The Wargamer

23 June 2017

Fifth Column Editorial: Groping for a New Paradigm, Part 3

Fire & Movement's editor-in-chief, Jon Compton, recently penned this editorial on the state of board wargaming. In his third and final installment, Jon presents his conclusions in this capstone piece.

Published on 18 FEB 2005 12:00am by Scott Parrino
  1. business and industry, reprinted article


The Wargamer is pleased to present the third of a three-part series written by Jon Compton, editor-in-chief of Fire & Movement Magazine. This article was originally published by Against the Odds Magazine in Volume 2, No. 2, and The Wargamer would like to thank them for sharing these with our readers.

Parts One and Two of this series were published earlier.

Groping for the New Paradigm, Part III: Process of Design

Most of us involved in the hobby of wargaming for any extended period of time have developed a context of meaning that the hobby gives to our lives. Whether generated in defense of the hobby or arrived at through reflection, itís something each of us has likely done.

Because the entire point of these articles is to spur new ideas and to see growth in the industry beyond the confines of those we already have, a brief discussion of the meaning of what we do, and why itís necessary to define it, is appropriate.

The Meaning of Wargaming: A Personal Perspective

One of the oldest debates in our industry has been about the morality of wargaming. In its simplest form, we play games about the death and destruction of peoples and cultures. Taken on its face, itís easy to see how such a simple definition of the hobby can raise the eyebrows, if not the hackles, of ordinary citizens. 

But beyond that simplistic overview, there are deeper shades of moral grayness that reside within the hobbyís participants themselves. A soon to be published card-game about the War on Terror from Decision Games recently spurred some heated, if not vitriolic, discussion among hobbyists about the morality of publishing such a game, given the nearness of the subject matter to most of our lives. But such moral concerns within our own ranks are nothing new.

In my personal experience at GameFix magazine, when we released Greenline: Chechnya several letters came to our office questioning the morality of publishing such a game while the event was still occurring. The same thing happened at 3W when they released the original Arabian Nightmare in S&T. Other publishers can surely tell similar stories.

The issue of morality is valid to our purpose as a hobby in the sense that it is important that we understand why we do what we do, and have ready answers to such challenges when presented from outside our ranks.

I donít pretend to offer a universal answer to this question. Each of us must develop our own moral compass, such that we may satisfy ourselves before we can satisfy others. But, I can express my own perspective.

Personally, the question of wargaming comes down to how I define entertainment. If I watch a production of Shakespeareís The Merchant of Venice and enjoy it, does that mean Iím anti-Semitic? Or watch and enjoy the latest action film mean I revel in the death and misery of others? 

Clearly the answer is no, but there will always be a few that scream yes. Over the aggregate of society they may be correct in some cases. But we can take solace that in most instances they are not.

Wargaming is no different. Much as I might read a book on a subject dealing with conflict that provides some edification, which in turn, provides entertainment, so it is with wargaming. By competitively playing a wargame, Iím gaining interactive insight into some form of conflict, which, in turn, broadens my understanding of the human condition. The thing to be gleaned from the process of wargaming is the greater depth of comprehension of the nature of conflict. The application of that comprehension is the contribution I make to society in the form of political decisions, voting, discussion, and debate in the public forum.

Taken in that context, the question to me is no longer one of moral ambiguity, but rather one of a moral imperative. The new paradigm of which I speak is one in which we, as members of an industry, produce products that entertain within the context of providing a tool with which we, as members of society, can broaden our understanding of the nature of the world in which we live.

Such a definition of meaning comes with its own challenges. It entails that the subject be approached with a certain sensitivity to its purpose. I do not believe that that sensitivity can be meaningfully defined. Each game designer (and game player) must reach his own conclusion. Awareness of it, though, must reside firmly in the designerís mind, because it can never serve our purpose to trivialize conflict in such a way that it alienates the hobby further from the rest of society.

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