The Ballbusch Experience: We’re all in this Together!
It’s no secret that things have been quiet around the reinforced bunker complex and surrounding defensive perimeter affectionately know as the House of Paincakes. But, really the whole wide world of wargaming has become rather quiet of late. Why is rather an open question. However, the fact remains that the great-internet-wargaming-fever of A.D. 2009-2014 has broken and left us all with the sort of foggy hangover you get after a 36 hour bender with a Russian Naval Lieutenant and a couple of British Midshipmen.
We must never forget the importance of presenting a strong, united front
Personally I blame Games Workshop. Granted, that’s rather my first stop for any wargaming related trouble, but I have some (limited) basis for this beyond habit. The news from GW reads like the dispatches of the Hapsburgs in the 19th Century or the Romans in the 4th. The line holds, and the Empire continues its decline.
Now I know nothing about the demographics of the HoP readership, but based on what I know about the authors, coupled with my own sweeping arrogance, I feel perfectly qualified to make some generalizations. Most of the current wargaming generation got their start playing GW games, and/or spend/t a good amount of time playing them. Even for those who didn’t play GW tend to define themselves in the negative, as ‘not-GW gamers’ or ‘serious historical types who don’t mess around with Warhammer’. For 25ish years GW provided a sun around which the rest of the wargaming world rotated.
Obviously, the light from GW is much dimmer, but far from dead. However, Warhammer Fantasy Battle is dead. Yes, it was long ago eclipsed by sexier, edgier, younger sister Warhammer 40,000,but that did not rip it from it’s position atop the GW pantheon. Even for those who didn’t play it the passing of a Grand Dame of the wargaming world has a psychological effect.
For one thing, fantasy gamers, already a contentious lot, have been scattered to the winds and forced to find new games. The long decline of WHFB started this process, but AoS has finished it. Where there was once ‘The Game’ no one game can claim near-universal popularity. Thus, fantasy gamers are in much the same boat as historical wargamers: divvied into dozens of at-times mutually hostile subgroups, each with their own argot.
This isn’t a problem, per se; however, it means that wargamers as a group are in the process of losing their lingua franca. As it disappear things like open internet discussion and megablogs will get more difficult to maintain. By way of example, as much as I enjoy the Infinity-talk around HoP I have almost no clue what’s being said. The unit terms and mechanics are too specific for the layman to divine any meaning from ‘shop talk.’
It’s possible to become fatigued by over exposure, even to things we enjoy.
On the subject of historical games, a similar event occurred nearly a generation ago. throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s Wargames Research Group produced ‘the rules’ and historical games, by and large, accepted the standard. When WRG’s grip loosened, the result as the perfusion of rules we see today. Once that sense of consensus was lost it never returned. I see no reason to assume fantasy gamers will coalesce around another set of rules.
In all likelihood, 40k is doomed to fade in to the same irrelevance as WHFB. Yes, someone will buy the IP, but wargaming is a niche business. Warhammer 40,000: the universe will probably survive the death of Warhammer 40,000: the tabletop miniatures game. And again, that makes for less common ground. I can say ‘Julio-Claudian Legionaries are the MEQs of ancient gaming’ and people actually understand what I mean.
I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the wargaming industry, but informal reports from retailers don’t indicate any shape decline in sales of late. So, the recent silence seems to be limited to social media rather than some sudden collapse of wargaming in general. People are just not talkative.
If there is no common point of reference it become much harder to talk about the hobby with anyone outside your immediate circle. Part of the charm of a hobby is that it offers you a change to interact with people who have nothing else in common with. Because we don’t much in common besides toy soldiers it is very easy, too easy, for wargamers to become insular. HoP alone hosts authors from across the civilized world and Canada. As a general trend, people are far less likely to associate with those of other socioeconomic backgrounds than they were a generation ago. Wargaming and wargame blogging in particular provides us an increasingly rare chancee to engage with those who are and yet aren’t of our tribe.
Without going off in to a complete tangent about theories of social capital, as peoples’ social circles become ever more limited to “people you know from school” and “people you know from work,” hobbies are more important than ever. If wargaming slips back to being expressed on a largely regional or local level something important will be lost.
There is also the matter of our subculture as a whole. While very much its own thing, wargaming is part of a continuum that includes comic books, horror movies, anime, RPGs, and heavy metal. While many of us are relatively function members of society (or can fake it for eightish hours a day), we share interests that mainstream society (depending on your nation and creed) will interpret as something ranging from eccentric to deviant.
For the moment the larger culture is flirting with a sort of nerd chic, but this is very limited and should not be taken as broad cultural acceptance. Things that make a lot of money are now cool, but chic doesn’t extend much beyond that. A similar shift has already happened with video games. Not so long ago the entire pass time was perceived as the exclusive domain of nerds and shut-ins. Then it got more popular and started making more money, which lead to greater popularity. However, this did not translate into universal acceptance, playing things outside of popular franchises (CoD, GTA, etc.), particularly fantasy games, will still earn you sideways glances even from other video gamers.
Heck, I’m not sure if I understand the Fascist Anime Babes Folder.
At the same time–and more seriously–we are entering a period of increasing moral hysteria. Cultural confidence is at a low ebb, which tends to lead to greater dogmatism, and of course, looking for someone ans something to blame. No lesser a figure than Sinsynn has already touched on some aspects of this, so I won’t belabor the details. The unscientific polls I have seen show wargamers to be a politically and socially deserve group. So, I common sense on any issue is unlikely. However, we are a fringe group. As such, we are low hanging fruit.
While under no immediate threat, we do push around toy soldiers for fun. That is a little strange. Further, wargaming can easily be seen to glorify attitudes and behaviors that are a touch out of step with modern sensitivities. Add to that the simple fact that many of the warlords of history had questionable politics, and the potential issues are very obvious. As with everyone who has unusual interests, we should keep in mind that it is much better to hang together than to hang separately.
On the other hand, there is also the matter of fatigue. The last few years have seen kickstaters and related drama. The bloody heights of 40k as a tournament game. The fiery crash of 40k as a tournament game. BF completely breaking Late War. Some sort of Infinity camo mess that I don’t understand. I’m sure something happened in the world of waramhordes, but literally the only person I know of who plays that is Von; as such, I missed it.
After such tumult it comes as not surprise that wargaming talking heads are a little, well, tired. Doubly so as all the drama seems to have come to little result. No grand conclusions were reached, and if anything wargamers are more balkanized now then they were is the old days pre-2008.
What now is there to say really? People continue with their personal projects. New models and games are being released, but market overload appears to have been reached, and the new major Kickstarter every other week has stopped. Big things really aren’t happening. What’s more there is little evidence that we’re on the cusp of the ‘next big thing’.
Much like second edition AD&D before it, Warhammer (both flavors) 1994-2008 was something of an anomaly in RPG-Wargame continuum. For a moment everyone was playing the same game the same way. What we see now is a return to normalcy. there will be numerous games played and roughly as many interpretations of the rules of those games as there are players. This is not necessary a bad thing, but it begets a smaller audience for all related media.
More needs to be done to encourage the notion of hobbyists as wargamers first and foremost and then devotees of a specific game or genera a distant second. Again, I rather tend to blame Games Workshop for creating the Devil’s Own Notion of the “Games Workshop Hobbyist”(tm) rather than the polymath wargamer.
Back during the crazy days of the great wargaming blog boom, which, of course, coincided with the height of 5th edition, there was a sense that wargaming might turn into something more. The fan-held tournaments came close pulling the dead hand of GW management off of beating heart of Warhammer. Obviously this did not come to pass, but the high water mark where wargamers nearly, almost became a self-governing body remains. It is easy to become disheartened, or lose interest in throwing your opinions into the void. However, the dialogue needs to remain open. Maintaining an active on-line community (I know, the word is over-and-mis-used) benefits everyone.