When Gaming Meets History #1: The Wargamer's Dilemma

By Bill WIlder 12 Apr 2003 0

The Wargamer's Dilemma

"So Many Choices, So Little Time!" This is the lament of the avid wargamer today. It seems that there is a daily barrage of new games falling all around us. Today's lifestyle is so demanding that few hours remain to indulge ourselves in this great hobby called wargaming. unfortunately, we all have the same 24 hours a day that we are to manage and use wisely. The demands of life are such that we often yearn for at least 26 hours in a day just to get our needed rest.

The workplace, one's personal life and relationships, the myriad of nit-picking chores we find nagging incessantly at our mind all crowd into our day to rob us of those moments we would like to dedicate to the playing of wargames. Let's face it. There is never enough time to do what we have to do, let alone what we want to do.

There was a time when the announcement of a new game was a real thrill, something that the entire community anticipated with overactive salivary glands. But currently it seems that the titles are so prolific that there are games that are published without our knowledge. A new game might hit the streets that fits our tastes perfectly, but we never know it.

Then there is the cost factor. The price of games, just like everything else, is higher than ever before. It is not uncommon to shell out half a C-note for a game. Translate that money, if you will, into the hours you had to work to earn it. In essence, you are investing so many hours of your life in order to treat yourself to this new prize. For many out there, it becomes an investment worthy of careful consideration. Wargaming is not a cheap hobby. But if it is something we really want, we will come up with the dollars to purchase it.

A lot of folks, including those close to us, have a hard time understanding what they consider an inordinate passion for something that appears to them to be an adult "toy." In the minds of family and friends, we could put the money and the time to much better use. What excitement or satisfaction could there be in a jumble of sight and sound as men and machines fight to the death? How can one sit mesmerized before a computer monitor and become so excited that mixed moans and cheers rumble from his throat depending on the course of the battle? It's hard to understand. It's even harder to explain.

Another difficulty today's gamer faces is that of space-hard drive space. As the hard drives get bigger, so do the programs. The latter neutralizes the improvement of the former. There was a day when a 40 meg hard drive was a nice size. That day seems like ancient history now. Today, a 40 gigabyte hard drive will hardly do. The games, with their improved sounds, graphics and other features, devour space like "langoliers" munching on the past. We find ourselves again and again faced with the dilemma of what programs or games to remove from our computer to make room for newer items. I guess it is kind of like a lack of electronic closet space ?and whoever has enough of that?

Another problem I have personally is my learning abilities when it comes to new games. Some of them are so complicated in the execution of a battle, that I am totally lost. Real time games wear me out and wreck my nerves. Now that, my friend is not fun. My fingers simply cannot keep up with my thoughts. I'm so busy giving orders, checking units, re-issuing orders that I don't even have time to enjoy what is happening on the screen in front of me. The more complicated the mechanics of a game are the less chance that I will play it. Once again, with the progress in computer technology, games have reached a new zenith of complexity that leaves me confused and often disillusioned.

All of these problems, while quite disturbing, have at least some partial solutions. Since I am faced with this dilemma, how do I deal with it? First of all, I must choose a game that interests me. Not all of them do. While a devout student of military history in general, I find my primary time frame of interest is from the early beginnings of World War II until today. I was born just as the war was getting started. I was only five years old when my Daddy marched off to war in 1942. To a child at that age, being engulfed in the worldwide struggle for freedom cannot but leave an indelible impression.

Even after the war, when my father and uncle returned home, magazines and memorabilia of the events that had taken place surrounded me. I read many stories of the conflict. It mesmerized me, captured my imagination and left me with a yearning to know all that I could about that time. Since then I've seen wars come and go: Korea, Vietnam, a hundred smaller wars and Desert Storm. I'm not an advocate of war. It is nightmarish, an experience to be avoided if at all possible. But there are wars, and without a doubt there will be more. So war is a part of our legacy. It has brought us good things and bad.

The appeal to me of wargaming is the recreation of history, of critical moments of decision that can and sometimes do alter the course of world history. Nagumo's decision to re-arm his aircraft during the battle of Midway proved to be the undoing of the Japanese Pacific Fleet. It changed the course of the war. It was that same year that an obstinate Fuhrer and a vacillating General brought about Germany's first major defeat, when one German combat soldier in 10 on the Eastern Front was lost at the battle of Stalingrad.

To read of these events is exciting. To reenact some of the lesser moments in modern military history is exciting beyond description. That is what I look for in a game. I want something that will give me the feeling of what it was like, how it felt to be in command and forced to make hard choices to win the victory. If a game cannot convey that emotion to me, it does not interest me.

By the way, I use that same philosophy in my own scenario design. My primary purpose in re-creating a particular battle is to impart to the one who plays it a sense the urgency, the desperation, the need for quick decision making and then enduring or enjoying the consequences.

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