An unexpected but very welcome comparison

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Over on Boardgamegeek.com I posted a link to the review on Armchair General (Review of Colonial Twilight in The Armchair General). In a reply to the ensuing thread, user Paul Heron wrote:

I feel I ought to point out that, while the tone of CT is certainly serious, it thankfully isn’t sanctimonious, earnest or po-faced.

In fact, a refreshing element of this game for me has been the flashes of humour in there (also to be found in some of Brian’s other designs, Ukrainian Crisis for one). For instance, the Jean Paul Sartre card with its tagline, ‘Either way, he and Albert Camus are no longer friends.’

While some may argue that humour is inappropriate in a wargame, unless the game as the whole is intended as satire (War on Terror), my view is that humour has always been a part of war, and not only as a ‘defense mechanism’ employed by soldiers and civilians.

Rather, humour/absurdity is in an odd way one of the intrinsic elements of war (and the literature of war seems to me to confirm this), part of its troubling strangeness, what novelist J.G. Ballard called the ‘casual surrealism of war’ (which probably more often is simply weird and jarring, rather than blackly humourous).

As the son of British ex-pats living in Shanghai when the Pacific War began, Ballard spent his early teens in a Japanese internment camp. In particular his experience, in the dog days of the war, of leaving the camp and exploring the devastated and largely abandoned city, seems to have left an especially vivid impression on him, informing all his subsequent writing (only a small portion of which – his 1984 novel Empire of the Sun for instance – is explicitly about war).

Incidentally, like the jokes that Brian sneaks into his games, much of Ballard’s writing is slyly humourous – ‘guerrilla humour’ as it were, rather than the more obvious sort that bludgeons you with massive frontal assaults (War on Terror again springs to mind).

Those who know me well, know that J.G. Ballard is one of my absolute favourite writers. This guy gets me!

(oh man, can this day get any better?)

 

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“Breaking the fourth wall”

JAntley tweet

Jeremy Antley, a very clever man (see his blog Peasant Muse, he also writes for Play the Past) recently Tweeted (if that’s the word I want) his reaction to receiving his copy of Colonial Twilight. I hope the text is readable. The “Sartre” card text reads:

15

Jean-Paul Sartre

Writes a play, donates royalties: +2 FLN Resources.

Signs manifesto: -1 Commitment.

Either way, he and Albert Camus are not friends anymore.

The card is on the surface “another of Brian’s little jokes”, and on the surface perhaps it is. The historical context is duly supplied in the Playbook:

This card reflects the actions of French intellectuals and cultural figures in opposing the war, particularly the use of torture by French forces. The “Manifesto of the 121”, a declaration published in September 1960 is an example of this and helped to mobilize public opinion and action against the war. Sartre was very vocal in support of the FLN and was the target of at least one assassination attempt by the OAS. Meanwhile, the writer Albert Camus, born in Algeria, defended the French government’s actions and supported the idea of co-existence and peaceful negotiation. He was ostracised by left-wing intellectuals for this.

But Jeremy does make a point about games and their self-absorbed nature as they try to recreate history through mechanical means. Designers occasionally break this “fourth wall” through humourous asides in the rules or their notes, but it is not often done.

If I knew more about what I was doing I could probably talk more coherently about this, but I’ll leave it here as an example of a time where a player tickled me back. Enjoy the game Jeremy!