Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Does Wargaming Trivialize Conflicts and Perpetuate Stereotypes?

Reading an article on IcV2 concerning Native Americans criticizing a new board game about King Philip's War between settlers and Native Americans, I began wondering if their criticism that the game "trivializes the conflict and perpetuates Indian stereotypes" can be said for wargaming and miniature gaming in general? Learning that wargaming is my hobby, my college students have voiced similar views toward me, and said my hobby is too geeky for them.

Below is the main bulk of the IcV2 press release about MultiMan Publishing's King Philip's War. (You can read the entire release here.)

"A military board game based on the 17th Century conflict between New England settlers and Native Americans known as King Philip’s War has been criticized by some Native American groups who say that the game trivializes the conflict and perpetuates Indian stereotypes."

"According to the Associated Press, the King Philip’s War board game has still not been released.  MultiMan Publishing, which specializes in war games, plans to distribute the game once it gets enough orders to justify production.  The game was designed by Maryland social studies teacher John Poniske, who has already removed a reference in the game’s promotional materials to 'our Puritan ancestors.'"

"In the two-player game one participant wins by capturing and killing the Indian leaders King Philip (Metacom) and Canonchet, while the other can triumph by capturing Boston and the Plymouth colony.  A special die produces different combat outcomes such as ambush or massacre."

I haven't played the game. Then again, I don't think I have to play it to realize that once again a minority group is forcing others to abide by their politically correct views. Still, the issue remains. Do we trivialize warfare and perpetuate sterotypes?

Stereotypes? We Don't Need No Stinking Stereotypes!
Take Western skirmish games, for example. Currently, I am working on a Mexican bandito outfit. How many gamers portray all Mexicans as the "bad guys" in their Western games? Are they fat and lazy while the good white guys are led by John Wayne figures? Replace banditio with Indian. If gaming the Colonial period, substitute Zulu. Or sub in Afgans or Insurgents if playing a modern game, like Ambush Alley. While playing these games, do we trivialize and sterotype these people for the sake of our cheap entertainment?

My gut tells me that some gamers do. I know our hobby, like the rest of society, has its fair share of racists. I've seen and heard them. But they are a minuscule minority. The reality is that the vast majority of wargamers are decent men and women. Yes, our banditios may be a stereotype. Then again, we can say the same thing about our "John Wayne" characters. To me, that is part of the fun of pulp skirmish gaming, to have larger than life stock characters running around the table. Then again, I am the guy working on my all-girl Slaughter Sister gang, named after the twin sisters Mary and Margret (Maggie) Slaughter. Or my Kung Fu School Girl gang. (Am I sensing a disturbing trend in my choice of gangs???)

So we may have banditios or "Injuns" (there is a word for you!) in our games, but we do it all in good fun. After all, in pulp skirmish gaming, what characters are not stock stereotypes?

Trivializing Pursuits
When it comes to all out wargames, such as large-scale WWII or modern armor or even Napoleonic gaming, wargamers do not trivialize warfare. Just the opposite. Of all civilians, we wargamers appreciate the struggles and sacrifices our men and women have made over the decades and centuries so that we may be free today. Gaming keeps their memories alive. When done right, our games actually honor and memorialize their achievements, paying back in our own way the debt we own them. We are not warmongers. We are "peace-mongers." We understand the pain of warfare, admitting that if our tin soldiers were alive we would never "play" such games. We are historians. We argue over historical details so no one can rewrite our history like so many special interest groups and even nations try to do.

In reality, special interest groups trivialize conflicts. By rewriting history in order to cast shame on the brave men and women who fought for our countries, they perpetuate their own stereotypes. For example, some groups paint early settlers as "evil white men stealing land from innocent Native Americans." Is that true? Or is that simply human nature? Didn't Native Americans also war with other tribes to steal land? Well, we'll just follow the lead of special interest groups and ignore that last point, shan't we? We'll forget that power is power, regardless who wields it.

We need to cut through the political correctness if we are to survive as a society and culture. Special interest groups need to sit down with some miniature gamers. They might learn about accurately representing history instead of rewriting it. And who knows. Maybe they even might have some fun as their bandito gang kicks my Slaughter Sister gang's butt across the table? It could happen!

Your Thoughts?
What do you think out this Native American Protest over the game, King Philip's War, and the subject of wargaming promoting stereotypes and trivializing conflicts? Let me know.


  1. Tempest in a tea cup. I agree with your statements, but those that would criticize our hobby would do so, logic or not. To them War=Bad. No exceptions, and gaming about war=Bad.

    Somebody said over on TMP that some of these folks parody themselves with their outlandishness. I am deigned to agree.

  2. Bob,

    I agree with your sentiments. A number of years ago at Bayou Wars (HMGS-Gulf South convention) in New Orleans, Larry Brom and George Carr, Sr. put on a huge Zulu game. They got the officers of the New Orleans Krewe of Zulu to come, some of them in their parade Zulu regalia, to open the game. They were all interested in how Larry had treated the Zulu warriors in his rules (The Sword and the Flame) and appeared to enjoy the opening moves. So there are some "special interest" groups who have seen that we honor all sides when we play our games.


  3. In general I agree with your conclusion, particularly when indulging in one-on-one role play, although with the larger gaming systems there is - if not trivializing - a level of sensitization. While you knock your dead guys over in the street, where are the roads blocked with dead horses in all these WWII games, according to 90% of 20th century war-games everyone was wonderfully mechanized!

    But in the case of this board-game, it is only a small part of a much wider debate, which will take the rest of the century to sort out. The repatriation of bodies/body-parts from museums, leading to the repatriation of artifacts (including the Elgin Marbles), the (in my opinion - ridiculousness) apologies for things done centuries ago, the status of Natives within modern societies and their compensation. Etc...etc...

    Ultimately this complaint has more to do with the rightful feeling of being 'slighted' than any specific problem with playing games, Chess, after all, is a war-game.