Sunday, August 21, 2005

Diversity in the hobby

I write in a month when anti-diversity campaigners have started to dominate newspaper letters pages in the UK.
In this case the subject is not wargaming, but a series of attacks on a strawman called multiculturalism.
If the anti-diversity letters are to be believed, it is multiculturalism which caused terrorist bombs to explode in London 5 weeks ago.

There is no doubt a portion of the British population who hark back to a "Good old days" which they fondly remember, and may still be preserved in the bar of their local golf club.
These individuals are frequently caricatured as Colonel Blimp characters.
The current trend has followed a rather more subtle form, which I expect emanates from media magnates who see time to stir some trouble.
(Be patient, I'm coming on to wargames - but the rhetorical device of our newspapers is for once sufficiently subtle to merit further reading).

A day or so after the London bombings, prime minister Blair - however you regared him as a politician, he has a gift for turning a growing mood into a headline phrase - made statements that we would not change our "Way of life" because of the bombers.
His subject was security measures following the bombing - and was intended to show that life would continue relatively normally. There would not be curfews, lockdowns on suspected areas, and the capital would not become a no-go area. Business as usual might have been used in its place, but sounds rather glib, and lacks the Churchillian graviats.

The old argument is that if we turn ourselves into a police state to defeat the bombers, then the bombers have won. I'm not sure it bears 100% analysis, as a British police state would seem to have few similarities with the Taliban paradise we are led to believe is the bombers' objective.

In a few days the anti-multiculturalists step in shooting down their own strange definition of multiculturalism.
Since then the letters have grown in stridency.
The enemy (they say) are peoples who don't share our "Way of life".
The sleight of tongue is clever if you listen only to the words.
Indeed it is an old political trick to associate a sinister difference with a group before wishing them harm.

In this case the target group are British Muslims, and the writers are non-specific about which aspects of our "Way of life" they fail to meet.
But I am concerned that such a large proportion of my countrymen are unable to distinguish between a way of life which respects individual freedom and conscience, and a way of life which says - do as I do or you are my enemy.

Well in true fashion, that went on for a very long time, and I apologise for the off topic nature.

I opened with it since I believe the same clash of opinions exists in gaming, wargaming or miniatures wargaming. You see we are so multicultural that we cannot even find a standard name for our hobby, or is it a passtime - I know for some it is a way of life - but let us not open that old chestnut again...

Ours is a relatively small hobby, though attending some shows, one is struck by the numbers there. The hobby is served by some medium sized (1000 > employees > 50) suppliers, and a huge number of smaller companies - most of which are amazing for their longevity.
The small numbers are immediately subdivided into many smaller subgroups: Period, Scale, Ruleset. Things come to a point where one is amazed that any gamer is able to locate an opponent with the same interests within travelling distance.

I know that there are certain scales, periods and rules which dominate the popularity stakes.
Ancients, Napoleonics and WW2 appear to be the top periods.
The situation with scales is more diverse, and when it comes to rules, the choice is almost unlimited.

The keyword I believe is tolerance.
In some areas, a local club is a focal point.
A newcomer can either join in with existing games and scales, or turn up with matched armies and see whether there are takers for someting new.
In less well supported areas, there are social groupings (Here I'd include the Napnuts) the social group differs from a club in being more private in its membership, and having less of a mission to expand.
In other areas there are individuals who get together to play as and when their lives permit.

I have met some hardliners in the hobby, who insist on playing only one period, with a favourite scale and a favourite set of rules.
Such people with such a prescriptive wargaming "way of life" are thankfully rare, as otherwise we would struggle for opponents.
Most gamers I know have their preferred periods, like the scales they own, and have an idea about their current favourite rules.
However they realise that flexibility is necessary in order to find opponents and regular games.
They also find it fun to experiment in different periods, and most are keen to look into new developments in scale and rules.
These people have determined that gaming is part of their "way of life", and select and vary their parameters of play according to their own preferences.

I have seen few attempts to impose a monolithic "Way of life" within an active wargames community.
The club campaign requires set parameters and rules - but this is no different to a tabletop game - it would make little sense if my opponent and I lined up our Napoleonic armies, and he then moved and fought according to the Shako rules and I used Empire.
Rules are restrictions are decided by mutual agreement.
The basis is usually decided by "What figures do we have, and what are we willing to acquire", "Which rules do we know and love" and finally "How frequently can we meet up to play out the battles".

I have however witnessed large manufacturers attempting to impose their monopoly of equipment and rules in their own sponsored events.
As I grow old my attitude to this has softened, as sponsors, it would be naive to expect a free ride from a company who has put a lot into organising such an event.
As a younger man, it irritated me to see boys (for this was the target audience) being herded like this - it was particularly painful to witness the exclusion of boys whose budget didn't stretch to the full army list.
I am delighted to report 4 conclusions from the closed tourament format.
1) Boys actually quite like being dictated to - provided they still have the cal on whether the dictator is OK or not by them (And boys have an extensive lexicon to describe the dictator when they turn against him/her/it).
2) The boys who couldn't assemble a proper army from the one true manufacturer did not become eternal pariahs, but were welcomed to the next non-sponsored as though nothing had happened.
3) The large sponsor which attempted to force standardisation is admired for some of its products, but generally reviled for some of its marketing ethics. 5 years on, their brand is not one of choice after the boys have grown up and discovered variety.
4) The hobby moves on, scales and rules come and go. Like society we mix and match in each new generation.

I believe this is a hobby which attracts the intelligent, creative and inquisitive.
We don't all score high on all 3 of the above, and there are a good many intelligent, creative and inquisitive gamers who are sadly lacking in other qualities.

I believe that the best way to ensure an exciting future for our hobby is to tolerate multiculturalism in period, scale, rules etc.
The greater variety of combinations on offer may reduce the odds of our running a long campaing of our exact preferences.
I believe however that the overall effect is to increase the chances of playing an enjoyable game.


Blogger captain arjun said...

An excellent discourse, Horatio!

Makes me reconsider my Darwinist view of the hobby which sees the hobby as groups of wargamers with different likes competing for the limited resources of manufacturer's attention and newcomers to the hobby.

1:16 pm  
Blogger Lord-Horatio said...

I think Darwin has been misrepresented badlt in arguments concering the free market.
Which reminds me of an interesting event in the Southern part of the USA.

I'd been surprised to find banknotes of some denominations printed with their state of origin.
After havign this explained, I produced a few notes from the UK.
I wanted to demonstrate that Scotland has notes produced by a number of different banks, so there is no one definitive design for a £5 etc.
The English £5 drew far more attention as its celebrity portrait is Charles Darwin.
Several of the audience inferred from this that Scotland must be part of the Warsaw Pact.

I thik where a "Marketeers darwin analysis" breaks down, is that there are relatively few big businesses whihc cater to the gaming public.
These are probably driven by market forces, but even they produce some exotica which can hardly guarantee a massive return.

The majority of suppliers and almost all consumers are hobbyists first with a strong idea of what they like.
Such a market has - to date - defied the market researcher and focus group.

I suspect that even the big manufacturers are to some extent limited by their hired artisans.
Sure big company X would like to turn out more lines of special weapons for their dwarf and Orc armies.
But the sculptor is an artist - and his whim is that he will not produce another Dwarf until the snotling unicycling pyramid display team is finished and shipping in blisters.

3:51 am  

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