Saturday, 18 June 2011

Why do I wargame?

In a comment about yesterday's blog entry, Dr Vesuvius posed me two questions:
  • What do you get out of wargaming?
  • What's the appeal in it for you?
I somewhat smugly replied 'fun and mental stimulation', in response to which he asked a further question:
  • What parts of the hobby give you that fun and mental stimulation?
Now that is a far more difficult and complex question ... and I have been pondering my answer ever since. Here it is.

I enjoy history. I always have, and my particular interest is military history. This may have been the result of my being born less than a mile from the Imperial War Museum, which I visited very frequently during my childhood. It may also be a result of my being born only five years after the end of the Second World War, and listening to the war stories told by my male relatives. Another reason may have been the diet of war stories that I was fed on film and in comics (this was, after all, the age that Harry Pearson wrote about in his wonderful book, ACHTUNG SCHWEINHUND!) or it might have been the presents of toy soldiers that were made to me by various relatives during my pre-teen years. Whatever the reason, I grew up loving military history.

But loving something is not that same as living it … and wargaming gives me that opportunity. Not only can I recreate the battles I have read about, heard about, or seen on film … I can take part in them … I can be an active participant. This fulfils an imaginative need that I have, and that reading novels – mainly war stories, nineteenth and early twentieth century crime fiction or science fiction – has only ever just satiated.

I also enjoy the research. Searching, reading, collating, and recording are part of the historical ‘chase’ or ‘hunt’ that also fulfils a need, and wargaming gives me the opportunity to put that research to practical use. This is why I wrote LA ULTIMA CRUZADA at the same time as I developed my ¡ARRIBA ESPA√ĎA! rules for the Spanish Civil War. The first was a summary of my research; the second was my research turned into a set of wargames rules.

I also enjoy the therapeutic effect of sitting painting model figures and vehicles as well as creating the terrain over which they will ‘fight’. I tend to do this with the radio switched on so that I can listen to the news, radio plays, classical music or – best of all – Test Match Special. (I still refer to my radio as the ‘wireless’ at times, to the guffaws of anyone under the age of forty!) Doing something constructive with my hands whilst my ‘mind’ is listening to the radio seems to help me to clear it – albeit temporarily – of all the cares and pressures of the world … and ultimately helps to keep me sane. If I did not wargame, I would have to find another hobby to fill this void.

But the ultimate reason why I love to wargame is because I am – at heart – a story teller. I have always seen the story part of history as the most important element. It is the fundamental essence of how I teach, regardless of what I am teaching. I tell the ‘story’ of what I am trying to get my students to understand, and by telling the ‘story’ well enough, I engage them. This is not a method of teaching that has much support (and it is positively discourage by many ‘experts’) as it relies too much on what is seen as the ‘teacher telling’ the students, and not the students finding out for themselves … but I feel that a good storyteller makes the journey through the narrative with their listener. They do not lead them; they go with them, pointing out the interesting things that can be seen along the way.

I see wargaming in the same light. It is telling a ‘story’ … and it is a ‘story’ that I want to be part of, along with other people who want to take the ‘journey’ with me. The rules are a ‘guide’ to the story but only that (hence my desire to produce simple rules that aid the ‘journey’ not hinder it!); they should not dominate the way in which the ‘story’ unfolds. As I make the ‘journey’ through the ‘story’, I like to record what has happened and how it happened – hence my love of well written battle reports and why I have found blogging about my wargaming such fun. And when I have finished my ‘journey’, I like to look back and review it. It is this process of living through and telling the story that is – ultimately – what I get most out of wargaming.

You have now had a chance to look into my wargaming ‘soul’; I hope that you were not too disappointed by what you found there!

8 comments:

  1. Find a lot in common with what you say . To me painting wargaming figures is theraputic/relaxing a total change from work and being no great fan of TV - something to do of a evening. It may be part of my mid-life crisis but I find myself becoming intolerant of modern rule sets - to long and complecated , hence my return to older simpler sets .

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  2. Mosstrooper,

    I don't think that it a mid-life crisis so much as pressure on the time we have available to spend on our hobby. By the time you reach your 30s or 40s, your time is taken up earning a living (which seems to encroach more and more on most people's lives), raising your family, and a host of other time-consuming matters. What time you have left for wargaming is limited ... and you want to make the most of it; hence the desire for simpler games that can be played to a conclusion in the time that is available.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. Wargamers and miniature painters after my own heart. I also enjoy the "therapy" and relaxation I get when I'm sitting and painting (often while listening to podcasts or music). And simple rules and telling and participating in good stories are key elements for me as well.

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  4. Thanks for that response Bob. I hope you found the process of putting those thoughts into words useful, with regards to planning your post-retirement project. I know I did when I went through it.

    I always suspected you had a touch of the storyteller about you, it seems to be a particularly common trait among colonial wargamers for some reason.

    Dr V

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  5. Fitz-Badger,

    I suspect that there are a lot of us about who share an interest in figure painting, simple rules, and a good story ... we just don't mention it very much.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Dr Vesuvius,

    It was a very helpful - no, extremely helpful - exercise ... and thank you for posing the question that encouraged me to undertake it.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Well put Bob. A combination of relaxation and mental stimulation is what many if not most hobbies are about and a love of history is not exclusive to wargamers. It is the pageantry and the stories that make this such a great hobby for me.

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  8. Ross Mac,

    Many thanks!

    I suspect that it is the storytelling aspect of wargaming that appeals to people who make it their long-term hobby.

    All the best,

    Bon

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