The question so many people ask me when they find out I am a wargamer is “Why?” I think I confuse them. Outwardly, I fit few of the typical gamer stereotypes; I wear a shirt and tie to work, I’m slightly overweight, but my clothes fit, I bathe regularly, use deodorant liberally, and I am married to a beautiful woman who has never played a wargame in her life. I am a sports fanatic (especially for the Red Wings, Tigers and Wolverines), I play bass in a punk rock/metal cover band, I am comfortable in front of a crowd, and I am not afraid to speak to the fairer sex. However, if you get to know me, you will begin to see the inner geek shining through. I love science fiction and fantasy. In fact, I have written a course on science fiction and fantasy literature and its impact as a literary genre. I have read “The Art of War” for its insight into military tactics, not business. I collect comic books, listen to Rush, can recite the Pirates of Penzance and the Music Man verbatim along with Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi. I enjoy taking quizzes from MENSA. I ardently feel that every lesson one can learn in life can be found in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Get the picture?
I teach in the Michigan public school system, so, aside from the time I spend with my family and friends, I associate mostly with teachers and students. Most people I work with aren’t that surprised when they first learn I am a gamer; it seems that it is a hobby fairly popular among teachers. Several of them tell me that they either played as well or have husbands/brothers/friends that do. However, my students usually are stunned. They see a well-dressed, well groomed, very formal and literate educator in the halls. They know I am a geek at heart, but the whole wargaming thing is another level of geekdom to them. Most of them can’t understand what it actually means to be a wargamer. The phrase “chess with guns” helps some, but others can’t seem to see beyond their own nose. Most simply shrug, file it away, and think, “This guy likes to play with dolls? Whatever. When’s lunch?” Perhaps it has something to do with a teenager’s need to stereotype everyone and a teacher’s training to do the opposite.
So, back to the question at hand; why wargames? For me, there are three main reasons:
1. The fluff. I live for great science fiction and fantasy. Some of the best can be found in wargaming. One of the hallmarks of a great wargame is a fascinating back story for the universe. The “Grim/Dark” future of Warhammer 40K is as rich as anything George Lucas has come up with (minus Jar Jar, I might add). The early Battletech novels are still among my favorite reads of all time. I frequently buy sourcebooks for armies or even games I don’t play just for the reading material. If the fluff is no good, I'll pass.
2. The models. This is the thing that gets most young gamers. Depending on the game system, a player can have dozens of different models at their disposal. The look and detail of some of them is enough to pull in any young boy looking to replace his GI Joes with something cooler. Look at a Space Marine Dreadnought or an Eldar Wraith Lord and tell me that doesn’t make you want to pick up some dice and throw the two of them in an arena together. At heart, we are all just boys with toys.
3. The game itself. Every kid inherently knows how to “play”, but they all do it in different ways. I watch my four-year-old play with my hand-me-down action figures in ways I never thought of. Wargaming allows you to “play” the same game with your friends. What’s more, it gives you very definite rules to follow while still allowing the player to be creative within the scope of the game. It stirs our innate competitive nature and fosters a sense of camaraderie at the same time. Show me a Transformer that can do that! It helps if the system is well written and easy to learn.
There are undoubtedly more, but these are the three that mean the most to me. Each one of these has contributed to my evolution as a gamer. I started playing Warhammer because I enjoyed reading my step-brother’s copy of Rogue Trader and Realms of Chaos, I started collecting Space Marines because I loved their look, and I eventually learned their rules for an actual game against my brother’s Eldar.
Notice that I made no mention of the painting or modeling that goes hand in hand with so many wargames. That is because they are part of the “hobby”, not necessarily part of the game. It is very easy to play a wargame without having ever picked up a brush or a hobby saw. I feel that most kids grow into the “hobby” aspects of the game. They want to be players first, painters later. I’ll cover my own evolution in that regard later. In many ways, it is still happening.
What do you think? What got you into gaming in the first place? Did you follow this path or forge one of your own?