation. I am a 6 mm gamer, for reasons of space and economy, not because I want to employ massive numbers of toy soldiers on the table. Granted most wargamers use 15 mm and above, but I do wonder what sort of effects, in terms of representation and distortion the different scale have on a game. You can, of course, use the same rule for differing scales, but I would wager a very small amount of money (if a) I had any and b) I were a betting person) that there are some differences, if not in how the game is played then in how it is perceived. But that will have to remain speculation on my part.

So, to summarise, I think Yarwood’s paper is very interesting and significantly captures some aspects of the experience of wargaming. I also think, inevitably, it could be pushed further, but that is the consequence of decent research. I must also look at some of the references and see if they are at all interesting.


  1. I have always contended that putting on a game is like writing a stage play. You are the writer and director and the players are both the actors and the audience. My most successful convention participation games hare those that follow that concept most closely.

    1. Agreed. My games and campaign games are narratives, occasionally determined by dice rolls. People respond to stories, particularly those in which they have some involvement.

  2. I've been reading this series of posts and struggling to find any thing worth saying. Having given that up as beyond me I've decided to make a brief comment anyway,

    Dick has hit the nail on the head as far as staging participation games either at a convention or a club, at least as far as my experience both as "gamemaster" or as player but that is of course only one sort of wargame.

    The term 'wargame' is used so broadly to describe so many diverse things using different media for different purposes that it as become nearly meaningless. Some science fiction or fantasy wargames can be fought with ordinary historical wargame rules and may have some connection with historical wars and wargames if they don't wander off too far into magic or imaginary weapons and speculative physics but they will still tend to depict imagination and fiction more than history though that will not prevent disputes about accuracy of the depiction of tactics, armour & weapons, human psychology (if humans are involved) etc etc.

    Beyond that a group of gamers seeking to recreate an historical event, more or less following a script but with outcomes affected by rules and, usually, some form of random factor will not have very much if anything in common with two opposing tournament players pitting say Aztecs vs Mongols or some "skirmish" gamers playing at a scale of 1 figure=1 person whether basing a game on an historical incident, a scene from a movie or just a made up game.

    The really awkward thing is that 2 people in the same game may actually be experiencing a totally different event with different motives and perceptions of what is happening.

    Boggles my mind at times.

    1. I did once have an argument over the perceptual powers of Centaurs...

      There is something in common between the diverse sorts of wargame, but I'm not sure what it is. Conflict, maybe, opponents (although this doesn't always have to happen) and some sort of representation of the 'situation'.

      But yes, two people can be having different experiences from the same events. I doubt that is restricted to wargames, but it is an oddity of human consciousness.

      Interesting to ponder even if there are no answers.

  3. As wargamers, there are probably plenty of things that set us apart from each other, unswerving dedication to scale or a period being perhaps instantly obvious.

    I feel the thing that binds us above all else is that as a group, we seek clear rules, we are comfortable submitting ourselves to them and are anxious when the rule is either not followed or interpreted differently by those playing.

    They are by nature, similar to small (and not so small) volumes of legislation. Whether that makes us conformist, I'm not sure, we don't seem to necessarily be a conformist hobby, but we certainly like the environment of structure.

    1. Structure, agreed. Conformist, not so much, especially as war is rather denigrated in some parts of society. Creative, I think is one aspect as well - modelling, rule and scenario writing are all creative. How that creativity is expressed is a bit moot, of course.