Over the years, one of the things that has slowly come into focus in writing this blog has been the suspicion that most wargaming is storytelling. I imagine that there are two reactions to that comment. One could be ‘Of course it is, I’ve been saying so for years’, and the other might be’ Wargaming is a serious, grown-up hobby and I’m not telling you stories, just accounts of games.’
Both reactions are valid, naturally, but both sides might be willing to reflect a little bit more on wargaming, as in playing the games, as telling stories. Humans, after all, are storytelling animals. Telling stories, after all, is something that differentiates me from our cat. Stories are how we make sense of the world and receive and digest information about it. Even the most factual news is packaged as a ‘story’, whether we like it or not.
One of the interesting things about running this blog is the varying numbers of readers for the different sorts of posts. Before the botnets get to blatting the posts, which usually takes between a week and a month, depending on which networks are running, the battle report posts usually get fewer reads than the more abstract concepts and ideas posts. Of course, the naval wargaming posts take the lowest place, but battle reports are usually not much above them.
As a snapshot, the last four non-battle report posts have averaged about 68 reads per post. The last four battle report posts have averaged 54 reads. I am not sure whether the difference is really significant. Establishing that would require more work than I am inclined to devote to the topic, but the difference is around 20% in reads, so I suspect there might be some significance there.
My battle reports are part storytelling and part reportage. I tend to top and tail them with a bit of imaginative dialogue from some of the ‘participants’, especially if the wargames are part of a campaign. Then I tend to describe the game, with photographs and a description of the action. At the end are perhaps hints of the next games, and mostly there are not, simply because I have not thought about it yet.
The campaigns are, of course, narratives. In the case of the campaigns reported on the blog, they are self-consciously narrative. I create them not from moves on a map and careful calculation of resources after the mode of the famous Tony Bath Hyboria campaign of wargame legend, but from a storyline, and arc, with some troops and a map of an area.
The most satisfying narrative campaign has been the Armada Abbeys one, which also happened to be the first. These facts might be related, of course. But it did also satisfy the requirements, overall, of a story. It had a beginning, the landing at Whitby, and some plot development, through the battle of Guisborough. There were some plot twists, with the intervention of the Scots and the arrival of Spanish reinforcements. Finally, there was a satisfactory conclusion, with the final surrender of the Spanish forces in the North Yorkshire Moors. The overall tale is a pleasing one, to me at least.
Within the overall narrative arc, there are some key points, both campaign moments, such as when I realized that the Scots did not need to force the Tees bridge at Yarm but could try the next one along at Croft. There were also key points in the battles, such as the charge of the Scottish cavalry at Northallerton which meant that Don Carlos’ army was forced to make a difficult retreat (and was more or less destroyed as a fighting force as a result). There were some bits that I expected to be key points in the narrative, such as the defection of some militia at Guisborough, which did not turn out quite like that. On the other hand, the cavalry action at Mount Grace was a lot more significant than I expected, the resultant English fort dividing the Spanish armies and playing a part in the end of Don Carlos’ army.
The numbers looking at the blog posts, however, suggest that the stories, at least how I write them, are not as popular as the think-pieces. Granted, this blog started as think-pieces; the most popular post ever was called ‘Why I don’t Play WW2 Wargames’ or something of that nature. It was comparatively recently that I started wargame battle reports. Perhaps I am just not very good at them.
I do not know other bloggers' experiences of battle reports as opposed to pondering history and how to wargame it. Perhaps my experience is not representative, I have no idea. Blogging, after all, is a very personal thing; we blog, mostly, for ourselves. For me, the battle reports are convenient ways of logging my campaigns. If others gain ideas and interest from them then that is a bonus, not the point. But the relative unpopularity of my battle reports might suggest that other people’s stories are not as popular as our own.
Maybe there is another point lounging around here. I go to a show and see demonstration games and think ‘That is very nice but I cannot do that.’ The ‘cannot’ is a combination of the period, painting, scenery, cost, space, and all the other things that go towards deciding to stick with what I already have rather than launch into something new. It is quite likely to be the same for blog battle reports: ‘Very nice, but…’ Perhaps that is why they are relatively unpopular, plus the fact that that wargame has already been done in someone else’s story.
I am not sure. The considerations above will certainly not prevent me from writing blogs on my wargames, no matter how unpopular they are. As you might have noticed, I keep posting on the Anglo-Dutch Wars and they are hardly at the forefront of naval wargaming, let alone wargaming per se. But the stories are useful to me, as a record and also because I am, believe it not, human, and like telling stories.