|Nothing childish here...|
This additional post is merely a follow-up to the previous one, after the comments and some further emails (for which thanks to Martin and Louis) and a bit more reading of the Sabin book to which I referred last time. I propose to reproduce a couple of paragraphs from it which I found thought-provoking – I have no permission to quote these, but if they interest you then I recommend you purchase the book, which is Simulating War, by Philip Sabin, published by Bloomsbury Academic, so I can sort of justify it as promotional if pressed!
|Philip Sabin is Professor of Strategic Studies in|
the Department of War Studies at King's College, London, UK
The passages I chose are not because I have a particular axe to grind (well, no more than usual), simply things which I felt might stimulate some interest and fire up a few neurons. It must be borne in mind that the Professor is approaching his subject very largely from the point of view of education (both of academic students and of future generals), and thus his position might be regarded as a little rarified.
Firstly, on the subject of playability:
The fetish for wargame detail and complexity famously reached its greatest extreme in 1979 with The Campaign for North Africa, a multiplayer monster with five big mapsheets, 1800 counters, and nearly 200 pages of rules and charts that seemed to cover every conceivable logistic and tactical consideration. It is said that not even the designers themselves had time to complete the full campaign game. One later reviewer wrote that: ‘This game is just too involved to be played by a small wargame club with finite resources’, but that it might be ‘instructional to a graduate history seminar’. Nothing could better illustrate the growing disconnect between the dwindling band of traditional wargames enthusiasts and the rest of society over what ‘playability’ really means. There is a reason why a popular game such as chess has only 64 grid squares and only 32 pieces, of which each player may move only one per turn. That is quite enough to generate subtleties and complexities that have engaged the greatest minds for many generations. One does not need to go much beyond these parameters to produce wargames that offer challenging and thought-provoking simulations of real military campaigns. The great majority of published manual and computer wargames are, unfortunately, too complex, time consuming or unrealistic to be used directly in an academic context, but they do offer a mine of ideas on which one’s own more tailored designs may be based. Above all, it is crucial to remember that a simple wargame that is played will be more instructive than a detailed wargame that is not.
Now on the subject of the tension between games developed for military and hobby purposes (note that the games he refers to here will normally be board-type games):
The relationship between military and recreational wargaming over the past 50 years has been decidedly double-edged. On the one hand, professional wargamers, already sensitive to the negative connotations of the word ‘game’, have often been embarrassed by any link with hobbyists, especially given the blurred boundaries between recreational wargaming and playing with toy soldiers or the popular enthusiasm for fantasy gaming. As Allen reported: ‘“This is not Dungeons and Dragons we’re doing here,” a Pentagon officer indignantly told me in a discussion of what he called “serious modeling and simulation”.’ On the other hand, many professional wargamers themselves play recreational wargames in their spare time (Dunnigan reported that around 20% of hobbyists were in the military or related government jobs), and dissatisfaction with the cost and unwieldiness of official games has often prompted officers to investigate cheaper and more accessible commercial alternatives. Dunnigan himself has been an enthusiastic advocate of this approach, although he claims that: ‘[T]he existing government suppliers of wargame technology did what they could to discourage the purchase of these “toys” (commercial wargames), as the “toys” were a lot cheaper and more competitive than the multimillion-dollar military wargame projects that kept so many defense consultants (and many government employees) comfortably employed.’
Since I am on a bit of a roll here, regurgitating the wisdom of others, I'd like to end with a fine quote from CS Lewis, of which I was most kindly reminded by the Honourable Conrad Kinch. Since the word "childish" seems to appear in, or be implied by, most of the forms of disapproval to which wargamers of any shade react badly, it is worth remembering that it is a word which, most typically, is employed by children themselves. Children, lest we forget, are also noted for their ability to learn and take on new ideas, and for an innate creativity and sense of fun:
“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
Personally, I am not very interested in people who know everything, though I do seem to meet a great many.