In a rather good article in the last Wargames Illustrated (I think) Barry Hilton talks about the embarrassment of admitting that you dabble in the dark art of wargaming. (As a friend and former wargamer once said: ‘A paedophile? Thank God! For a minute, there, I thought you were going to tell me you were a wargamer!’). One of the problems, says Barry, is the ‘right on’ brigade who think wargamers are all militarists. OK – that is a muddled and facile bit of thinking on their part but, let’s face it, a lot of wargamers are right-wing militarists. One reason I stopped going to my local club was that – wishy-washy lefty that I am – I was uncomfortable with one long-standing member who liked to wander about bellowing his racist views.
And wargamers frequently don’t do themselves any favours. When Guardian sports columnist Harry Pearson published the excellent Achtung Schweinehund! A Boy’s Own Story of Imaginary Combat, which threatened dangerously to make wargaming cool (or at least something not as unimaginably uncool as it had been) and carried on by thoughtful intelligent types, a couple of months later the organisers of Salute! decided to have SS re-enactors at their event, replete with Adolf Hitler mugs. OK the organisers realised that this had been a bit of a mistake and apologised quickly but – let’s face it – they ought really to have seen that one coming a mile off. One step forward…
And what’s this? Today the world and its dog is trying to get on the bandwagon of paying tribute to the late Nelson Mandela. I get an e-mail, late in the day, from Warlord games who – in a move worthy of the late and evidently lamented Donald Featherstone (who once published an article in WI saying that it was possible to applaud the Amritsar Massacre ‘depending on one’s point of view’, by which one assumes he meant his point of view – otherwise why write that it was possible to hold such an obscene view at all?*) have chosen today to launch their rule-book and plug their product-range relating to … wait for it … The Zulu War.**
Sometimes wargamers really don’t do themselves any favours.
* I’m afraid this lurid comment has always overshadowed my view of ‘The Don’, whatever his contribution to the hobby. Some ‘gamers will doubtless regard my statement as in bad taste but surely not in as bad taste as implicitly acknowledging the validity of applauding the massacre of 1000 civilians.
** While we’re on the subject of Warlord Games’ staggering levels of appreciation for darker-skinned foreign johnnies and their culture check this piece out. It’s supposed to be about ‘German Sikhs’ but we are told (paragraph 3) that ‘Two thirds of the men were Moslem [sic], and the rest Hindu’. Ermmm… So in fact there were no Sikhs then…? All right, I admit that no one expects genius from wargames companies executives but they could at least make a f*cking effort.