Left of Arc #12 – Morality of Hobby Wargaming

I had planned to post a review about some new purchases under my Inspec-SHAN!! series, however, I felt compelled to write about current world events.  We are saturated with news and stories of the horrific conflict in Ukraine.  Whilst for most of us our hobby is an escape from the real world, it is only right that we pause and think.

Reading and watching how heroic the Ukrainians defence is is getting my wargaming juices flowing.  I’ve recently found myself contemplating rules for skirmish- to battalion-level modern combat at all the main scales; 6, 15, and 28mm.

Reflecting on what we thought we knew of the Russians compared to what we see now, it has been truly astonishing just how bad the Russian military has been operating.  Long thought to be a near-peer adversary in terms of technology and skill, we are finding that their bark is as far louder than their bite.  Failings of command at all levels, woefully poor skills and drills, and hubris for days have exposed the Russian war machine to be little more than an aged husk of hopes and desires.

Yet, there has never been a war like this.  Never has there been such intelligence collection coverage of a conventional adversary, and never has there been such media coverage of a conflict – both from reporters and civilians on the ground to governments and commercial companies releasing information for public consumption.  It’s my firm belief that these two elements, intelligence and the media, have had profound impacts on the outcome of the war.  Without the intelligence, the Ukrainians would struggle to react and Russia would have had the clear advantage of surprise.  Without the media, the Russians would have had far longer to advance and consolidate positions before sanctions hit them – possibly even being in a better position to maintain international support too.

So of course it is exciting to want to wargame all of this!  But then I remember one simple thing; people are dying.  The young, the elderly, the sick, the innocent (and I including the poor Russian conscripts that are stuck between committing atrocities and the brutality of their government, all because of the lies they are fed)… all needlessly.

Considering all this, I find I disgust myself for even thinking about having a fun game based on information and events from this conflict.

Yes, one could have dreamt up this scenario without the need of an actual war taking place. But now there is a war, I find it incredibly difficult to bring myself to want to game the Ukraine conflict or one where NATO gets involved.  I feel like I’m disrespecting the desperate bravery of an entire country fighting for its survival, and indeed its very soul.  Not even during World War 2 did Britain find itself in such a position.  Yes we fought a valiant and desperate battle in the skies, and bombs indiscriminately ruined our cities, but the enemy was kept at a distance beyond the English Channel – we haven’t been invaded since William the Conqueror.

So, if I find it a difficult moral decision to wargame the Ukraine conflict, or even fantasy scenarios based upon it, what does that mean for games set during World War 2, or even the HERRICK Afghanistan days?  People suffered greatly, in some harrowing cases so much so it’s hard to even comprehend.  For me, I honestly don’t know.  I find myself in a terrible dilemma about my ability to reconcile a “fun” activity and knowing the cost that such an activity is attempting to replicate.  Arguably true fantasy settings are far easier to reconcile since there are no (or very limited) real-world comparisons.  But I don’t particularly want to limit myself to those genres.

At what point did it become ok to wargame real war?  When and how will it become ok to wargame the most recent real war?  Why do we game war?

Perhaps for me the “Why?” is about having some sort of connection to what was my career, and what were the wars I never fought.  Wargaming for me as a young ignorant lad has gone from wanting to revel in the glory of combat, to now being an adult and father wanting to tell the stories of why the men and women of our armed forces fight.  Regardless of how cheesy that sounds.  Only now do I have a far better appreciation of just what the costs really mean.  I thought I knew after 11 years of service, but the visceral, desperate and public nature of this conflict has changed that.  I think now I’ll approach my wargaming hobby with far greater care, ensuring the suffering is respected and ensuring that at least I never forget.

Perhaps all this is too serious.  Perhaps this ruins the fun.  But all things considered, perhaps it’s only right we take gaming war with a little more compassion.

This topic clearly stirs emotions.  It hasn’t been written to preach or to enrage, but to generate conversation about what can be considered the most fundamental parts of our hobby – parts I feel we can often overlook.  I hope I have done this respectfully.  I’m more than happy to be challenged, but all I ask is that if you want to engage in the conversation, you do so respectfully too.  Thank you.

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