Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Honestly, are wargamers boring?



I was at a non-wargaming event at the weekend which had a goodly number of wargamers present, together with their partners and other non-wargamers.

Someone’s partner set the challenge early on – she didn’t want to be on a table with other wargamers, or if forced to be so expressed the view that conversation should not be allowed to have wargaming as a starting point, or even touch upon it at any point at all. The basis for this, I think, is variously because wargaming isn’t a subject that is encompassing for non-wargamers, or that it is just plain boring.

I think it is possible to take issue with both of these points, but must also concede that there may be merit in the view as well. Men, in particular, can have obsessive hobbies and find it difficult to understand why other people are not equally fascinated by them. I sat next to a competition angler for two years on a project once and they can be every bit as obsessive as wargamers if not more so. As for motor sport fans……

But wargaming does attract obsessive personalities and even tho’ we think we aren’t like that we all have a bit of the rivet counter about us. This might not be actually the counting of rivets or an obsession with hardware specifications but the obsessive way wargamers try to track down every single piece of available information on a subject can border on the unhealthy. The consequent repeating back of that information to someone who is only mildly interested and without any particular context is one of the toe curlingly awful parts of being cornered at a wargaming show. You only have to look at the eye-glazed-over expression on the face of some retailers as a portly t-shirt wearing moves from being a sales prospect to trade stall blocking immovable object explaining why the figures aren’t quite right or recounting some other mind-numbing anecdote.

I think that it is pretty much a universal truth that accounts of games people have played where the minutiae of moves and tactics are explained in mind-numbing detail are of very little interest apart from to the raconteur. With the honourable exception of that game of “Londinium’s Burning” that I took part in with Phil Barker, - that’s a really good story that bears repeating over and over again as it shows me in a really, really good light. Honest it does.

So what passes for interesting conversation amongst normal folk? Based upon my experience as an office dweller of nearly 30 years’ standing it would seems to be Big Brother, Downton Abbey (or equivalent), shoes and hair styles. And if you have blokes in your department football. And more football.

For people who haven’t met for a while it starts with holidays (guilty as charged, your honour), cars, how your children are getting on and as years advance how you are coping with your parents, the divorce and so on. And then what?

This is the point at which mutually shared hobby conversation can be held off no more. With wargamers conversation can go one of at least two ways. Talking about rules sets and figures is certainly boring to anyone who does not use or have an interest in precisely those items even if you are a wargamer, so wives and partners almost certainly have a point there. But once you start to talk about the historical background, that’s a different matter. So much of our world is a consequence of our past. How can you talk about what is happening in the Arab world without understanding its past, particularly its violent past, - not just the Crusades as well. The Mahdi and the Suez Canal have a lot to answer for.  Many wargamers are better informed about our history than the people sharing your railway carriage, regardless of the colour of the newspaper they are reading.  They just don’t realise it, or think that a colour of a cockade is more interesting than the reasons for the war it was worn in or its consequences. Thus we have the conundrum that wargamers could be interesting to non-wargamers if only they understood people a bit better.

What a funny bunch we are.

28 comments:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with that. Large gobbets of my knowledge of history come from Miniature Wargames, Donald Featherstone &c. I have learned from boring folk into comas by now, though, so I realise I need to stop after a minute or two! If I get sucked into discussing "Big Brother, Downton Abbey (or equivalent), shoes and hair styles...[a]nd...football", I might just go a bit crazy after an hour or two!

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    1. Of course, you can always upset people further by pointing out the errors in Downton abbey, if you've been forced to watch it. The point about the history you know is that it is relevant, - we just have to learn how to put it across in a way that doesn't bore people into a coma.

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  2. It could be about social skills? When you have little of import to talk about you have to present yourself better.

    When you think what you are talking about has a lot of import then the value is not in the presentation of the topic, but in the dissemination of the knowledge.

    The trouble is that most people don't think that wargaming has much import. Hence people who talk about wargaming are boring, because they fail to attend to how they are talking about the subject.

    Talking about anything is more about the interaction between two people. The content is just the lubricant. YMMV.

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    1. Wargamers lacking in social skills? How dare you (grins).

      I think one of the things with enthusiasts of any hobby is that the content is everything. It is when you move to talking to non-enthusiasts that you have to consider more the social impact of what you are saying.

      Although as Ford Prefect observed we talk all of the time to stop ourselves thinking.

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  3. I think Ambrose Bierce defined an egotist as 'someone more interested in himself than he is in me'. Or, in our case, 'more interested in their hobby...'

    Wargamers probably come across as boring to non-wargamers because they passion for their esoteric hobby makes them appear uninterested in the latter and their concerns with X Factor, Downton Abbey, football &c. But then the same must surely be true of any enthusiast who cannot master the art of inconsequential chat about other matters when not in the company of fellow enthusiasts? It cannot be unique to wargaming.

    Moral: don't discuss your hobby in any depth with people who don't share your enthusiasm for it.

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  4. I think one of the points I was making was that wargamers don't need to be boring, - their hobby arms them with information that is interesting and relevant and can be used outside of a hobby context. So you can talk about the history, just don't talk about the last game you played.

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  5. I agree wholeheartedly - wargamers don't need to be boring. And just think of all the actuary jokes that make us look interesting!

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    1. I can't beleive you went straight to actuaries without sticking the boot into train spotters or railway modellers first.

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  6. Hi Trebian,
    I know I am a misanthrope, but even so, I think you are over-estimating the intelligence of the average person. If they can't carry on a conversation about subjects with any more depth than fashion, sports and TV, that would seem to indicate that they don't care to learn anything with any more depth, so why do I want to talk to them anyway? So I can talk about fashion, sports and TV? No thanks.

    The other side of that is, you don't dare discuss anything controversial (especially religion and politics) with anyone but trusted friends, or you will wind up in a long, pointless argument with someone who has way more opinions than facts, and is impervious to logic. They know what they know, and facts don't enter into it.

    In my 50-plus years of experience, most people are mercifully free from the ravages of intelligence. I would rather talk to a dedicated hobbyist of almost any non-sports hobby that requires learning new facts and involves some degree of creativity -- even if it is not an area I am intrinsically interested in, they are far more likely to be able to carry on an intelligent conversation.

    Did I say misanthrope?

    Regards,
    John

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    1. John,

      I agree with a lot of what you say, although I think people are a lot smarter than they think they are and you can engage people with subjects other celebrity gossip and TV. After all, Phil's piece de resistance is the history of Italian renaissance art.

      Trebian

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  7. I liked this from Bill Protz's blog... apparently it came from a fortune cookie but hey, it works for me... "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people."

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    1. What size are minds that talk about small people who have ideas?

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  8. So all minds at somme time are Great average and small- but Orwell like some are greater than other- and with more frequwncy. Of course I've been in some deadly tedious conversations with wargamers . These boring dudes have brought me to the brink of bloodsoaked violence, whilst I may delight in historical discussion and debate I don't want to know how the Umptyranian Fusiliers beat the Shytawk Dragoons by throwing 2 sixes at the second battle of Migarridge. That kind of stuff just gets on my wick . Man shall not live by wargaming alone.

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    1. Talking about games can be very irritating. However, the Phil Barker story referred to above is a good one. Ask me about it should we ever meet up.

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  9. To be fair, any conversation you are not interested in is boring. Imagine a war gamer on a table where the conversation is about dressage or dressmaking. I've attended social events at my wife's work where the conversation was all about office politics and people I didn't know.

    As a corollary to that, I went to a BBQ hosted by a wargaming friend of mine. Not everyone there was a wargamers but with those that were I found it a real ice-breaker and had several really fun and in-depth discussions. Far from boring, it made the evening for me.

    The wife wouldn't concur though!

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    1. I think the difference is that dressage & dress making doesn't have a lot of other context. Wargaming with its historical background should do.

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    2. Dressage I can just about do... dressmaking well no. But thats part of the social skills thing nevertheless I agree with the point.
      Also I'm well aware that my hobby is pretty esoteric so don't expect much from "Joe Average" mind you for me its also work so when all the other chaps maon on about how they are oppressed by their boss....

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    3. I can see the point to dress making, but dressage? What's the point in horses dancing?

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  10. Why didn't you just clear off a table and set up a game?

    Surely you had figs in the car?

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    1. It did get discussed. Phil & Chris had four DBA armnies in the boot....

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  11. Just remember to call them 'toy soldiers' and regular folk immediately appreciate that it's eccentric, unthreatening and intriguing.

    Many of them have kids or relatives that have dabbled in Warhammer stuff.

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    1. It's funny how many people let slip that they painted Warhammer stuff "when they were younger". Bloke I work with regretted you can only get plastic ones now.

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  12. Another week, another wedding. This time Graham F and I were the only wargamers on the table. And so it was a key topic and a great ice breaker: the 'civvies' couldn't get enough of it - and we even managed to pass on some local club 'open day' info to one of the group.

    Of course (as always) it was the possibility of recreating actual battles with toy soldiers that fascinated them: I have never yet met an ordinary member of the public who expressed the slightest interest in fantasy or sci-fi wargaming.

    It may be - as I have always found - that history is just much more interesting to ordinary folk ... or it may be that GW's High Street presence means that anyone who is interested in that sort of thing can (and maybe has) already easily dabble.

    Either way, I'm happy to have something to chat about that people seem to enjoy ... military history remains a winning topic.

    The top next topic FWIW was Jimmy Savile, the BBC et al ... and, as it was a wedding, such topics as 'holding hands in Sainsbury's' (given a universal thumbs down! Acceptable for married couples to hold hands, say, when on holiday, walking along the promenade ... but otherwise ...no!)...

    :) Phil

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    1. Maybe it is non-wargamers who have to listen to us a lot find us boring.

      I agree that it does make a great icebreaker, and that historical subjects are the ones that raise most interest, along with "How do you actually do that?", "How many figures do oyu have?" and "How long does it take to paint one?".

      On the fantasy and sci-fi front the interest is directly linked to any common ground the non-wargame may have with the subject. At MK Campaign, which is the show mostly open to non-wargamers, I think that fantasy/ci-fi games linked to shows such as Dr Who attract lot of interest.

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  13. I'm afraid to say I think fantasy sci-fi being interesting to non wargamers is another of those wargamer myths.

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    1. I agree in face to face discussions. My point was about observed behaviour of those games at shows linked to specific nostalgia items like Dr Who.

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  14. 5 years on, does anyone else find it ironic that a wargaming post tagged "boring" has 26+ posts?

    You are a scamp Trebian!

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    1. I think it is still a post worthy of consideration. I hadn't realised it was so long ago.

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