Historical simulation is weird; alt-historical doubly so

I do not have an opinion on this topic; I’m just thinking out loud here. I don’t have a solid view about how wargamers think about history, or even how I do in this context.

As will be no secret to anyone that knows me, I am a wargamer, albeit more of a prepare-to-wargamer. I paint little metal and plastic models, I build little scenery for their battles, etc. In short, I’m not at all cool, but then if you thought I was:

  • Thank you, but
  • you really haven’t been paying attention so far.

Anyway, so. On the one hand, I have lots of little orcs and ogres and mutants and Cthulhu monsters and so on, but it’s not them I want to talk about today. It’s more, as befits the blog, historical models. Like these guys:

Imex Vikings

 

I seem in particular to have quite a lot of vikings: I have viking armies in 6mm, 15mm, 1/72 and 28mm scales. That is quite a lot.

But I have also played various Late Roman dudes, Crusaders, and occasionally some WWII Brits and Americans.

But playing a game about Vietnam would really creep me out. Or a game about modern-day Afghanistan. I mean, people play them and that’s fine; our creep lines are all in different place. But they would creep me out.

Now, I’m under no illusion about the Viking Age being somehow nicer than Vietnam or whatever. This is just another case of the pirate thing.

(My pitch for this series is that these guys steal a boat and they go around robbing people. And if the people turn out to be Catholics they torture them. No, no, it’s cool, they have cool hats.)

But somehow it’s weird and I don’t like the idea of playing in those conflicts.

Now, this turns very interesting when you get into alternative history. Consider if you will the case of 1938: A Very British Civil War.

Now, this is a series of system-agnostic sourcebooks that posit the abdication crisis erupting into a full-on civil war in Britain, with the anti-Edward Anglican League clashing with the BUF and then various worker’s militias and so on also piling in. It’s interesting to see how people interpret this. For some people, the situation is played as farcical, with the Anglican League being uptight English stereotypes and the BUF resembling Roderick Spode’s blackshorts:

Now, you could say that in one way this represents its own bias: an English Civil War in the 1930s is inherently funny; that stuff happens elsewhere.

But there are some other ones where the scenarios are played a little bit more straight, and these have engendered controversy of their own. For instance, I once read a scenario in which the BUF were raiding a neighbourhood, with their intention being to round up all the minorities and other social undesirables and march them off to the camps. People were very weirded out by that, and I’m not sure I’d want to play that side in a game. And it’s not that I like to play good guys in general — I play bad guys in a lot of games.

So why is that so weird? Is it because it’s closer to home? Many people base their VBCW campaigns in and around the places they actually live, so that could be it? It’s not because it’s something that really happened, which is why people usually explain why they don’t like playing the Nazis but they don’t mind playing worshippers of Khorne the Blood God.

I don’t know. But I think it’s an interesting thing.

Mind you, I love the VBCW concept, and I love the amazing work people do in building their armies. My personal preference would lie on the farcical side of things, but I think it could be a lot of fun to play. Might do it in 1/72, though. Cheaper.

If you want to see more images of, and writeups of, people’s games, you should look at the relevant Lead Adventure forum. 

 

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Historical simulation is weird; alt-historical doubly so

2 thoughts on “Historical simulation is weird; alt-historical doubly so

  1. Just catching up on your blog, as usual good stuff. I chose to leave a comment on this one because I feel similarly. Vietnam and on feel too recent for me. I’ve even started to get a little queasy about portraying the swastika and wondering if I really would feel odd about playing SS or NKVD on the Russian front. As you say, we all have our own lines we will not cross. And like you I’m not above playing the “bad guy” but I’m also not looking to recreate the burning children scene from Alexander Nevsky in my games.

    1. Yeah — but it’s selective, isn’t it? I mean, we all love some pirates gaming, but pirates were awful people.

      Wargaming is really about recreating adventure fiction, rather than history. I think LAF has this idea really clearly.

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