Pluralism in Wargaming

As many of us do (and I almost guarantee you do if you are browsing The Shell Case) I read too much and this sparks off questions in my mind. Far too much when it comes down to it, so I’m going to be shooting off a few opinionated pieces in the next few months and I may as well start somewhere. One such post, on the The Back 40k entitled Why I look for Failure really caught my eye in this regard. In that it reveals a fundamental flaw of the internet age when it comes to wargaming.

Now before I start all this, just let me just post a disclaimer. This post has gone through quite a few stages. It started as a reactionary rant and then I junked it after advice, because I realised that that sort of post solves nothing because it just perpetuates the argument rather than starting a discussion. [Super Editor to the rescue! Ed.]

So this post comes not out of malice or the need to ‘score points’ against the The Back 4ok blog. I love most of their output, so seriously, before you read this, go check out their blog again. The writers make lots of good points to chew over and in many ways, have inspired me quite a bit when it comes to mature thoughts and discussion about our hobby. But there are some topics facing the wargaming industry today that are very important, that need to be discussed to gain a wider perspective on things and I don’t think they are given the attention they deserve.

Also, people may disagree with to do with my post and that’s fine too. That’s great, because at no point do I believe I’m right in all these points and if someone in the comments can make a decent argument as to why I’m wrong, I’ll happily change my mind.

I just want it so people are actually thinking and discussing these problems today, so the industry doesn’t make the same mistakes it did yesterday. One of the big ones is how much effect the internet thinks it has on the wargaming industry compared to mow much it actually does and how this plays into the collective unconscious of our thinking on this hobby of ours*.

So now that introduction is out-of-the-way, let’s delve into this topic properly:

1. Internet attitudes towards 40k as a game and Conformation Bias.

I think we can all agree that the internet is a great place. It allows us access to cheap things, the entire of humanities’ combined knowledge, cute pictures of kittens and porn.

Sometimes all at the same time!

Theres also this great little thing called communication, which allows people to establish communities, discuss topics and make friends (it’s all the rage with the kids I hear). Now forums and blogs are great ways to do this and each have their own positives and negatives to them. But regardless, I’m sure you have come across specific parts of the community that seem a little odd to you. I don’t just mean small club forums that revolve around lots of in jokes and memes.

But rather forums which have in place rules that forbid positive comments about certain companies, or where you get subjected to post after post attacking you if you mention that you play wargames with women, which is then allowed by the Mod team.

Which brings up the biggest problem with the internet to me. These days, thanks to search engine algorithms, it becomes too easy to find people who agree with our views whilst at the same time screening out differing views. This can create communities or pockets of wargaming that get sucked into a sort of feedback loop, that rewards those who think the same way whilst driving away those of dissenting opinion. This is called Conformation Bias.

Its killing our community.

2. The WAAC vs Fluffy gamer argument

Prime example number one is this debate, older than the internet itself. It’s a pretty benign and when it comes to how to build our armies, the simple answer is, ‘whatever you feel like’. Yet every time I pop onto any forum, another half a dozen debates have arisen over what is completely a personal issue. Yet it’s rare to see this opinion voiced in most communities. People seem to have gotten locked into the cycle of believing their own opinions are so valid, then when they meet dissenting ones, the only option in their minds is to fight back, instead of taking a moment to think about it.

Mix this in a community famed for its members with poor social skills and you have a potential powder keg on your hands, as offense is taken and grudges spill out over multiple blogs and forums.

But what people always tend to forget on the internet, is that every opinion of the wargaming scene (hell every opinion really) should automatically assume it has the following addendum added:

‘well, at least in my opinion’

I doesn’t matter if that scene is a town, or an entire tournament circuit. Every persons play experiences are different, even if two people experience the exact same scene; it’s unlikely their opinions will be identical down to the last detail. Because everything in life is ultimately subjective. Especially when we talk about something like wargaming, which relies on a huge amount of luck.

Yet the rise of net listing and group think on forums has managed to convince people their views are the only way to play. Yet even a cursory look at even something like tournament gaming shows that the wisdom of net listing isn’t true. People forget that the reason net lists work is because the people using them also happen to be really good players.

Take the 2012 winner of the UK 40k throne of skulls. It was a Demon player. By all rights it should be an Imperial Guard player or a Necron player. They of the ‘broken flyer armies’ variety. Nids are rocking 4th place, despite them apparently ‘being nerfed beyond repair’. Both of these results are a slap in the face for all those players and their established ‘wisdom’ created online.

Yes, I can hear the arguments already: “Throne of Skulls doesn’t count since they changed the rules.” “Throne of Skulls is a rubbish tournament which isn’t competitive enough.” By whose benchmark though? There’s a glaringly, embarrassingly and inescapable obvious truth that we’re all becoming narcissists.

Perhaps it’s that there may be some differences between how different tournaments are run? Perhaps it’s a different view on what makes ‘a good gamer’?

Now that, tortuously, brings me round to my next point.

3. US and UK wargaming have fundamentally different design philosophies.

I’m generalising when I say this, but from where I stand in the UK, I see the two countries have different outlooks on wargaming. The UK has always held its focus on the story, and the mechanic reflecting that over tournament gaming. The US-based games developers, like the good folk behind Magic: The Gathering and Warmachine, seem to be more of a mindset that is about being the best, most brutal gamer possible within the rules. There’s nothing wrong with either of these approaches either. I love both games and the ideologies they carry. It’s just when you try to make either game fit the opposing countries ideas, they don’t come off looking the best because it’s not how they were designed to play.

So when I see people making definitive statements about a game and how ‘it needs to be this way’ it makes me sad. Of course 40k can be competitively played. Just don’t go expecting a game, made by a bunch of geeks in the 80s to facilitate narrative stories with their mates, to be quite as sound, rules wise, as a game built from the ground up to be a lean mean, powergaming machine.

Accept the differences. Embrace them. House rule things you don’t like within your own group if they will let you by all means. Just don’t expect people everywhere to agree to your opinions just because it’s what you believe and what you want.

It’s all a part of diversity, of growing up and becoming a bit more of an adult to accept that perhaps you don’t know everything and that’s okay.

Perhaps that should be the new addendum to what everyone types. It would sure make things a bit easier on everyone.

Well, at least in my opinion.

You can find the author Reece on Twitter. He’s lonely and self-aware enough to write his bios in the third person, so let him know what you think of his writing. Preferably in a way that shatters his fragile ego.

*Oooh, look who did A level psychology!

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19 responses to “Pluralism in Wargaming

  1. I can certainly see what your saying as someone who recently came back to the fold after a good 12 year absence. it does sadden me slightly surely we are all here for our love of the hobby.

    • Ta for commenting squirrelmonkee. I took a look at your blog and you seem to have a similar sense of humour as I do. I hope I can see some more posts from you soon :)

      I grew up in it myself, but not getting the chance to really become a part of the online community properly, I think its allowed me to remain a bit of an outsider and keep a sense of perspective.

      Or I just think too much. One or the other ;)

  2. One thing has surprised me since returning to the hobby nearly a year ago, and that’s the snobbery of (some) fellow wargamers, particularly towards 40k. My first blog post on the subject had a comment welcoming me back to the hobby, whilst simultaneously telling me I should sell my 40k stuff and buy another system!

    Currently I’m building my Dark Angels army, and my purchases so far are 50% practical choice of troops, and 50% models I think look cool and would like to make. Why? Because I wargame for fun, nothing more. Judging by the forums I’ve visited, lots of people have forgotten it’s supposed to be fun.

    In my time back, it’s become clear to me that some feel it’s cool to tell you how they’ve outgrown GW products, or what’s worth using and what isn’t, without stopping to think what they’re saying to those of us that “haven’t seen the light”. Honestly, it’s becoming a little disheartening.

    • First of all, thanks for commenting :)

      As to GW, theres a lot of hate going round for them at the moment. Whilst I don’t agree with many of their practices, I’m not sure the competition is much better or that they would do things differently (the things I hear about PP for example, really scare me), its just that they aren’t as big as GW yet and haven’t had nearly as much exposure, so they don’t have the same number of bad press stories circulating.

      If you enjoy 40k, keep at it man. I’ve played some games this edition and its honestly a lot of fun. I have other systems I play for other types of experiences and that works out the best for me and stops me from having to proclaim how ‘mature’ I’ve become because I play with another companies toy soldiers ;)

      So just ignore what anyone says and play how you like to play if you can, be that in a competitive scene, just with mates having a good time or any mix in between. Thats all that matters in the end :)

      • In general, I do just do my own thing, it’s the only way to keep sane.

        At risk of causing controversy (which I don’t want to do), the very next piece on this blog illustrates the snobbery I commented on.

        ” I was when I was 12 but then I learned the importance of balanced rules and good models so quickly fell out of love.”

        The inference to that sentence is those that like the game and are happy playing it are either under 12, or don’t understand the importance of balanced rules and good models.

        I’m sure it wasn’t the authors intention to pass comment on other peoples choice of enjoyment, or make that kind of inference, but he is kind of saying “it used to be cool when I knew no better”.

        I just wonder what someone new to the hobby is thinking when they read things like this.

      • Well we are all different posters on the shell case Sgt, so we aren’t going to agree exactly on what each other posts.

        I’m not even sure if I will have the same opinion in 6 months time! Such is the nature of change.

        Phil on the whole is a good bloke though and he at least admits his biases, rather than carrying on with the ‘this is superior because it is’ hyperbole that infests the internet. :)

  3. I am an unapologetic advocate for GOT40K (Games Other Than 40k). This isn’t because of hate for GW (their minis are lovely, and their products mostly high quality and reliable, Finecast notwithstanding, if a little pricey). Rather, I consider it a logical extension of GW’s own stated position as a manufacturer of model soldiers that happens to make games.

    I often advise people like SgtBenton to go on collecting their favourite GW army, but to look at other ways to play in the 40k universe besides 40k. There are so many games so much better than 40k with which not only can you use your collection, but can build your collection the way *you* want to, unhindered by a codex or a comp system or what Internet experts say are the “best” choices.

    That’s not to say “don’t play 40k”. 6th Ed is the best edition yet for that gothic spectacle we love, and it has one huge merit: it’s easy to find an opponent.

    But if what you want is to have fun talking exciting stories of war in the gothic madness of the far future, then you can all sorts of fun (dare I suggest *more* fun) if you sometimes play other games, too…

  4. Hey Reece I really like that article. It’s something I’ve been thinking about on and off for years. A case in point is “army comp” scores in tournaments. I’m an Australian gamer, and we have a thriving scene where every tournament has and always had has some for of army composition scoring to limit whatever the local organizer’s idea of “cheese” is. This works for us because it seems like Aussie gamers like a challenge, and we like to know that when we win it wasn’t our list, and we like to include everyone, at the cost of some of the fun of uber-competitive gamers.

    I have seen so many posts on international blogs attacking this idea. Most recently on Bell of Lost Souls. But comp isn’t wrong or stupid, it’s just a local convention. The sad thing is – and this ties into your article above – because of internet groupthink, some Australian bloggers who don’t actually play in events perpetuate this idea that comp is bad, never even trying it and missing out on some great events in their own backyard. It’s sad.

    • Hi beat ronin.

      Sorry I took so long to reply, I read what you typed and as it was late decided to sleep on it. Your post made me look up some of the auzzie gaming scene today, so thanks for taking the time to include your own experiences :). I went out to NZ a few years back and observed the gaming culture there and its nice to see some similarities between the two.

      As for the Bell of Lost Souls, well it seems to be primarily a US site (members wise), which is why it probably has a different outlook on things.

      Are there any big blogs or sites out there, of which Australian gamers post on or form the majority of membership? It would be nice to take in different opinions on wargaming than the predominant British/American voices.

      • Hi Reece, apologies, I took even longer to reply than you did!

        It’s interesting, Australia has a small population that is spread out over a large area, so our gaming community is small but well-connected via the internet. I’d say nearly every Australian wargamer who is involved in the scene at all (i.e. sometimes plays outside their home or their immediate circle of friends) is a member of the Wargamerau forum. It is the main way that events are advertised and that people keep in touch between cities and co-ordinate.

        Even if you never post, it’s worth joining just to find out about events in your area. There is heaps of discussion and a very active buy/swap/sell forum that helps to keep our small but widely spaced gamer community connected.

        If you’re interested you can have a look: http://www.wargamerau.com

  5. Hi, just found your site following a link from House of Paincakes and thought I’d contribute!

    I believe 3++ and Faeit 212 are based in Australia, although both have a large global following and I think 3++ also has US contributors.

    As for the article, great food for thought, so thank you for this!

    It’s easy to assume everyone plays for the same reasons as us, but this isn’t always the case. I try to encourage people to agree with their opponent what sort of game they’re going to play before starting (e.g. competitive, narrative, experimental). Our hobby is supposed to be fun, but as people have different ideas about what fun is, why not try to find other players who like to play the same way as you?

    • Nice to see that the article is traveling :D

      Food for thought on the information about those sites. I shall have to look them up and see if I can see a distinct voice. I the past they seem to have just followed the american lead in my view.

      Its an idea and I think it can help, but at the same time it pigeonholes people. Very rarely do we actually know what we want going into a game. We only think we do. Its only by experiencing we can know. Some of the best games I’ve ever played have been because I went in thinking I wanted one thing and ended up enjoying it because of something else.

      • My last paragraph was a response to your idea about what people should do before starting a game. I don’t know why I missed typing it. Now you see why I need Phil! :p

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