Gaming In Challenging Times

Most people know H.G. Wells as one of the modern inventors of science fiction literature with such masterpieces as “The War Of The Worlds,” “The Time Machine” and “The Invisible Man.” Wells is less well-known as one of the first popular writers on the subject of miniature wargaming. Published just before Great Britain entered World War I, Wells’ “Little Wars” outlined one of the first widely-available English sets of rules for miniatures wargaming. Using cast metal toy soldiers and artillery, Wells and his Edwardian friends created elaborate wargames on their parlor floors and English gardens. Using wooden projectiles fired from small model canons, these proper English gentlemen waged war on opposing sides of tiny infantry and cavalry armies. Many of the concepts of movement, effects of model terrain and chance still present in 21st-century wargaming were set down in print by Wells.

Wells was also a socialist, pacifist and supporter of the concept of a world-governing body to preserve peace and avoid increasingly large-scale warfare that would eventually come to haunt much of the 20th-century. In “Little Wars,” Wells lays out the idealistic aspiration that men, young and old, would someday permanently remove themselves from the real killing fields of modern war and instead settle great international conflicts through wargaming and boardroom diplomacy. “The tin soldier leaves behind no tin widow, and no tin orphan,” said Wells.

I’ve spent well over half my life gaming, with countless hours spent locked in play violence. I’ve also made the study of history and warfare one of my educational and personal pursuits. I’m fascinated by why people make war on each other, and I wonder at what makes one human decide to do violence against another. With this, I too hate war and violence, questioning even when attempts are made to choose what fights are historically just.

The modern pervasiveness of video games, movies and news media makes violence real and immediate in ways Wells and his contemporaries could have never imagined a century ago. Even as a kid just 30 years ago, I couldn’t imagine for myself a culture so covered in virtual blood, real or fictitious.

I have two sons now, and like most parents, I wish to share and pass on some of my interests to them. For some parents, it’s baseball. For others, it may be a love of camping or cooking or knitting. Me, I want my kids to play wargames. I want them to do this because it is an incredibly rewarding hobby, combining artistry, historical research, complex decision-making, math, teamwork and management skills. I also want them to take up my interest in wargames because I think, when done right, wargaming can
still teach why war and violence is a horrible, horrible thing to be avoided at all costs.

“Doing it right” is the rub. Like so many worthwhile things, wargaming takes time. Lots of it. You need to have a real interest and a real commitment in not only yourself but in your fellow players in order to play wargames. Wargames are for people who care.

And here, I will expand beyond miniature wargames to include video games in the discussion. Just as Dungeons & Dragons was accused of being the realm of loner weirdo teenage Satanists with a penchant for violence and anti-social behavior in the 1970s and 80s, video games are the target now. Yes, the video gamer community and industry is far, far larger than the D&D community ever was. Yes, video games depict violence in a far more realistic way than tabletop wargaming can. But the problem is not inherent in the games. The problem is a lack parental involvement with their children’s gaming pursuits.

A parent who is fairly tuned-into their kids’ playtime is a participant and a partner. I’ve spent hours watching my kids play video games, playing video games with them, reading about video games with them and discussing video games with them. I am willing to bet most parents’ level of involvement with their children’s gaming begins with buying their kid a game they know nothing about and ends with the kid vanishing into their bedroom to start logging dozens of hours in a game. The same parent who will re-arrange their schedule and devote hours to their son’s baseball practices and games will probably not make a similar investment in the same son’s hours devoted to racking up kills on Call of Duty or levels of progression in Skyrim.

Play – parentally-invested play – is an indispensable part of childhood that can provide a lifetime of healthy and creative thinking. Maybe he is outdated, but I’ll stick with Wells and his utopian hope that games can and do provide the path to a better world.

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