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!

Do we need rumours?

Me on a Saturday night before I’ve watched Doctor Who.

It’s a question that has been bothering me for a while now and not just because Games Workshop has gotten somewhat possessive about their IP of late, to the point where forums are being threatened with legal action if they don’t take down pictures. Now, of course, companies like Games Workshop have every right to want to protect their intellectual property. But it does beg the question: do we actually need rumours?

Because, even if they are going a little crazy with it and shooting themselves in the foot at the same time, Games Workshop are in business with a big company. Universal and the Tolkien Estate could pull their rights to make Lord of the Rings miniatures tomorrow if they don’t keep up with the level of secrecy that is expected of such a partnership. Even though Games Workshop have cut down on leaks, it hasn’t affected their profits, which have remained stable through the past 5 years of economic decline.

But why shouldn’t we have spoilers? Why shouldn’t we, as wargamers and consumers in general, be entitled to rumours or spoilers of upcoming releases? I mean, if you want to get all statistical on my ass its even been proven that the overall enjoyment of something isn’t decreased the more we know about it.

Yes, I did just argue with myself. I’m a very conflicted person.

So why should I adopt a stance against myself of not believing that we should be entitled to spoilers or previews? Especially when the rest of consumer culture, from films; to books; to comics have all taken it upon themselves to start revealing key details about their products often months in advance, to the point where you can piece together the plot of a film by the time the second trailer is out and know if the latest Robin is dead a full month before the issue announcing him is published?

I personally think it’s about managing expectations. Rumours are really hard to quantify, because there’s no way to say they are directly good or bad. Just as rumours can build hype for a company’s releases, they can swing right back around and bite that company in the arse. It can also kill a lot of interest before a product is out.

Remember Elder in the 4th edition? Remember Tau? Those two races had pretty much their entire codex’s up online close to a month before their release. And when the armies were released? The product line flatlined as gamers had already written them off as being not ‘powerful enough’ or whatever shit they come out with to justify their ignorance. Compare this to the new release Tau release? Where all we saw were a few blurry pictures before release? Early reports indicate that GW can’t keep up with demand [Although indications are they’ve been choking off models to Independents – Ed.]

On the flip side, the absence of rumours over the 6th edition Chaos Space Marine codex meant the internet went into overdrive coming up with rumours aplenty, most of which meant that the codex was scuttled upon launch as the reality would never have matched up to the insane demands of the fandom.

So what am I trying to say? I think my indecision on the topic covers my thinking that spoilers are both good and bad for us. They are bad because they can kill any momentum a release can have and, as with most rumours, we never know the reality until we have the chance to get our hands on the finished project. At the same time, they help create this melting pot that we can all join in on and that when the community really comes alive, with house rules, new backgrounds and collaborative projects springing up everywhere. From looking at the stats, it certainly creates some serious traffic spikes on The Shell Case. I suspect it the way almost every other site works too.

Print media in the 20th century got us into the habit of taking the news of yesterday and discarding it for the news of today, to help feed the ravenous need to know more. With the internet, that only accelerated. When everything is instant, we don’t want to have to wait, we want it now. We’re somehow entitled to it now.

That both worries and excites me. But it’s just the way of things these days.