Jimmy Maher has some good things to say about wargames (and is kind enough to cite a couple of posts here on ZOI) in his paper “Toward Games That Matter: The Promise and Problems of the Storygame,” read recently at the ELO’s Visionary Landscapes conference. Here’s a quick taste:
Wargames have been published covering virtually every conflict in human history; in levels of complexity ranging from almost childishly simple to bewilderingly complex. Some, such as History of the World, give each player complete control of an empire, and have each turn represent years of real time; others, such as Advanced Squad Leader, are resolved at the level of the individual soldier, and have each turn represent seconds. Wargames have been created to simulate conflicts in hypothetical science fiction or fantasy universes and even professional sports, an interesting example of a three-dimensional game being used to simulate a two-dimensional game. Wargames are not storygames, as they do not in any real sense ask their players to play a role inside their storyworlds; but those storyworlds can be very compelling, and can almost seem to have a life of their own. Although most were designed for ostensible play as two or more player, agonal games, a surprising number of players play alone, moving each side in turn and letting the conflict unfold in their imagination. . . . Given the fascination these simulated worlds hold for their players, the next step – going “inside” these worlds to play roles there, rather than observe from the outside – was perhaps inevitable.
I take up similar issues in an essay that will be out next year as part of the Third Person collection from MIT Press, edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin; I make claims about the significance of wargames as ludic vehicles for narrative or, more properly, narrativity, largely on the basis of procedural granularity—that the intricateness of the typical wargame’s rules and procedures is generative from the standpoint of storytelling, as evidenced by the popularity of so-called “after action” reports retelling game sessions (a tradition that goes back several centuries at least).