If you are from my generation, you remember the song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” MTV played it back in the days when MTV was focused more on music, and less on stupid drunk people doing stupid things that no one cares about. Yes, I’m a bitter old man, and I’m still in my 30′s.
Our illustrious editor (Fiddleback) recently sent me this link to the new Warmachine video game. I immediately hated it. Why? I think the answer is quite simple from my perspective, but let me introduce you to my line of thought. We first start with the question of: “Why is war gaming so much fun?” The answer has a variety of reasons. People like to destroy things and conquer their enemies in battle. Some people believe they have a bit of Napoleon or Rommel in them, and must try to show their tactical superiority to all who dare face them. Others like to build and paint armies, and place them on a table to show to others. There are even some people who like to play war games for the social interaction one has.
Now, the nice thing about wargaming with other people, is that you quickly find out what type of people you are dealing with. If your opponent destroys you, but shakes your hand and gives some helpful tips, it can actually make losing a pleasant experience. If your opponent loses to you, and starts saying how lucky you were, and if he had done this other tactic he would have murdered you… well that is the point where you give him a salute and never play with him ever again.
You see, in war gaming you cannot play with yourself (I’m assuming the editor will insert a joke here [a joke here -ed.] ). Technically, you could play games against yourself if you had two armies, but that just isn’t as much fun. So you have to go out and find opponents and learn to interact and behave in a somewhat civil manner if you wish to continue playing. In my previous article, I noted that certain groups in the 40k community are breaking things apart and there are issues in regards to player behavior. Now you do not have to take my word for it, but look at the comment section on the article, it will show you how many people are unhappy with the community and Games Workshop.
Privateer Press, who produces Warmachine, is a direct rival to Games Workshop. They both have games where you push different little painted pieces of plastic and metal around a table. You roll some dice, and someone wins. This is war gaming in a nutshell. With advances in technology, people have started to use computers for good and bad purposes. Some have created army lists and spreadsheets that allow you to manage and organize your armies and play games quicker. Others have taken those exact same tools and used them to find ways to calculate the army with the numerically highest probability of defeating your opponent. The people who do this kind of exercise, usually are quickly pointed out by the community as being the ones to stay away from.
However, with moving war games to a video game format we introduce a new issue. The human element is removed from the game. Now players will all try to maximize their abilities and play to win. That is not a bad thing, except there will be no personal interaction with other players. On the internet, people tend to act like jerks, just look at my twitter account. This gets taken to a whole new level in the realm of video games. In some sense, people will learn this ‘win at all costs’ mentality, and I’m afraid that it will translate into the realm of war games.
I understand that video games are an important way for Privateer Press and Games Workshop to reach out to current and new consumer bases. At the same time, I really caution them in regards to what a video game can do to their community. If we all are focused on just playing an electronic version of the game, why should I buy all these plastic model kits, glue, paints, brushes, primer, and so forth? Why should I go to tournaments, build armies, and talk with others? In some sense, while the digital age has brought some of us closer together, I think there is a good chance that it can have adverse affects on the war gaming community.
In closing, I note that I have not been in the war gaming community for very long, but that I do truly believe that the personal interactions are what keeps it going. Video games remove all of that, and make it a truly impersonal game format.
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