Tuesday 8 May 2018

The Civil Wars of Wargaming Part II- the cost

Having established the fact that many of the early wargamers were at war with each other in a loud, aggressive and often abusive manner, what were the consequences? When wargaming emerged in the 1970’s as a new hobby, it was considered by some a potential educational tool. One to transform the study of history, politics and international relations. If you played a committee game in French, it could be used in language classes. However, this was not to be. From my random sample of correspondence in the History of Wargaming Project archive, I found that teachers, academics, several clergy and historians had unfortunate encounters with the hobby during the 1970's.

They went along to their local club and were soundly thrashed by competition gamers who were interested in the rules and winning, and with scant regard for history. Perhaps they even took pleasure in shredding an interested academic just to demonstrate that the academic clearly knew nothing about history (and therefore did not deserve their job). These professionals, who could have been champions of the hobby, became the reverse and the hobby suffered. Even RMAS got rid of its wargaming club due its treatment of visiting senior officers and academics.

Fortunately, the hobby has largely changed. There is the competition set, but most wargamers at most clubs play games, enjoy chatting about some history and sometimes they win. At large conventions, there are the battles to win fought by uncommunicative wargamers, but most people putting on a game are happy to stop to chat about the game, the rules, the scenery, the makes of figures etc. Stop by the Society of Ancient’s stand at a show and the people manning the stand will be happy to discuss the detail of ancient warfare with knowledge equal to any undergraduate on an ancient history degree.  These ‘average’ wargamers have finally managed to overcome the historical stigma of the competition gamers of the 1970’s. Wargames are flowing into the curriculum at all levels.

During WWII the Fletcher Pratt game in New York was visited by the Admiral of the South Atlantic and his staff. They took command of one side and their fleet of 45 ships started to get hammered by the female curtain makers on the either side. They were up against a profession that estimated distances in inches for a job. Although only a game, an admiral and his staff + his team of 40, losing a naval wargame would not be a good idea. So, Inga Pratt (her husband being on a carrier in the Pacific) grabbed the RN destroy captain from the bar. The captain took command of the destroyers on the admiral’s side and launched a brilliant and devasting torpedo attack. The Admiral’s side won. Honour and face was saved. Perhaps this tale gives some idea why the fletcher Pratt Naval game attracted 200+ people in the evening in war time New York. Modern hobby wargaming could learn something from this historical example.