Here’s a picture of part of the wargame shelf area of my collection:
Not pictured is a shelf with a few dozen old Strategy & Tactics, Wargamer, and Ares games I’ve collected over the past forty years. And yes, that’s a copy of Stratego: Waterloo on the top left.
I started playing wargames at the age of ten (I recount the story of how I was introduced to them here and how they’re still a part of my life here). Wargames are a big part of how I see myself as a Tabletop gamer. Mainly because of time constraints and lack of opponents, almost my entire life as a wargamer/grognard has been as a solo player.
Now look at the two columns below. What do the organizations in each column have in common?
|9th Level Games|
Alligator Alley Entertainment
Asmodee North America
Atomic Mass Games
Board Game Blitz
Deep Water Games
Evil Hat Productions
Geek & Sundry
Gen Con LLC
Greater Than Games
Green Ronin Publishing
Indie Game Alliance
Indie Game Alliance
I Need Diverse Games
Inside the Box
Lay Waste Games
Level 99 Games
Lone Shark Games
Monte Cook Games
Origins Game Fair
Pencil First Games
Plaid Hat Games
R. Talsorian Games
Steve Jackson Games
Stone Circle Games
Stronghold Games/Indie B&G
The Dice Tower
Thing 12 Games
Upper Deck Games
Victory Point Games
White Wizard Games
Wizards of the Coast
Zombie Orpheus Entertainment
One obvious answer is that the companies in the second column all specialize in conflict simulations games–wargames.
A less obvious answer is that every organization on the left has made some mention of the events of the last few weeks and affirmed that Black lives matter. (The list was compiled mainly by Mike Selinker on Twitter, with some additions by me.) The sincerity and extent varied–some raised money, or shared resources, or made a commitment to being/becoming a better platform for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour’s voices. Others simply affirmed that Black lives matter.
None of the ones on the right have made any public pronouncement at all that I can find with all due diligence, aside from the following declaration on GMT’s “About Us” page:
Also, on June 14, Decision Games posted the following to their Facebook Feed, the only post that did not directly relate to any of their games:
Technically speaking, the first assertion is incorrect. The first national institution in American history was the First Continental Congress of 1774. It was in fact the Second Continental Congress which authorized the forming of the US Army under George Washington.
And while it is demonstrably true that American soldiers have, over the centuries, displayed countless acts of virtue, sacrifice, heroism, the other assertions in Decision Games’ post–about Army’s role in the growth and development of the US, and it function as the lone rallying point around for patriots–are certainly open to debate.
I have wrestled over the past month with how to express my disappointment with the game companies whose games I have bought and enjoyed over the years. They have chosen to remain officially silent on these matters when so many others have not. I don’t know what their reasons are, and I don’t think they owe me explanations. I do know there are lots of justifications/rationalizations for “keeping politics out of games”, especially during these times of pandemic and climate crisis and erosion of political and social norms, where games can provide an escape and refuge.
There are those in the wargaming community who think the statement that people’s lives matter is “political”. They’re right–just not “political” in the sense of “controversial” or “partisan”. Human rights are a political issue, and BIPOC lives and rights are quantifiably and measurably less valued in Canada and the United States in economics, education, and (specific to this moment) in interactions with the police and judicial systems.
But here’s the thing: some of the folks who want to keep “politics” out of games are fine with them as long as they agree with them (see here for a discussion as to how that has been playing out on ConsimWorld, one of wargaming’s biggest online platforms).
All this particularly pains me because one of the big reasons I play wargames is to learn from history. There are so many examples of the consequences of speaking up (or not) to power, from the Greek city-states to Martin Luther to Neville Chamberlain to Rosa Parks.
Interestingly, Decision Games agrees. Check out the second paragraph below from their page on “Why Military History Matters”:
I’m glad we agree that history matters. It just happens that I’ve widened my lens to encompass more than the military part of history, and what I see impels me to act despite my strong inclination to hunker down behind cover. It compels me to act because, as Thomas More says in A Man For All Seasons: “Silence implies consent.” Doing nothing and saying nothing sends a signal that I am ok with the way things are, and I am not. And at a time when many in Tabletop have, for whatever reason, decided to choose this moment to do the same, for others to choose not to do so is a signal as well, which I am free to react to.
In my case it means I will not be buying games from any of those second-column publishers until I get a sense that they’re interested in pushing the needle in wargame culture. For instance, my FLGS opened pre-orders for Imperial Struggle a couple of weeks ago. I’ve waited a long time for this game. All reports are that it is everything I would want from the creators of and as a sequel to Twilight Struggle. But I will not be buying Imperial Struggle. And I can’t tell you how pitiful I think it is that this choice feels like a huge sacrifice for me. Like, “Aww, do I hafta not buy it? Couldn’t I buy just this one?” But no.
To be clear: I’m not calling for a boycott of the game, or its publishers (GMT), or any of the second-column publishers. I’m not telling you to stop buying wargames. But if you’re asking yourself why I bothered writing this at all in the first place, all I can say is that this is just me using this tiny platform to document my thinking. If you find it useful or instructive, great. If not, into the bin it goes.
I believe wargame companies can change and grow. This doesn’t mean changing party affiliation or agreeing to some list of demands. There are at least two wargame publishers (Victory Point Games and Multi-Man Publishing) in the first column. GMT in particular has published many games, like Gandhi, Conquest of Paradise, and Comancheria, that explore alternate narratives and cultures in a respectful and educated way. Publishers know there’s a market for those games even within the traditional wargame community. Imagine how many more games they could sell if they grew the hobby so that people who currently don’t see themselves welcome there wanted to become part of it.