Why I Love War Games

I have always been an avid fan of war games though I have never considered myself a member of any sort of community of war gamers and I have certainly never heard the term ‘grognard’ used to describe anyone. I have met a great deal of people who enjoy war games for a great variety of reasons, many of whom seem to fit the profile of the gamers described in Deterding’s article but not all. I thought it might be of interest to the class to hear why I love war games in order to form a more complete profile of war game players.

I have no special fascination with war or violence. What has always attracted me to war games is their strategy and history. War games are most often the games that require me to use my mind to respond to complex challenges and to outwit opponents towards an outcome not reliant on chance.  War games are also most often the games that incorporate great amounts of history into their gameplay, subject and story structure. Thus the war games that best exemplify these features have always been my favorite to play. I have never been as infatuated with first person shooter war games such as Call of Duty precisely because they lack this emphasis on strategy and history. To me they are just empty fun.

The first war game I ever played was Silent Hunter II, a WWII submarine combat simulator. One of the most popular simulators of its kind, the Silent Hunter series attempts to emulate the precise conditions of submarine combat in this era. The player must chart the course of the sub just as a captain in the era would have, reliant on complex nautical equations to chart their course, primitive weaponry, and early SONAR.  Players are given a mission from a historical event that actually occurred and are scored based on the resemblance of their play to the historical happening. And they must do all this in real time. If Captain von Heizenspeil sailed from Germany to the coast of Great Britain in two days, sunk three transport vessels on their way to France, fired only four torpedoes and escaped an escort of two destroyers on May 3rd 1942, you must do the same in exactly the same way using only your wits. The result is a game of mind-numbing frustration as it may take days just to find your target using only SONAR, and once you have, you will find it almost impossible to sink them as you must target your primitive torpedoes using only SONAR, and in the event you do hit your target you must evade the enemy destroyers as they easily depth charge you into oblivion. This may not sound very fun, but there is a vast community of players obsessed with this game precisely for its historically realistic qualities. And it is this realism that fills the experience of playing the game with something more than just fun. When I play, I feel an intense pride in my achievement far beyond what I would feel if I won a game of multiplayer Halo due to the sheer amount of effort and brain power I have had to exert over so long a time. I know that in playing I have learned a little something about the history of the era. And weird as it may sound, I also feel that I have gained some small measure of empathy for the participants of war. Where other games romanticize war or minimize its terror, this type of game is reliant on rendering every harsh reality of war as well as a game can. After playing this game it is not surprising to learn that the average life of a German U-boat commander was very short indeed and to run even one successful U-boat mission in your entire career was so unlikely that in doing so you would immediately be a national hero. The emotions I feel while playing the game are not unlike those I feel when watching a movie like Apocalypse Now: intense dread and a profound awareness of the horrors of war. To be so moved by a game is rare for me and this quality is another factor which attracts me to games of this type.

Deterding submits no opinion concerning how war games impact our culture, but it not a stretch to submit that our culture’s obsession with war games reflects an obsession or proclivity to aggression, dominance and violence. Perhaps my experience with war games suggests otherwise and this is what moved me to submit my story for consideration.  

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3 Responses to Why I Love War Games

  1. cstabile says:

    My initial reaction is why is it that strategy generally revolves around war and aggression? Why has that been the form it’s taken, that is, over the course of Western (mostly) history? There are board games that involve other kinds of strategy, but you’re right — for people interested in military history, those won’t be as satisfying.

    I’m interested in hearing what others have to say in response to this.

  2. madeleinelw says:

    I’m really interested in your points here. Why is loving war video games any different from loving war novels? Or even loving solid storytelling? We can now play in a similar way to how we tell stories (which is something you and I have spoken of before). There shouldn’t be a stigma with playing an immersive game, even if they are excessively violent or realistic. And there shouldn’t be one because there isn’t really a stigma for enjoying horror movies, or frightening plays. It’s the same immersion, perhaps minus direct manipulation of weaponry in the simulation. But maybe that is the difference. Food for thought.

  3. cstabile says:

    We haven’t really talked about the nature of interactivity and why video games immersive and interactive dimensions seem to make them more impactful than other media . . . Should definitely return to this before the end of the quarter.

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