The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Editorial: The Editor Muses

Should Wargames Cover Modern Conflicts?

Published on 22 MAR 2014 9:57am by Nik Gaukroger
  1. business and industry, background / research material, english

We’ve all seen articles about whether wargames glorify war, make people more violent and the like (and, no doubt rejected those claims, but that’s a subject for a different musing I think), however, a comment by a friend of mine made me wonder about wargames suitability in a different way. It was a comment he made suggesting that any war  which still has living veterans is, essentially, still modern and current rather than actually being “history”. His point was that until there is no longer a direct link to people who experience the events of a particular war it is impossible for it to be dealt with in anything like an objective manner. Of course, even when all those who directly experienced such events have passed on it can still be difficult to be objective as so very many cases show, however, whilst people are still alive it does make the emotional factor more real somehow. Because of this my friend will not wargame any conflict more modern than the 19th century. 

So why should this affect whether a conflict should be portrayed in a game? 

One possible objection would be based around the emotional attachment point made above. One would hope that a game representing a conflict should be objective when dealing with the participants, however, if a conflict is close temporally, and especially if it affected the developers in some way be that they belong to participating country or had friends or relatives affected, can bias be avoided? Possibly not, but does that matter? Well I would suggest that yes it does matter. Wars generate, obviously, a lot of very strong opinions and it is all too easy for aspects of a conflict to be mythologised and misrepresented in many ways, and these are rarely healthy ways. They can reinforce misinformed negative stereotypes and prejudices which can perpetuate the issues that may have led to a conflict in the first place. Too strong an objection? Perhaps, but perhaps not – to draw on a conflict that affected people I know in very serious way, the Falkland’s Conflict, would a game based around that help or hinder attitudes towards those islands? 

Another possible objection follows on from this. Could a wargame of a relatively recent event get in the way of, or slow down the process of understanding a conflict and putting into its historical perspective? Somewhat more nebulous I would think this one, after all history undergoes revision all the time as new generations of historians re-examine the evidence (or new evidence comes to light) and develop a new angle on the matter (not that any historian gained fame by agreeing with the existing consensus <g>). Perpetuating misunderstanding could prevent the world from moving on. 

Of course, if my friend is right we’d not have an awful lot of extremely popular wargames …