Sunday, 22 June 2014

Wargaming and Fashions

For a while, I have been considering how fashion and social groups have re-modelled the hobby over the years.

Now, I really got involved in the hobby proper around 1980/81; at the start of a decade which was creatively unsurpassed in the 20th century. 

The music (although at the time I ignored much of it) the fashions (ditto) and indeed the gaming hobby was more varied than at any other time. The Cold War was winding down, the drab colours of the 70s were fading to black, to be replaced by vibrant hues. Hair was big, the Baby Boomers had bred and their offspring embraced life, big time.We had Heavy Rockers, Prog' Rockers, Punks, Skinheads, Glams, Goths, Townies, Urban Vagabonds, New Romantics, Mods and probably a few more youth sub cultures that in the befuddled LateSummer Season of life have slipped my mind. 

Whatever your taste in clothes, cause of adult deafness or outlook on life; there was something for you.

Apropos of nothing, I was listening to a documentary the other day, on the topic of organised football violence and repeatedly, there were references to the evolution of fashion on the terraces and more importantly how the 'casual' look came to be the defining style for the hooligans, with football colours and a previous penchant for shaved heads and big boots being cast aside in the 80s in favour of large price tag apparel. It's quite bemusing (for me at least) that you would dress yourself in smart clothes to kick the living shit out of someone, but that is beside the point.

Anyway, once again, that got me thinking about the evolution of specific games or miniatures and how they were taken up by or aimed at a given social group.When I was a lad, it didn't matter. You may have not spoken to someone at school who was not part of your peer group, but down at the games club or local game store, the rivalries went out of the window as more important things such as the latest game or figures were discussed, purchased and collectively simpered over. Then it was back to school, and the faux hatred would continue as before until the next trip to 'holy ground'. 

I believe that it's fair to say that the first truly noticeable divisions, appeared around 1986 when Games Workshop began to really roll out it's Warhammer ranges. It takes very little effort to see that they designed each race with an image that would in general terms appeal to a given group. A prime example of course being the Wood Elves with their tight, striped clothes, outrageously coiffed manes and warpaint. These were targeted at the rock orientated gamers, Dark Elves and Undead were really the domain of the Punks and Goths, and so on and so forth.

In the 90s when I was at the helm of a game store, you really saw a polarisation of the gaming fraternity. You increasingly saw groups of gamers who all looked the same. Many of these were the younger siblings of my own generation and they identified themselves by fashion and carried that over into the types of games they played as a result. 

It was increasingly rare to find groups as varied as they were in the 80s (unless they were established in those heady years). The gaming industry began to take notice and tried too hard to tailor their lines for specific cultural demographic groups. 

It was all quite depressing. The last place where the unconventional was acceptable without struggle was beginning to fall apart. If you doubt me, then ask around, look at catalogues from the time and then go to a decent contemporary games store, and look at the themes and memes on display.

Gaming itself is now something of a fashion victim something which has it's roots in the 90s as I stated previously. Roleplaying was the first casualty, but traditional Wargaming now suffers from having an 'industry' in the same way that RPG's and fantasy developed in the early 90s. 

I was listening to a conversation at a convention recently between traders, who were saying that Wargames Illustrated is only pushing the products of a very few companies which make up the bulk of it's advertising revenue (or indeed their own products, given that the mag is now owned by Battle Front). 

There has been a dumbing down of rules and research and a piling on of eye candy which in the long term will lead to problems. Equally, terrain is becoming cookie cutter in it's look and quality. This year will see a lot of awful WW1 releases, WW2 releases and will lead up to 2015 where we will see a rash of re-hashed Waterloo stuff. 

A couple of weeks ago on the very anniversary of D-Day we saw one company send out a mail encouraging you to re-fight Normandy. This piece of grubbing, crass, commercialism has ensured that company will lose my business permanently - a not insignificant annual sum - because they were unable for one day to show a little tactful respect, instead indulging in their GW roots flogging a horse to the 'nth' degree. 

The fashion for gaming is is becoming bright, simple and cheap; kind of a commercial Kylie Minogue or Janine Melnitz whereas it used to be about care and attention, more akin to Joni Mitchell or Dana Barrett , if I may. 

It's akin to the difference between a night with a high class madam and a 2 minute knee trembler with crack whore. Or so I am informed...

The new generation coming into the hobby are largely lazy and have no drive to research the topics, relying instead on often questionable source books. Equally several 'historical' rule sets bear absolutely NO resemblance to the period they are purporting to portray. 

FOW Vietnam is a prime example. The concept of toe to toe massed battles is absolute bollocks with about two exceptions, both of which were exactly that. If it bears no resemblance at all by design, then it is in fact a fantasy game in the true sense. It's not a 'what if' it's pure fiction. 

There is also trend towards writing 20 pages of text and then adding 60 pages of stuffing and charging a premium for it, which to me is pointless. A few diagrams, and one or two QUALITY bits of eye candy should be enough. The most elegant game systems are often the most succinct. 

In terms of sci-fi and fantasy gaming, the post Cold War era has seen generally dark and morbid; some may say depressing, games. Strewth; if I wanted morbid and depressing I'd go back into the Civil Service and get paid for experiencing it. 

There were faults with the games of the Golden Age, but time has shown that they can still command strong followings, including a new generation of players who have an eye for quality. Whilst everything is pushed at gamers in the style of GW, you will have stifled creativity and reduced motivation to fully explore a period. And what is worse many shops are becoming the whores for the industry pimps. 

How long will it be before we see a return to a more 'inclusive' hobby, where the game comes before the demographic? How long before we see companies being innovative rather than imitative? Oh how I 
yearn for the 'good old days'. Alas, alas...

Or perhaps we will begin to see rival 'firms' of geeks, nerds and gamers 'having at' each other at conventions, anoraks and cargo pants torn and bloody, dice in the gutter, bayonets broken from the loser's latest 'must have' Napoleonic miniatures. 

Of course the government will be obliged to step in, with 'banning orders' from all conventions in the country coupled with stiff sentences of 'repeated weekend trips to garden centres with the wife and kids'  being handed down by the courts, before things return to normal.