Monday, November 13, 2006

Gaming as History

A comment on my last post made me reflect a little more about what it is I get out from gaming (in the aforementioned comment, Simon points out a link between historical wargaming and the study of history). I most fully concur.I've noticed a couple things along these lines during my own experiences over the years.

My interest in military history preceded my wargaming. I was ten when I started to immerse myself in Christopher Hibbert's 'Battle of Arnhem', it was from there that my knowledge of WWII traces. I was 11 when I came across the concept of miniatures wargaming (Charles Grant's 'Battle', discovered almost by random at the local library).

Making a scenario as 'historical' as is practical adds to the experience of playing the game. Thus, when we recreated classic WWII battles such as the airborne attack on Plimsole Bridge in the (Sicily campaign), the initial assault on Stalingrad, or the fiasco at Malame (Crete) in 6mm - the game came readycast with various roles that each of the players could switch into, adding a 'moral compass' to the simulation.

Thus, at Plimosole, the player who was responsible for Colonel Frost's battalion at the Bridge not only played with valorous troops in a very gritty situation, but had the heightened dimension whilst playing of knowing that real men had had to survive just such a situation as he was presented with, except for real. Thus, the derring-do of his model men was prevented from retreating into farcical make believe by the sobering fact that it had actually happened something like this in real life.

By making the game more real, past history itself becomes (to some extent) experienced.Of course, the whole thing could be trivialised by looking at it as 'playing war', with the insidious effect of trivialising what is a great and tragic dimension of the human experience. Gamers that do this generally run out of thrills fairly quickly, or are so much into their own infantile egos that they become justly labelled 'freak' fairly quickly. But, they can do the hobby's image a power of harm with their worship of war never-the-less.Fear of being mistaken for one of the war worshippers itself acts as a brake on some other more mature gamers, preventing them from prosetylising the hobby as much they would if they didn't fear being mistook for a warjunkie (as I said, wargamers were well represented in this milleniums largest anti war marches).

Another danger sometimes is that, recognising the reality which formed the historical basis of a game's design, one can be sickened by it to the point of not playing the game again. This is what has happened in 'a near run thing'. I have had friends not play the excellent Avalon Hill boardgame 'Geronimo' (very inovative and balanced game of the white man's invasion of the 'west' in the the 19th century in America) because it is too historical, makes it too easy to realise the truth of what occurred, too likely to make you feel physically ill.Overkill on the history, you might say.

More later...

No comments: