Why I Fight: Play, Games & War

 

play: an activity engaged in for enjoyment or recreation

game: a competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other according to a set of rules

 

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. –Sun-tzu

Games are a form of play. Play can be with the aid of a game or not. Make believe and joshing around are play. Chess and baseball are games and usually also play.

We play for lots of reasons– for fun, to pass the time, to socialize and form connections to others, and so on. We play games for those reasons and others. One of the other common reasons is to win. Some are hell bent on winning, while others are indifferent. Even those who aren’t deeply invested still generally play to win, because the rules of games are tailored to pare down competitors to a final winner. The very structure of most games leads to a winner.

We have come to expect fairness in games. In Monopoly, everyone starts with the same amount of money. In chess, everyone starts with eight pawns, two rooks, etc. In a tabletop miniatures wargame, force size and composition can be determined in many different ways… but it is always equitable. Nobody really expects to walk into a board or miniatures game with guaranteed odds of winning or losing.

But war—real war—isn’t like that at all. Few battles are fair. Indeed, it is a poor commander who seeks a fair battle. Whether by the achievement of surprise, superior forces, high ground, or what have you, the competent military commander seeks every advantage possible. Fighting from a position of weakness only occurs due to incompetence, incomplete intelligence, bad luck, political expediency, or from complete lack of choice in the matter. Soviet military doctrine, for example, considered a 7-to-1 numerical advantage over an enemy to be the normal baseline for attack. They considered 3-to-1 to be the bare minimum condition to even contemplate a battle of choice.

One of the measures of successful command is the ability to force battle upon an unwilling opponent. Better still, it is the cunning to entice an opponent into an ill-considered battle of choice.

Games seldom reflect this reality. This satisfies our expectation of fairness, allows for the reasonable possibility of winning, and fosters competition. But it doesn’t simulate reality. Even historical miniatures wargaming, when otherwise realistic, almost always involves fair matches… usually under contrived conditions.

I’m interested in something else here. The games played during my residency might wind up being competitive, but that’s not what I’m after. Indeed, most of these games will probably be unfair. I want to explore what the outcome of these battles might be, under realistic conditions. I’m not invested in winning or losing. I just want to see what happens.

In this sense, my games at Super G may not actually be games, in the narrow sense of the word. They will be a form of play, occurring with the assistance of a set of rules, and within the confines of certain pre-determined parameters.

Those parameters are already established. The campaign will occur within a specific area of northern Germany. The size and composition of the Soviet and American units is set. Reinforcements, artillery, air defense, etc. are already known. The entire machine will be set in motion with the first game, and will lumber along in whatever direction players take it through the course of the campaign.

I honestly don’t know how it will turn out—whether the Red Menace will prevail or if the Americans will be able to turn back the invading horde. I don’t care all that much which way it goes. I just want to create a history of what happens, albeit an alternate/fictional history.

And there’s something about using play as a mechanism for creating this fiction that I find profoundly appealing.

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