For my 100th post here on Dude, Take Your Turn, I wanted to do something a little different than what I’ve done previously. Tackle a bigger subject.
As I was thinking about what that might be, a couple of things happened.
First, as some of you may know, I’m a member (and now Patreon Supporter!) of the Stately Play web site, one of the best online communities and news sites for mobile and computer games (especially board game adaptations).
In one of the forums discussing the release of Afghanistan ’11 (a “sequel” of sorts to Vietnam ’65 by Slitherine), a member said the following:
“I can’t begin to imagine why someone would release a game like this. 1400 civilians were killed in the year that this game starts.
The airstrikes they talk about in the game trailer often hit civilian targets and 2011 also sees an increase in the use of suicide bombers and IEDs.
Its an absolute tragedy of a conflict and someone at Slitherine thought it would make a “fun” game? WTF is the matter with them?”
Then, I read a review from The Player’s Aid of a game called Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 published by GMT Games.
This is a game about the war for Algerian independence from France and the insurgency that arose during the war. Terrorism is a legitimate tactic in the game.
In the review, Grant says the following:
“I love the use of Terror when playing as the FLN as it truly is the only real tool that you have to affect the Government and ultimately win the war. I say that I love using the Terror Ops but I really cringe each time I have to use them as it feels wrong, both morally and ethically, but this is one of the great design elements of the game. Making you think before you act. A lot of times in regular hex and counter wargames, I usually don’t think anything about bombing civilian centers or cities, as there really is no negative effects upon the psyche for doing so. But in Colonial Twilight, the game is so visceral and emotionally evocative, that I actually feel that I have to tread lightly when I am bombing cities as I think about the consequences of my actions through collateral damage.”
Both of these came in quick succession for me, and it made me realize that it would make a great topic for a 100th post.
Should we be playing at war?
(I’m not saying Grant’s statement is against playing at war, as obviously that would be misconstruing it since he is a wargamer. It just made the topic come to my mind)
Any of you who have read my “How I Became a Gamer” post know that I started out as a wargamer. I loved World War II simulations, and I still occasionally long to play a good wargame.
So I’m definitely on the “yes” side of this argument.
Grant makes a good point in that review, that a good game can immerse you in the subject and really make you think about it.
It can make you realize just why some questionable tactics are actually used, and it can make you really think through the implications of your actions. Not just in the game and how it will affect your winning, but also in the grander view of life.
Is that enough, though?
Do the people who feel that we shouldn’t be playing these games have a point?
I know some people who will never play a historical military conflict game because of what it represents. It represents men (and women too) killing and dying for their country or for a cause, the violence that is inherent to human nature.
That’s certainly a valid opinion and nobody should ever be forced, or coerced, or convinced to play a game that they’re not comfortable with. I would never play a war game with somebody who I knew was uncomfortable with it, even if they offered, because I know and understand how they feel.
Others are fully comfortable with playing these games.
Is there a period of time when a conflict is too fresh to play?
Given the Afghanistan game mentioned above, is it just too soon? The Vietnam game also by Slitherine didn’t cause this kind of indignation, but in that one you are also fighting an insurgent war. I’m sure there are similarities to the Afghanistan game.
Is Vietnam far enough in the past that it’s not an issue? We still have friends and family members who fought in that war.
Even World War II has that, though obviously not nearly as many.
What is the statute of limitations on wargaming, if it is a matter of “too soon?”
World War II games (and military conflicts prior to that, like Napoleonic War games) do have that buffer of history, where you can say that you’re not really playing at war. You are learning and playing history. It’s not as immediate.
But what about modern warfare?
GMT Games has published multiple games about modern conflicts in addition to historical ones.
The two noteworthy ones for me are Labyrinth: the War on Terror (a card-driven game that uses some mechanisms from Twilight Struggle and is about, you guessed it, fighting the War on Terror) and a game in their COIN (Counter Insurgency) series called A Distant Plain: Insurgency in Afghanistan.
These games are about wars that are going on right at this moment. We have friends and family dying over there; the wars are still controversial, at least to some extent. The Geo-political situation is still pretty chaotic.
I, for one, have no problem with these games. In fact, I’d love to play them and try them out.
But I can understand those people who do.
Sometimes, things just hit too close to home.
Would I feel differently if I had a brother who had died in Afghanistan? Or in a terrorist attack? Would I be able to play the Jihadi side in Labyrinth if that were the case?
I honestly don’t know. That’s a hypothetical that I don’t think one can know unless it actually happens (in which case it wouldn’t be a hypothetical anymore).
What about general antipathy to war games because of what they are actually simulating?
Unfortunately, there is really no way around that. You either feel that way or you don’t. If you do feel that way, then no amount of rationalizing is going to change that opinion.
Because wargames are simulations of human beings killing other human beings.
Sure, it’s abstract. But that’s what it represents.
In strategic war games, one counter can represent thousands of men. When that counter is eliminated, that means that the unit cohesion is gone. It’s ceased to exist as an organized and effective military force.
It doesn’t mean that every man in that unit is dead.
But a lot of them are. That’s why they’re not cohesive anymore.
Which brings to mind one more question, when you’re talking about what a “unit” represents in a game.
How abstract does a game have to get before it’s “ok” for those who don’t like wargames?
When you think about it, Chess is a wargame. You have kings and queens, bishops and knights, and pawns, going out on the board and eliminating the pieces from the other side.
But it’s so abstract that any “war” theme is completely gone.
Where’s the balance? At what point is a game too much of a wargame for comfort?
This post has been pretty philosophical without a lot of answers. Just raising questions.
(My college Philosophy professors would be proud)
I know my personal answers. I love wargames and I really would like to play the GMT games mentioned above.
But that’s me.
What about you?
What are your thoughts on wargaming, and whether we should be “playing at war?”
I’d love to know. Leave me a comment and tell me!
And here’s to 100 more posts coming up on the blog.