View from the Veranda – Episode 2

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Welcome to episode #2 of View from the Veranda (VftV).

Download Episode 2

Neil Shuck & Henry Hyde are back, discussing more subjects of interest to wargamers.

In this show, we follow up on a listener respone to Episode 1, and discuss one of the possible reasons why gamers do not game historical wargames – the whole issue of the morality and ethics of wargaming.

Is it ever wrong to game a particular conflict? Is it ever wrong to game a particular nation?

This is an emotive and potentially controversial subject, but we hope you enjoy our discussion.

23 Comments on View from the Veranda – Episode 2

  1. So right about the 40k universe being morally bereft! I’m just back into wargaming after probably 20 years. I looked into 40k because it’s so popular, but I couldn’t pick an army that I would want to play. They’re all evil or fascist or evil and fascist. Not to mention the impractical outfits and ridiculous vehicles- shoulderpads and jet bikes? come on… As for your points on who would play the real fascists (ww2 nazis)- correct again. It’s hard not want to play a side (that really had) awesome weapons like 2.0 cm quad auto cannons. No Waffen SS for me, but maybe go with the Grossdeutschland instead. Great podcast, thanks!

    • What do you mean ‘jet bikes are ridiculous’?

      One of my (only) armies for W40K was an Eldar Wind Rider host…the only way you could do the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ properly on a W40K table before the…err Valkyrie…came out 🙂

  2. Good webcast. I’m about 2/3 of the way through and enjoying it enormously! I love discussion of “controversial” topics like this.

    It has really caused me to analyse my own boundaries and motivations in the hobby.

    Looking at it I think I think what causes me “issues” is that this is a hobby I (and presumably others also) do for “fun”. So gaining fun and enjoyment out of anything so gruesome as the real-life pain and suffering of others feels rather distasteful. As a fun-loving gamer therefore I steer away from the more gruesome realities of war and stick to areas where I am totally comfortable. Where I draw the line isn’t so important than the fact that I do draw one. Taking an extreme example: as a quasi-historian I understand the existance of (for instance) war crimes by the Nazis, but I would find it hard to derive “fun” out of gaming a situation involving real life war crimes. On the other hand, gaming an imaginary fictional unit of fascists from the far future conducting genocide against an imaginary barbaric race of Orks (for instance) it is possible to derive fun, because everyone “knows” for instance that Orks enjoy blowing themselves up. The fun is allowed to exist because there is a barrier between the game and reality.

    That barrier can also exist in historical games where units are anonymised or made up or exist so far into the past that they may as well be.

    Now there exists a fine line between not gaming a distasteful aspect of warfare and pretending it doesn’t exist and therefore “glorifying” war.

    As a community I think we largely are guilty of no more than seeking to enjoy the undeniable “fun” aspects of warfare (tactics, machinery, uniforms, pageantry, gallantry, cameraderie, etc.,) while steering away from the areas that are no fun (the mud and the blood, the terror, the death and suffering, torture, shell shock, politics, etc.)

    The uniformed dispassionate observer might see this as being glorifying war, but those of us involved in the hobby know that this is not largely the case – we are all interested in the history and are aware of the horrible realities of war, but simply choose to sidestep them in our games because they aren’t fun and detract from our enjoyment.

    We are engaging in war that is “sanitised” so that it can be fun. Which is not the same at all as pretending war is really a glorious thing overall.

    For me it is an analagous argument to eating a nice steak. I am happy to cook one and eat one and derive great enjoyment out of it, but I would derive no joy from killing the cow, so I prefer to leave that aspect to others, even though I acknowledge that the death of an animal is a necessary part of the process. If in eating a steak I actually had to kill the cow myself, the overall net process would be so little fun I’d avoid it altogether.

    So in the same way, as a gamer I choose to game a particular conflict and selectively represent elements of it that provide fun and remove elements that do not provide fun. It doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge their existance, just that I remove them from the game so that I can enjoy the elements of it that are fun for me.

    For me the boundary lies in using real names and (recent) unit names. I find it crosses my personal boundary to derive fun from the death and suffering of a real “Corporal Jones” who’s memory I can honour, but as a cushy civilian I have not earned the right to exploit. I wouldn’t criticise others who can tolerate such things, but for me I can’t do it. So that means if I wanted to game “Blackhawk Down” (which I acknowledge provides som intriguing tactical challenges worthy of gaming, and potentially some fantastic kit to model) I’d have to somehow “sanitize” it to divorce it from the reality of deriving fun from the real suffering of actual people, many of whom are alive today, and some who died. Somehow fictionalizing the conflict enables me, in my head, to pretend that the gruesome realities were not present (because these are only abstracted models of pretend people I’m moving around and not representations of real people who actually did suffer) and therefore the subject is a suitable one for my conscience to derive “fun” from the process of gaming it.

    That’s my take, anyhow.

    And then of course there are a few nutters in this as in any other hobby. Those that deny the holocaust, or promote extreme ideology and race hatred and get everyone else a bad name. Clearly they are a rabid minority and deserve mockery and opposition wherever they exist. In a communal activity like wargaming we all need to be sensitive and respectful of others, and those that lack such virtues should be educated accordingly! However I am well aware (as I share it to an extent – for instance I have a peculiar fascination with the design of the “Schmeisser” MP38) that there is a massive difference between being fascinated with German military hardware, and even Nazi uniforms, and sympathising with Nazi ideology. I acknowledge that someone can appreciate what they looked like and at the same time despise what they stood for! Just as it is possible for someone to re-enact Viking warfare without being themselves a rapist and pillager!

    All good stuff.

  3. First, a quick thank you to one of the most enjoyable & interesting listens I’ve had in a gaming podcast. I would not have expected to have Jospeh Campbell be unexpectedly dropped into the discussion in a gaming discussion, but then, that’s a shame when I think about it because it really is very relevant to the hobby. Well done.

    I enjoyed how the show made me think about my own reactions and what if anything I would not game for reasons of moral comfort rather than aesthetical choices, etc.

    It is true that fantasy and science fiction are genres that are much more acceptable to play truely evil and vile forces, simply because there is no doubt that it is a fictional world. In 40k for instance I would not play Nurgle because I find them gross, rather than that they are demons out to destroy the universe. Orks however are just as violent and without noble traits, but they are quirky so I like them.

    I think for many people, history, especially history that is older than living generations is nearly as imaginary as fantasy and science fiction, so putting aside the more morally questionable cultural traits such as slavery, decimation, human sacrifice, etc, is more easily done than when gaming in a more modern time period. Some periods, cultures, events, etc are too closely tied to tragic events or hateful beliefs for some people to seperate the difference between game and reality. If in playing a game all a person can think about is a real human tragedy then understandably they’d not be able to have fun with the game.

    I think you are quite right when you brought up that the nazi propoganda of visual art & imagery was very powerful. They knew what they were doing and it still has a draw for people, pulled in by the ‘cool’ look of uniforms, icons, and machine design. Compare it to American propoganda, uniforms and machinery and there’s no comparisson for which is more artistically powerful.
    The Nazi designs create a strong draw for many people, and I think it is the spell of this aesthetic that draws them to want to play these forces in miniature, not anything to do with the nazi ideology, of which we can be thankful.

    For me, I grew up with Star Wars and Indiana Jones, one having nazi-like imagery the other having actual nazi imagery, so I can understand the appeal and see it as the same kind of allure that fantasy or science fiction evil forces create. I think there is also a psychological facination to play the “bad guys” that is likely very healthy… a way to safely explore the darker side of human nature that is in everyone, without actually becoming it.

    That said, while I wouldn’t be so uncomfortable that I wouldn’t play SS divisions, I’d be uncomfortable enough that my preference would be to play something else. I do find the WWII Soviets appealing, though it can be argued they were not much better than the Nazi party. So what is it? Maybe some of it is that Nazi Germany was the agressor in the war and I prefer to play the defender, perhaps its just the social stigma that the Nazis have and I wouldn’t enjoy wondering if a person might mistake me for a modern jack boot idiot.

    The only other thing I can think of that I found too offensive was I once saw a miniatures army styled to be like the KKK. Which I thought was in unthinkably bad taste. Which made me wonder, since they are on par with the Nazis to my mind, so why is one more gaming-acceptable to me than the other? Perhaps the historical distance, perhaps the fact that I live in America and the evil fot he KKK is closer to home than the Nazis and so it’s harder for me to separate gaming aspect from historical relevance, or maybe because I couldn’t for the life of me think of any gaming reason a person would have to make a KKK force other than having a philosophical fondness for them and that turnedmy stomache.

    One last comment I have to make. I got a good laugh when you mentioned the North Africa campaign, because while most people do like the german imagery, the Tiger tanks, for me, I have always liked the British in North Afrcia, and if I ever do make a flames of war army, it will most likely be desert rats centered. I just love the look of the British machines, the universal transports, small scouting vehicles, and even those unusual looking Matilda tanks. I just love them. When I played the board game Tide of Iron I had to play the Brits. So not everyone prefers the German gear, though mind you, my favorite 40k race is orks because of their quirky vehicles, so I’m not sure if that is a compliment or not 😉

    Long winded here.. in closing, thanks for a good & thought-provoking episode.

  4. Great discussion Neil and Henry! Well handled and thoughtful, as I too have always had that tell-tale reflexive pause when gaming gets into WWII SS units, etc.

    Henry: of course the 40k universe is basically morally bankrupt :). But, wasn’t this the original conceit that underlined the orginal fluff? The Imperium is an incredibly cynical piece of fiction and I wonder if somehow this has been lost on GW’s creative staff and fans somewhere in the last 20 years?

    I remember chuckling at a rulebook sidebar that mentioned something along the lines that an “open mind is like an undefended fortress with its doors unbarred.” It’s a bit terrifying that maybe the over the top nature of 40k’s extreme doom and gloom has been lost on the current generation!

  5. Paul Caspall // July 10, 2009 at 05:05 // Reply

    And in the original 40K rulebook there was a nice little sidebar quote that went something like: “Only the insane have strength enough to prosper…only those who prosper truly judge what is sane.” I think back then the black humour was just that – *humour*. Now it seems to be more the *reality* of the setting. I give them credit for the Tau though – their designs are superb. 🙂

    Re: the whole SS thing. That’s a tricky one. For instance, in WW2 gaming there is the obvious “Germans looked better” thing combined with the SS looking even better still. So there’s an instant visual temptation to play them. Then you look at their battlefield record: for the most part, very impressive, esp the original divisions, and of those the 1st-3rd in particular. Morally they were bankrupt. But many wargamers are prepared to overlook the moral bankruptcy/evil because of the battlefield prowess or purely for munchkinism reasons (ie they’ll perform better on the table). When I was researching the 3rd SS Division (largely from a wargaming perspective at the time), I discovered the atrocities along with the combat record. And as a wargamer, the quite incredible combat records of these men – against increasingly dire odds – appealed to me and outweighed the underlying evil. Why? Simply because I wasn’t approaching the subject from a “morality” POV; I was approaching it from a “battlefield prowess” POV. My motivation in researching these soldiers was not to discover their morality or lack thereof, but to learn about their record as soldiers on the field of battle. And it’s this simple motivation that can be lost upon others. All too easily they can become alarmed/angered and jump to conclusions by making connections between a clear interest (on the wargamer’s part) and a clear historic moral evil that took place ‘x’ amount of time ago. Did I start dressing up as a Totenkopf soldier? Err, no. And I was just as likely to play wargames using Huns and Mongols and all kinds of other “bad guys” as I was Spartans and British Commandos and all kinds of other “good guys”. It has more to do with perception and ignorance and judgmental attitudes.

    Personally I don’t have an issue with any “battles” being wargamed, no matter how recent, because it’s a game. Scenarios depicting soldiers hunting for civilians to rape and ethnically cleanse is a whole different other. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen something like that being ‘gamed’.


  6. Very interesting discussion (so far).

    It’s interesting both where we all draw our line, and why.

    I, for example, have a bigger problem with many fantasy armies, and wouldn’t play chaos for many years. Lots of fantasy baddies are setup to be evil from the top general down to the lowest grunt. I don’t think there is room in the ‘fluff’ for plague demons or snotlings to be thrown in jail for not supporting the Big Un.

    A friend of mine will jump at the chance to play communist Russia, and won’t hesitate to play nazi Germany, but won’t play the Confederates. I am not sure exactly why, but I think it relates to public perception. Both communist Russia and nazi Germany are easily defined bad guys in western culture. No confusion. Confederates in the US Civil War, however, have enjoyed what my friend sees as some revisionist history in the last couple of decades. The southern soldier and general are held up a bit as an example of courage in the face of overwhelming odds, etc., and not much is made of the fact that regardless of the political overtones, they knew they were fighting to keep slavery. Because of this, he doesn’t want to contribute perhaps to this misinformation?

  7. Something else that has just occurred to me, that justifies a comment:

    In any representation of a clash between good and evil, someone has to play “evil”. As that’s a given, what’s the difference between playing Sauron, Nurgle, Napoleon or Hitler?

    Another thought on the “playing SS” apologist front: Staling killed more than Hitler did… Yet no-one objects to Russians on the tabletop battlefield!

  8. Thank you everyone for your very thoughtful and considered comments. Neil and I are delighted to get this kind of feedback, and we’ve seen discussions about our latest VftV podcast on other forums too, which is great.

    Paul: I think the difference that I focus on is not between Hitler and Stalin, because I would agree that on that basis, there’s little to choose between them on the ‘monstrous b*stards’ scale! The difference comes in the two ‘philosophies’ they were espousing: on the one hand National Socialism, which was pretty ghastly whichever way you approach it; on the other Communism which, though I would agree that the perverted and corrupted way in which it has actually manifested itself in world politics nearly led to mutual annihilation, was originally intended to be an idealistic philosophy which was intended to treat all men as equals.

    But then, as the saying goes, some animals are more equal than others…

    Actually, I don’t like playing Russians either. The history of the Eastern Front is littered with atrocities on both sides.

    But that, I suspect, is the subject for a quite separate discussion… 😀

  9. Well, this last show has certainly generated a high volume of (very) considered feedback, which to be honest was part of the reason why we chose to go with this subject in the first place.

    It’s always a joy to read our listeners views and comments – whatever they are – and so I too have to express an heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to everyone for taking the time to put finger to keyboard.

    Typically, my favourite feedback comment has been somewhat short:

    “Naval-gazing b*ll*cks”

    …that brought a full-bellied laugh, it has to be said (Thanks Rich!)

    Paul: I too know a gamer who will NOT play Germans, but will quite happily play Russians.
    Indeed strange, and maybe a future digression…

    Thanks again to everyone for your continued feedback – being suitably encouraged, we will endeavour to produce another rambling masterpiece in the near future 🙂

  10. Scott Udell // July 17, 2009 at 01:20 // Reply

    I just spent 20 minutes writing out a post here, only to lose it when my little guy asked to sit in my lap and I had to put my computer down. I don’t have the heart to recreate it, so I’ll just echo others in my compliments on a wonderful podcast–a very worth subject of discussion, one I’m glad you had the courage to take on.

  11. Neal and Henry: Thanks for yet another very interesting and thought-provoking discussion! My own $.02 on the subject is fairly simple: play what you feel comfortable playing, and do not judge others. If there is something that hits too close to home for you to game, then avoid it. I do not hold it against anyone what they choose to game or not game. For me, gaming scenarios, whether they involve named individuals or nameless miniatures, is an excercise in strategy/tactics, not much different than solving a crossword puzzle. It is a mental excercise in which we try to recreate history in order to better understand they situations that occurred in reality. Or, conversely, they are an opportunity to see what might have happened if circumstances had been changed.

    I do have a couple of questions though, which perhaps are rather rhetorical. For those who enjoy gaming WWII but do not want to play the Germans, for example, or those who enjoy 40K but draw the line at playing chaos: Where would you be if your opponents felt the same way?

    Also, in light of the fact that this is a hobby and a form of entertainment, is there a difference between, say, playing a modern combat scenario, such as Ambush Alley, and watching a movie about it for entertainment. I do find it a bit on the hypocritical side for people who would never play a Somalia-themed game, yet will happily munch popcorn and soda during a showing of “Blackhack Down.”

    As always, gentlemen, I heartily enjoyed the podcast, and look forward to many more!


  12. Well,
    I loved the show and thought it was spot on. I am a American Jewish wargamer who will play any side in WWII. The only thing I won’t play right now is what’s going on in Afghanistan or Iraq (got some buds downrange doing it for real in 1:1 scale) ;S To each their own.

    As for the comments about 40K..ON TARGET! That game has some of the most nasty sci-fi societies I’ve ever seen. Sorry, but somebody did story of a bunch of troopers in the GZG universe happily gunning down some Space Marines entitled “Welcome to Ground Zero”. Great story and dead-bang on. None of the races have any redeeming qualities…and the worst part, the 40K “marketing driving fluff” is starting to influence the rest of the industry..I could point out the Jihad in Classic Battletech for example….Ground Zero is a happy bit of a difference here.

    As for me, I love playing Russians…their camo overalls are fun to paint too….

  13. Fat Wally // July 17, 2009 at 21:31 // Reply

    Congratulations Neil and Henry, what an excellent podcast. Real thought provoking stuff.

    I must hold my hands up to having gamed several dubious things in the past, that most gamers wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Eastern Front Partisan warfare (using IABSM) ambush on a force of Germans intent on a village clearance, using Russian civilians and prisoners to clear a minefiled, along with Vietnam (Men of Company B) and Spanish Civil War (‘Up You Cara al Sol’ IABSM SCW Supplement).

    The podcast really got me thinking what I own and what I game, and why and for that I must thank you.
    Although my main period is Napleonics I have a sizeable force for WW2.

    I own a large Waffen SS force which incidentally has no Tiger tanks (- I must be a very rare gamer indeed) and agree that it was bought largely because the uniforms were interesting, and a challenge to paint. Also as my regular opponent kept fielding Allied Elites of US and British Paras. I actually sold off my own Fallschirmjager an US Paras becasue they were too good!

    My main WW2 stuff is thoroughly of an underdog nature; Soviet 1941-42, British infantry 1944, Desert Rats 1941-2, German Infantry 1944-5.

    My Spanish Civil War stuff is largely Republican Militia based.

    My Napleonic collection is large but basically is Austrian, French 1813/4, Bavarian, Saxony 1813 and even though I own Wellington’s much praised Anglo-Portuguese, I actually prefer to play French against them.

    I also quite like being Luftwaffe bombers in the ‘Battle of Britain’ up against RAF Fighter command and the wonderful Spit.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I prefer games where I am definately the underdog and are usually staring defeat in the face. Its more about gaming potential than period.

    There are things I would feel very uncomfortable gaming, anything post 1975 I guess and that’s largely due to the fact that my family served in the Falklands, the Gulf and Afghanistan. WW1 land stuff also leaves me cold (my family lost nine members) There is much more though that frankly just doesn’t interest me much as a gamer.

    I guess I’m a typical gamer in that I’m hypocritical in what I’ll game and what I won’t, but then variety makes for the spice of life, and its all ‘Horses for Courses’.

    Thanks for making me think a bit more.

  14. I quite often paint my figures whilst listening to something like Start The Week. Now, having discovered these podcasts, I have something else to listen to, which I find just as absorbing.

    Some thoughts inspired by the discussion:

    Why game Vietnam? Same reason as any period: because it’s a war. Any period or campaign will have its ‘unique’ features that can attract wargamers. And any war worth the name will have some very unsavoury features, involving atrocities and morally questionable aims and objectives. Unfortunately, too much military history literature concentrates on the pretty uniforms and the battles rather than giving a fuller picture. Wargamers form a very significant part of the market for military history: perhaps here is an area where we can take more responsibility by educating ourselves about a conflict in a more rounded way, and creating more of a market for books that make this possible.

    40K? Agree with Henry. ‘In the future there is only war’. How depressing is that?

    As regards re-enactors, I have always thought our hobby had more in common with railway modelling than re-enacting. It’s about playing with toys, modelling and collecting, and then actually using your toys rather than just putting them on a shelf. Re-enacting seems a whole different universe. I have nothing against re-enacting: as ‘living history’, it has a lot to offer educationally.

    Very best wishes, Keith Flint.

  15. Some one has to play the bad guys!!!

  16. matthew klein // July 21, 2009 at 15:25 // Reply

    Dear neil first i just wanted to say great show . last episode was wonderfull , a great discussion on a topic no other podcast has ever thoght of doing . i am a combat vet serving in the us armys 3rd infantry division 2nd battlion 7 infantry regiment as a infantrymen . i seved during the invasion of iraq in 2003 and again in iraq for year in 2005 . i was awarded the combat infantrymens badge as well as the purple heart . and had seen my fare share of combat . i just wnted to say as a avid war gamer . i do game modern in 20 mm americans vs fictional middle eastern power ( consisting of t 72s , hind ds and all the stuff a big middle eastern super power could dream to feild .) i also game 28mm somilia . as well as ambush alley . soon to get into cold war commander , i just picked up the rules. but as far as the morality its just a abstract game of toy soldiers that i can relate to . nothing more . i like gameing with weapons ive used .my forces are accurate to me .because ive experinced them . wargames dont realistically recreat the horrors of real combat , but mimic a mere shawdow . ive never been approached about the subject of why . but if i was . i could defend it with my experince . there just toy soldiers . and rolling dice , no more no less . keep the great work!!
    sincerly Matthew Klein

  17. In my honest opinion, View 2 was a complete waste of time.

    Before we begin, please allow me to provide the following background information. My father is a disabled Vietnam veteran. My best friend died this year near Mosul.

    A human life is a human life. On one level, the position “I won’t play Afghanistan or Iraq” isn’t about principles or ethics at all. It’s an issue of personal comfort. Otherwise, people taking this position would realize that they are implicitly valuing human life based solely on its proximity or remoteness in time. In other words, kill as many lead or plastic Carthaginians as you care to massacre; they are somehow less human by their antiquity.

    A lead or plastic figure of a current National Guardsman in Iraq is no more or less “real” than his equivalent in Federal blue or Confederate gray. They are all models on a tabletop. By inventing some sort of artificial moral distinction between them, we are granting these models a power and significance they simply do not possess.

    As everyone here is no doubt aware, the entire rationale for the original kriegspiel was preparation for command decisions in actual combat. As such, the Prussians used abstract forms of (then) contemporary troops, formations, and tactics. Rejecting contemporary or recent conflicts as “inappropriate” completely misses the point. The deaths of those men (and sometimes women) are truly meaningless if we learn nothing from them, or even worse, deliberately CHOOSE to learn nothing.

    At this point, I suspect many of you are growing quite cross with me. I’m sure most of you would make the distinction between wargaming for “fun,” as opposed to military training simulations. This approach presumes a bright-line distinction where none exists. A Neil and Henry noted, there is a considerable overlap between wargamers and active-duty servicemen. Similarly, the vast majority of simulations used by the U.S. Armed Forces were adapted from commercial rules sets or software, not developed solely for their own internal use. While it would be a stretch to refer to my wargaming hobby as military training, it would be even less accurate to presume that I find killing fun (yes, even cardboard chits).

    Perhaps I am dead wrong, but the “fun” or “game” of wargaming directly results from its value as a “simulation.” That is, people who play tabletop wargames in favor of say, chess, do so because they are called upon to make concrete choices similar to those made by “real” commanders. By rejecting modern conflicts, the gamer is also rejecting the possibility of simulating the choices being made by his or her contemporaries and gaining real insight on current events.

    This ties into the perspective of most veterans I have known. All of them realize that a civilian will never truly understand the terror and confusion of an actual firefight. On the other hand, they all have a real longing for average folks to at least TRY to understand their experiences. Most veterans do not see wargames as trivializing their experiences, but instead, as providing some insight without risking life and limb.

    If someone doesn’t want to play Waffen SS or Khmer Rouge, then don’t play those combatants. If someone can’t have fun playing the NKVD, then don’t play the NKVD. I certainly wouldn’t presume to tell someone what their preferences ought to be. My point is quite simple: don’t confuse personal gaming preferences with morality.

    “War is an unmitigated Hell. You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”

    – William Tecumseh Sherman

  18. David, I would have thought that the very fact that the show provoked your very thoughtful comments proves that it was not, in fact, a complete waste of time. Moreover, much of what you have written thereafter seems to echo precisely what I was saying in the show, in terms of the validity, perhaps even desirability, of wargaming more recent conflicts to gain some small understanding of what our brave service personnel are experiencing.

    One of your comments was fascinating: “By inventing some sort of artificial moral distinction between them, we are granting these models a power and significance they simply do not possess.”

    I think that one of the interesting things about humans is that in fact, since time immemorial, they *do* ascribe meaning to what, on the surface, might simply be described as artefacts. Arrange a couple of lengths of wood into the shape of a cross and see what happens! And the modern German state still prohibits the display of Nazi symbols such as the swastika.

    There are those who cannot — perhaps even will not — separate the symbolism from what we portray on the wargames table, and whilst that may create limitations on what they are willing or able to learn, that is also, of course, their right.

    Thank you once again for your thought-provoking post and please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your friend.

  19. Paul Caspall // July 22, 2009 at 10:47 // Reply

    Yup, David, the only line in your post I find pointless is the first one you made. After that, you haven’t really said anything stunningly contrary to a good proportion of the points already made. In fact, I agree with much of what you wrote – which makes your opening line seem very odd indeed. Not angry with you, just think your opener missed the boat by a long way.

  20. Dear Paul and Henry:

    I have to admit, that was a case of a “placeholder” sentence being left in by mistake. I wanted something to grab people’s attention, but I did not truly feel that VftV 2 was a “complete waste of time.” As you mention, it obviously engaged me to the point of provoking my post.

    However, I was somewhat disappointed in comparison to VftV 1. My initial reaction was quite negative, if only because we modern folks face many, many dilemmas and compromises every day. For example, a better question to ask many hobbyists might be, “shouldn’t you be taking some of the money you waste on this stuff and using it to feed starving people?” A trite example? Perhaps, but I believe it is still a valid moral question.

    To somewhat clarify one of my points that Henry discusses, I will also admit that a lead or plastic figure has tremendous potential as a symbol. However, my point was that it is not logical to create a moreal distinction purely because one figure represents a contemporary, while another one represents a person from a different era.

    Heidegger once did an incredible little article that discussed the difference between a “sign” and a “symbol.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember the title, and my memory of some of the finer points may even be worse. At any rate, Heidegger’s notion was that a symbol represents some other entity (person, place, idea, etc.), yet people imbue it with the same care as they do the “actual” entity it symbolizes. In contrast, a “sign” represents something else, but only in the sense of imparting information or “pointing” at that entity. As such, people typically do not invest their emotions in a sign, and there is less tendency to confuse a sign with the “actual” entity it represents.

    In my mind, figures, blocks, cardboard counters, or whatever on the wargaming table are signs, not symbols. I could see how the issues become a little murkier with figures, however. A nicely painted figure is also an actual scale model of what it purports to represent. Also, someone had to invest some time and effort into assembling and/or painting the figure. Still, it almost seems to trivialize human life to consider a wargaming figure or counter as a symbol of the real thing.

    I’m not being as clear as I would like, and I may have to give this another shot if I can find that article.

  21. Hi Neil and Henry

    Congratulations on another interesting podcast and just reading through the comments here show that it’s possible to have an informed debate on the morality of wargaming.

    For my view, well it’s simple. I just enjoy painting toy soldiers and occasionally I play a game using them. it doesn’t matter to me what rules I play or what armies I play with as long as I enjoy the company of the people I play with and we can go out for a beer later. Mind you playing games usually has the effect of making me want to learn more about the conflicts I play which is never a bad thing.

    However I just don’t get hung up on whether I should or shouldn’t play a period or an army as it may not be PC, to me they are just play things and a way to spend a few hours not thinking about work, or other real life issues. Some people may think that that is a crass way of thinking but it’s my hobby and it works for me.



    PS I do enjoy an occasional game of 40k so I’m not sure if that makes me a bad person

  22. For me any game is about telling a story. A story where the ending is not yet decided and is to be determined by the actions of the players. The higher the quality of the rules, the more effort put into the painting of the figures and the more care lavished on the scenery the more detailed the story becomes and the more I find I enjoy it. I enjoy it most though when I have a laugh doing it. There are some stories that whilst they may interest me a great deal don’t strike me as funny at all. I enjoyed watching and reading blackhawk down and am in awe of the bravery of those 2 snipers but could only play a game based on their actions if it was conducted with solemn and sober respect. That just doesn’t sound like a fun afternoon of gaming to me. I can see that playing that scenario on the tabletop might give me a better understanding of the situation and I appreciate that people who have been in similar situations have no problem with others playing games based on them. For me though having never been in the military I just don’t feel I would have the right to smile whilst playing that game. That doesn’t sound like fun to me and that is why I keep my gaming to fantasy or scifi. I have no problem whatsoever with the bloody deaths of things that don’t exist.

    As to the depressing nature of the WH40K universe. I would aggree that some of the subtle humour has een lost over the years but I still appreciate what they have done. As I believe Henry pointed out there are financial reasons behind this grim universe. It is true that it is very hard to think of a faction that could be thought of as unblemished good guys, they are all bad in some way or another. It just comes down to your personal preference that makes an army “good” for you. I am sure each faction represents someone’s idea of good and they will be willing to part with the cash to field it. This means that they always get to play the good guys and somebody’s good guys always win. Granted you could view it the other way but are you glass half empty or full? I wouldn’t want to live in the 40k universe and I don’t think any sane adult would but if you want a place to set a game where there is no moral baggage attached you could do a lot worse. Most of the combatants want to die and the rest probably deserve to. Depressing? Yes if it were real. Yes if you get too much in a stretch. But for the occasional story of heroism and derring do it allows me a guilt free laugh.


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