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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Wargaming – Neutral or Partisan?

I have recently bought the Force on Force supplement Day of the Rangers.  I like the rules although I don’t get to play that often and am slowly collecting the books.

Reading the introduction I was struck by the obvious implication that the reader would empathise with the US forces involved in the conflict.  It talks about ‘the valour and sacrifice of America’s soldiers and airmen’ for instance.  The language made me feel a bit uncomfortable, which rather surprised me.

I consider myself a patriotic Brit and when thinking about our military past I identify with the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have fought and died for their country.  My interest in conflicts involving British forces does, to a degree, direct my wargaming interests. However when I get on a wargaming table I put all thoughts of nationality aside.

A wargames force to me is just that, a wargames force.  Usually a lot of planning and work has gone into getting it on to the table. I want to enjoy the games I have with them and I certainly prefer winning to losing. What I am not doing is identifying with the ideology of the real life men the figures are designed to represent, be they British, American, Somali, Mongol or whatever.  I suppose that is why the tone of Day of the Rangers made me uncomfortable.  I would not have a problem with that sort of language in a history of the conflict. 

In a wargames book such language suggests that one side is morally better than the other.  Whilst that is very often the case in real life (and indeed in the case in point in my opinion) it is certainly not the case on the table.

Others may differ of course


  1. I have the book and never notice. Maybe because I am an American. Maybe it is because me and my class mates have been fighting for the last 20 years.

    I guess this should be true; "In a wargames book such language suggests that one side is morally better than the other. Whilst that is very often the case in real life (and indeed in the case in point in my opinion) it is certainly not the case on the table." Maybe it should be the standard for which books of this nature are published.

    We play a lot of Force on Force now. We call them skinnies, shit eaters, and sister F-ers. Only the wives in hearing distance seem to be uncomfortable with our description of the other guys.

    In our other wargames the other guy is much more respected. Even if they were known historically to be evil cruel bastards.

    I would say the Day of the Rangers is written the way it is because it is fresh in our mind.

  2. Wargaming rulebooks and scenario-books that assume I will sympathise with one faction or another annoy the hell out of me. I far prefer it when they are as neutral a historical text. Though I've also noticed a recent spate of popular "histories" that read more like propaganda. Then again, I've yet to read an American history of the war of 1812 that doesn't focus almost exclusively on the war at sea rather than the war on land, so it's hardly a new phenomenon. Even the old Recon series of games were written from a pro-western point of view.

    Carrying on from the previous reply, I've never been able to wrap my head around the concept that a professional soldier should find it acceptable to despise his enemy. It was drilled into me for years (and I drilled it into my lads for years) that professionalism requires respecting your enemy. Despising him creates a mental association that the enemies fighting abilities (as well as his actions) are not worthy of your respect. That leads to underestimating your opponent and getting yourself (or others) killed. It also leads to the kind of despicable behaviour we've seen at Abu Graib and (more recently) the rape and murder of a teenage Iraqi girl and her family in Iraq.

    I had thought that the requirement of respecting your enemy had been one of the primary lessons learned by American forces after Somalia. It certainly seemed that way whenever I interacted with US Forces in the late nineties, early naughts.

    British troops never had the Somalia experience, which is why I spent so much time butting heads over the term "rag-head" with my contemporaries. Usually the mere mentioned of the word "Somalia" proved my point, but some occassions required more negative reinforcement (read: my steel toe-cap up their arse) than others.

    Even today. I don't feel comfortable war-gaming ongoing or recent wars for entertainment purposes. My modern wargaming is of the "fictional nation" variety. I'm not going to play at waging war in Afghanistan while my bother-in-law is on build-up training preparing to do it for real.

    I was still in school when the Somali intervention started. High school, that is. Yet even to this day I wouldn't feel comfortable wargaming the period for fun. Despite the fact I war-gamed through them often enough in TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops) less than a decade later.

  3. I have several of the Force on Force books but don't have Day of the Rangers I'm afraid (largely as I don't have any suitable kit). I must admit I haven't picked up on the bias you're referring to, although respecting the courage and sacrifice of the troops isn't necessarily supporting the political views which saw them being deployed. I do prefer accounts to be neutral but you can gain some insights from seeing two biases accounts if they are from opposite sides!

  4. Interesting post. Having given it some thought - I don't mind an author taking one side or the other. I do not think it would affect my buying the game or my gaming pleasure.