Bored of War…
March 17, 2016 9 Comments
… is the in-retrospect,-not-very-good title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in Seattle next week.
Here is my abstract:
Board wargames, or manual military simulation games, are a form of civilian entertainment that peaked commercially in the 1980s but continue today as a small press, near-DIY activity. They remain one of Western culture’s most complex analog artifacts, rich in their ability to generate narrative and explore historical possibilities.
However, only a very small number of published civilian wargames address the dominant modes of actual post-World War Two conflict: irregular war and counterinsurgency. This paper will explore the cultural reasons for this absent focus, explain the social and political utility of these games as a means of interrogating and critiquing contemporary conflicts, and present specific games in this field as examples of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).
The point I am trying to make is that there are few of these games not just because they are on an icky uncomfortable subject. It’s also because they are subversive – not only of the contextless and fragmented stream of simplified media interpretation of current conflicts, but also of how most board wargames are played.
I find it quite hard to articulate things like this, though I think about them a lot. I want to acknowledge Jeremy Antley, Matt Kirschenbaum and Mary Flanagan for the thoughts and inspiration.
The point may also be lost on the audience – this is a large conference, with a couple of thousand presentations to be made, and the Game Studies area is responsible for about 100 of them. Only a very small number of these are not about video games: a few about tabletop RPGs, someone talking about how the The Game of Life (Milton Bradley 1960) reflected the American Dream, and my thing.
I think they’re going to look at me like I have bugs in my eyebrows. But it will be experience, and that is cheap at any price, as they say.