Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Real Life and Wargaming

On Sunday I wrote a report about the wargame I and a group of friends had played. The main thrust of the scenario concerned the armed rescue of someone who had been kidnapped. At the time I wrote the blog entry I was unaware of the death of British aid worker Linda Norgrove. She had been killed during an attempt to rescue her from the people who were holding her after she had been kidnapped.

When I was made aware of what had happened to Ms Norgrove, my first thoughts were those of sympathy for her family. She had been undertaking aid work of immense value to the people of the Dewagal valley in the Kunar province of Afghanistan when she was kidnapped in September, and her seizure seems to have served no useful purpose except in the minds of the people who had taken her.

My second thoughts concerned my blog entry. Should I remove it because the scenario and outcome had similarities to events that had so recently taken place in Afghanistan? Or should I leave it in situ?

After giving it some considerable thought, I decided that I would take the latter course. My reasoning was as follows:
  • When the game was set up, none of the participants were aware of events in Afghanistan. Had we been, we may have chosen to fight a different scenario.
  • There was no intent upon our part to be disrespectful to the memory of Ms Norgrove. In fact, as I stated earlier, I wrote my blog entry before being aware of what had happened.
  • The game had been played. We could not 'un-play' it nor could we 'un-enjoy' our day of wargaming. By removing the blog entry so as to make it appear that the game never happened would be hypocritical.
Unlike any other hobbies or pastimes, wargaming is about one of the darker aspects of human existence ... war. Wargamers ... that is me and you ... 'play' at war. To some people that makes us appear very odd, if not sinister.

Over the years wargamers have tried to rationalise what they do, but when it comes down to it, we do it for a variety of reasons. Some wargame because of a deep interest in military history, some because they want to understand more about strategy and tactics, some because they like to paint model figures and vehicles, some because it allows them to escape for the humdrum events of normal life, and some because they are gamers, and this is the sort of game they enjoy. Every wargamer I have met has had a different reason for taking up and enjoying the hobby.

The death of Linda Norgrove and the coincidental staging of the "Les Affreux" wargame remind us that wargames are about real life ... and death. It is something that we need to be reminded of occasionally, if only to give us a sense of proportion.

I hope that I write on behalf of us all within the wargaming community when I pass on our deepest sympathy to the family of Linda Norgrove.

Her death diminishes us all.

13 comments:

  1. Very well put. The events of Linda Norgrove's attempted rescue are tragic all round and no doubt there will be much debate and soul searching to follow.

    Our hobby essentially makes entertainment out of war and sometimes we all need to be reminded of this fact. However this should not be used as an argument for giving up our pastime.

    I think we (meaning gamers in general) probably have a much better understanding of the complexities of conflict than the lay person. Most of us also have a better grasp of history and politics and therefore a better perspective on current events than 'the man in the street'. So long as we remain respectful and objective then I think our hobby is a good thing and something that should continue to be encouraged and explored.

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  2. Don't beat yourself up Bob - these things happen whether or not we game them. 'War' generally precedes 'Game' in history.
    Tim

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  3. BigLee and Tim Gow,

    Thanks very much for your comments. Sometimes events make us take stock of what we do ... and that is not a bad thing to do once in a while.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. Bob

    I would not worry too much about this. Any sane, intelligent and rational person will not see a connection between a tragic event in the real world and a group of guys playing a game and enjoying themselves. As for the rest of mankind they would probably criticise you if you were playing Trivial Pursuit!

    Jim

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  5. Jim Duncan,

    Trivial Pursuit can be a very violent game; in fact I think that it is probably the cause of more violence than any wargame I have every seen. I have seen at least two fights and one near divorce result from arguments that started over a game of Trivial Pursuit. Wargaming can be judged to be quite tame in comparison.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. I think you've treated the unfortunate and totally unforseen link with care, consideration and heartfelt sympathy.
    What we do as gamers won't alter the things that happen in real-life and I've not met a wargamer yet who glorifies the act of war.

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  7. I'm never going to play Trivial Pursuit with you, then!

    On the more serious point I find myself in agreement with what has been said above. Don't do anything you feel uncomfortable with, remember the wise words of Donald Featherstone about tabletop games only bearing a coincidental resemblance to the reality of warfare - as he would know from personal experience in the Western Desert and Italy - and enjoy your games.
    Playing games about war for one's personal entertainment cannot, I think, really be any different from watching war films or reading novels or histories.
    But I confess a book I acquired on musket ball wounds &c based upon data from the Napoleonic Wars, with photographs of shattered bones from medical collections and detailed drawings of injuries by contemporary doctors did make me somewhat uneasy...

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  8. Very interesting commentary, Bob, and an intelligent response to the circumstances.
    Glad I dropped by for a read ...

    Phil

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  9. I have to agree with the above comments. The nature of the beast being what it is, wargaming deals with icky subjects. And, being what it is, we wargamers tend to learn a lot more about why things happen the way they do. The tendancy to play on both sides of a conflict over time gives us an ability to see both sides that many who don't educate themselves in the realities of war lack.

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  10. Agreed and well played. Conflict simulation has fascinated (mostly) men for a long time and there is nothing wrong with that.

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  11. Jfidz, Arthur1815, SoA Shows North, Arquinsiel, and Dale,

    Many thanks for your comments.

    I have had quite a few comments (both via the blog and also in the form of emails sent directly to me) about what I wrote today, all of them supportive and thoughtful.

    It is interesting to note that so many of us share the same basic ideas about our hobby, and I feel that as long as we do so, it will continue to flourish.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  12. Bob,

    Would you play the same game next weekend?

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  13. JWH,

    An interesting question.

    Probably not ... and not just because I think that I would be uncomfortable with the scenario so soon after the recent events in Afghanistan.

    All the best,

    Bob

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