Gaming Below the Radar

To the Editor: I love your magazine! I’ve been in the game industry since 1991, but I’ve been a grognard wargamer since I was a teenager in the 1970s. I wanted to point out a few inaccuracies in the “Les Grognards” article by Allen Varney. First, a minor point, but Strategy & Tactics magazine is now up to issue 232, not 228.

Also, while the number of people in the hobby certainly has declined, the production of new games is even more vital than it was when I first started playing over 30 years ago. In fact, if you do a search for wargames by year published you will see that from 1976 to 1985 there was an average of more than 90 games a year. From 1986 to 1995, it dropped to about 85 a year. But from 1996 to 2005, it jumped to more than 130 games a year! In fact, in just the last two years, the average is over 200 games a year! Granted, many of these are small run, desktop publishing efforts, but companies like GMT, Avalanche Press, Clash of Arms, Decision Games, Columbia Games, Days of Wonder, Eagle Games and Phalanx Games continue to publish numerous high production value, high quality “professional” titles. So, more games on more subjects reaching a smaller audience. It’s weird.

Another thing: If you live in a large metropolitan area such as the S.F. Bay Area, you will find dozens of potential opponents. I’m part of a group of nine gamers who get together almost every week, and I know of several other groups. My group plays the whole range of games, from beer ‘n’ pretzels games that can be completed in one sitting, to the multi-map monsters that take hours for a single turn. As your article notes, the more serious simulation games are amazing learning tools, and as such have found their place in our nation’s military academies and staff colleges.

-David Wessman

To the Editor: First, thank you for another wonderful issue. The magazine has been strong from day one and shows no signs of slowing down. One area that I hope you will start covering more is the international game scene. Having just come back from the Korea Game Conference, I sense that our American insularity and ignorance is hurting this industry.

While personally being relegated to the ever-shrinking grognard ghetto was not surprising, Mr. Tynes’ article, “Why We Fight,” was a depressing eye-opener. Within the past year, I read another article citing that MBA’s leave the degree program with lower ethics than when they enter. And, with the ongoing concern about violence in games, perhaps we should be a little more thoughtful about what kind of a creative industry we are building.

Game creation is an art. However, if it is going to grow as a form, it needs to move past the basest animal goal – kill or be killed. For all of the tools game developers have at their disposal, today’s games emotional range seems to be all the way from “Boo!” to “Argh!” and “Die!”

I’m not advocating censorship, but the philosophy “games for game’s sake” seems pretty thin, given the overall artistic poverty of what is being produced today. While it is a choice to simply follow the bottom line, we all do live in the world and it should have some impact on our work.

Just like with films and books and paintings, you “earn” your right to mature themes with mature artistry – otherwise it is simply exploitation.

-Steven Davis

From The Lounge: I wonder how important wargames are for countries that haven’t got a recent war history. I live in a country that had to fight for its independence, like all countries in North and South America. But that was 200 years ago, and lately we haven’t had any kind of military conflicts. The U.S., on the other hand, has had its share of conflicts in the last 50 years, provoked or not. That leaves a mark on the people that live there, for those who were there physically, or for those who are related to them. Having this in mind, wargames for those people have a different meaning.

For the rest of us, who haven’t been in or lived a war, wargames are just one of the many kinds of games we can play. Do we take them lightly? I don’t know. Games are games, that’s my point of view. But what does it means for someone who was actually there, in the real thing?

-Andrea Appel

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