Open Thread and Guestbook

First time here? Leave and comment and let me know what you think of the blog so far. What kind of topics would you like to see discussed here? If you are a ludologist, what do you know about wargames?


  1. E Holmes said,

    January 4, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    I am wondering, apart from the convenience of it filling what is otherwise a terminological gap, why it is you have embraced the term ‘ludology’? It is clear to see that your personal perspective from the rather obscure but nonetheless intriguing vantage of wargaming holds games’ reliance on rules to be centrifugal to all aspects of gameplay. But there is a taint to the term, ‘ludology’ that seems to arise whenever this word is embraced and absorbed wholeheartedly into the dicussion of videogames. This is the idea that the ‘game’ exists as a static object; a set of rules that allows for human gameplay- that gameplay is a product of rules.

    I would draw attention to your latest post on rules, and the idea of ‘human error’ with regard to the rules as they are set out. This suspicious way of understanding unpredictable encounters with rules only reinforces the false concept of the static, complete game-object (that is the sole product of ‘ludology’) that is offended by our unwieldly human inconsistency. The ‘complex rules’ you speak of are actually the same as ‘house rules’ and only serve to further disprove ludology’s impossible position on this subject- games are not static objects but are living, evolving structures that begin and end with human experience and involvement. The rules are always just a stop-over point in understanding the game as a whole. The meaning of play (and gameplay) is thus not some average or hull or game-theoretic optimum drawn between static rules- it is the living action of humans which give the game life to begin with. Games are a human experience and reflect human experience; they do not operate on formal laws existing in any external ‘reality’.

    I apologize for the pointedness of this comment, but I wonder how different game studies might be, now seven years on (give or take) if we had already learned to forget ‘ludology’ and all its baggage. Narratology never really existed; at least not as a true threat to the discipline- but the overzealous, militant response to it haunts us still.

    Kudos to getting the blog up; I envy your holiday work-ethic getting all those posts in. Please don’t hesitate to respond if you have any thoughts.

  2. Matthew said,

    January 4, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the comments. In fact, I think you’ve actually planted the seed for my next posting—hopefully by this time tomorrow!

  3. Stephen Ramsay said,

    January 4, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Fantastic blog, Matt!

    I wasn’t into wargames myself, though I think that has more to do with my ignorance of them. I remember being utterly enthralled with the whole concept when my father bought a copy of Mechwar ’77 (SPI 1975), but I was probably about five at the time. By the time I was old enough to understand a game like that, the PC had come out. I promptly became an Infocom addict, and when I went back to find those a few years ago, I experienced some of the same nostalgia that seems to have swept over you on recalling your days as a grognard.

    I was staggered to read (in “A Farewell to Hexes”) that 90% of all wargames were played solitaire, but man do I get it. Like most shy, socially maladjusted, geeky kids, I had a deep passion for obscure, byzantine little worlds, and there was never anyone around who to share that kind of thing with. If anyone had turned me onto wargames, I would have flunked out of high school (of course, I came pretty close without the added incentive). Lots of little pieces? Maps? Huge rule books? I’m in.

    I realize that this blog is scholarly in nature, but I couldn’t resist commenting on the (anti)social culture that surrounded games of this sort. To an onlooker, a person playing Klondike might seem a cause for pity. The person waiting for a red queen knows better. How much more the teenager trying to win the Battle of the Ardennes?

  4. Matthew said,

    January 4, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Hey Steve!

    Toy worlds sure sums up a lot of the appeal for me. In fact, wargames are maybe as close as *games* come to *toys* in Will Wright’s use of the latter term. Sure, you can play La Bataille de la Moskova competitively, but as one review had it (I’m paraphrasing) “after playing for 15 weekends in a row do you really care who wins?” The truth is that playing wargames often involves a good deal of player cooperation, wresting with the rules in order to produce a mutually enjoyable/satisfying experience with the game. Playing solitaire has its own pleasures, including a kind of immersion I (personally, at least) find it difficult to achieve in face to face play. (I’m not sure if the 90% statistic is documented or not, but it’s certainly a high number.)

    That said, I suspect more games are being played against live opponents now than was the case 20 years ago. The internet is a big part of that, first with play-by-email and lately with some sophisticated platforms that allow for real-time play on shared virtual game boards (some stuff you should check out, actually—reminiscent of the early peer-to-peer work Amit and I did on the Virtual Lightbox. Have a look at VASSAL for starters:

    Anyway, this is where my geekdom comes home to roost—I suspect for me it’s something about the visible, tangible worldspaces laid out on the maps—I’ve always loved maps—and the sheer quality of the games being produced today. Elsewhere hereabouts Greg Costikyan likened the afterlife of wargames to poetry, and I guess that’s also something I have some passing familiarity with. 🙂

  5. William Patrick Wend said,

    January 13, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    Zone Of Influence…

    Via GTA, I recently found out that one of my favorite bloggers, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, has a new game studies blog called Zone of Influence.
    Bookmark to:

  6. James M. Parks said,

    March 11, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    I got back into wargaming about 7-8 years ago after a 15 year hiatus. Through the magic of the internet I found a face-to-face opponent near where I work plus a few local players so now I play 2-3 nights a week. Your posting “The Look” nailed it spot on to me – I have never gotten into the computer versions of any wargames. I love the way the damn things look – especially some of the newer games from companies like the Gamers and GMT. As an amateur military historian I can spend hours poring over the maps, charts, counters and cards and enjoy the game without even playing. The other thing I really like about the “new school” wargames is the card driven engine as developed by Mark Herman and others. Adding fog of war and eliminating the IGO-UGO aspect of gaming really improve face-to-face play.

  7. anon said,

    July 10, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Great blog! I hope you begin to post more! I am starting to get into wargamming and I really appreciate the information that you post.

  8. Major Saikat Bose said,

    August 29, 2008 at 3:31 am


    This is a great blog, especially as much of it is serious stuff. I am into wargaming, and trying to rescue it from the clutches of professional gamers in the army who have taken it off into a wholly unnatural tangent!! I have just found this site and seen some of the matter, and I promise to study it more deeply. Keep it up.