Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Internet and Wargaming





For many years I have read TMP each day, particularly the Napoleonic Discussion forum.   I like to think that it helps me to keep in touch with mainline wargame developments, although I sometimes feel that it is dominated by some not very nice people.   I am always careful to keep any contribution I make non-controversial, as I really do not want to get involved in one of the heated discussions which seem a feature of the forum.

Last week I found a discussion about Famous Wargamer Feuds.   It mentioned one between Don Featherstone and Jack Scruby.   It gave the link below and recommended reading 1962


I started wargaming in 1969 and Don Featherstone had a large influence on my hobby through his Wargamers Newsletter and the many wargaming books he wrote.   I also met him in the 1980s when I lived in Salisbury and used to visit his monthly Wessex Military Society meetings in Southampton.  He was a great help when I started planning my Napoleonic battlefield holidays in the 1990s,

In 1969 I was vaguely aware that there had been some disagreement between him and Jack Scruby.  I also recall that there was some bad feeling between the Southampton and London based wargame groups.   However I did not know any details about the Jack Scruby business until I read the link above.

I was aware that Don considered wargame as very much a game, bearing very little resemblance to actual warfare.  I believe he was greatly influenced by his own military experience during WW2.   And as a serviceman myself I completely agreed with him.   In fact I suspect most wargamers with military experience would do so.

So I was not surprised to find that in 1962 Don was a “fun” wargamer, and Jack a “serious” wargamer.   But I was surprised to find that Don did not feel that any articles should be allowed in their joint magazine War  Game Digest which did not agree with his conception of what a wargame should be.

It make me wonder how he, and many other wargame “greats”, would have fared had they been expressing their comments on a forum such as TMP.

Back then one tended to accept written views without comment.  This may well have been because in order to comment you had to take the trouble to write a letter and post it to the writer.  It was then entirely up to him whether it was published or not.  Even if he did it might take months before it appeared in print.

How different now when anyone with a computer can claim be an expert and instantly degrade any comments they do not agree with.   And if they do so in a bullying way then there is a good chance that even if they have no support no one will be brave enough to defend the original comment.

I have no idea how Don would have responded, or indeed whether he would not have been one of the current “silent majority” who disagree but remain silent.  I like to think he would have put his case and defended his opinions, but in a polite manner like the gentleman he was.

It is sad to see how wargame debate has sunk so low in recent years, directly due to the internet.   

Surely no one has gained.



10 comments:

Belisarius said...

I entirely agree , comments should always be kept civil. Views can be criticised but once they descend into personal abuse then you,be lost the argument.

Steve63 said...

An interesting read, I've been a wargamer since the mid 70's and I'm firmly in the "it's a game" camp. I agree that there can be a lot of friction on some boards which I wouldn't go so far as to call bullying but trolling and flame wars can start over the most trivial of "issues".
When visiting forums I always tried to keep it lite, but unfortunately I did occasionally get drawn into some flame wars and in the heat of the moment, posted comments that I'm not proud of.
the main thing that I dislike about forums is the herd mentality, when it seems like the whole membership can turn on someone for the most innocuous comment, so now any criticism no matter how constructive or well meaning is seen as offensive and the herd attacks.
I stopped visiting TMP about 5 years ago and on the couple of forums I still occasionally visit I stick to the industry news and for sale boards. I rarely if ever post a comment.
In the 15 or so years I've been on the 'net forums have changed dramatically, humor seems to have disappeared completely and lively debate is actively discouraged. All in all forums are not very nice places so I now mostly stick to blogs.
Cheers

Robbie Rodiss said...

I've touched on this very point on my own blog several times.I love to re read Don Feathersone's editorials in the old Newsletters because he always called a spade a spade. I think, looking back that his political views were very similar to mine although I was much younger and still feeling my way in life.
As you say, debate is no longer encouraged and any opposing view from the perceived correct view is screamed down. If you persist then one can expect some pretty dire responses. Certainly the Brexit 'debate' opened a whole can of worms, where the so called liberal left showed their true colours as regards democracy. I follow the Guardian opinion pieces every day and frankly a lot of comments from so called educated people make you wonder if the Nazis didnt actually win the war. At the last count the word 'intermeschen' to describe people like me who actually had the temerity to vote against the status quo was well into double figures. Im afraid poor Don wouldn't have a hope nowadays, no matter how sensible his arguments would be. Good post by the way.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Robbie

Like you I always found the Don's editorials most interesting, they were also usually the first thing I read when the Newsletter arrived. I never responded in writing to either his editorials nor any of the articles published. I would not have considered myself knowledgeable enough about the hobby to have a worthwhile opinion. How things have changed, everyone seems to be an expert now.

regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Steve

I know what you mean about the "herd mentality". I guess its safer to agree with the one who shouts louder. It takes more moral courage to side with the apparently unpopular comment.

regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Belisarius

I am sure that you are right about losing the argument when comment gives way to abuse, at least in mature face to face conversation. But on the internet any disagreement often seems to result in immediate personal abuse. Perhaps it is because it is so easy to misunderstand comments online. Without face to face communication it is so easy to cause offense. And the ability to immediately respond means that there is no time for considered reflection. It is a shame that the "herd reaction" mentioned above always seems to support the angry and agressive response to the often quite inoffensive comment. What a shame it is not the other way around.

regards

Paul

Robbie Rodiss said...

I often view the comments that people put on the internet as the acts of a coward, because I honestly most of these people have neither the courage of their convictions or even the intelligence to argue their point of view.People like Don could be opinionated but at least he was prepared to argue his position and people would come to a compromise in most cases. Except of course where the London/ Southampton spat occurred.
I also seem to remember in the distant past, a court case arising out of a wargames tournament. We were very focused when younger wargamers.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Robbie

The internet certainly allows "mice" to become "lions" without having to confront face to face their opponent. It also allows instant reaction and reply, which often results in apparently half considered opinions. For example you often see numerous spelling or grammer errors, despite having easy access to the spell check.

I also feel that simple good manners has now become a thing of the past. You only have to observe how younger people act towards each other and to the general public. They appear unaware of how rude and ignorant, not to mention threatening, they often appear to passing strangers.

It is sad, because good manners is the oil that makes interaction so much easier and pleasant.

regards

Paul

Jonathan Freitag said...

Paul, a very interesting commentary from your keyboard. The feud between Featherstone and Scruby was a revelation to me. I appreciate you bringing this bit of wargaming history to light.

While I have viewed, from a safe distance, a number of the flame wars on TMP, many of the most heated seem to flare-up in the Napoleonics boards. Why is that? I bet we both have our theories. Unfortunately, the result has been that these contests have pushed a number of these 'experts' away from TMP entirely or from responding at all. TMP has become a less useful resource because of this.

I agree that civility in public discourse is important and the internet can provide both anonymity and courage. As for half-considered opinions, well that may be a result of the "instant" society in which we find ourselves today.

In your response to Robbie above, "numerous spelling or grammer (sic) errors" could be a direct result of our internet connectivity. English is not always the primary language of the writer and tapping out a reply on a phone, tablet, laptop, voice dictation, or other device is fraught with the possibility of introducing an unintended error. I know I occasionally suffer from these maladies and autocorrect can be my big nemesis. As you see, it happens despite our best intentions!

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Jonathan

Thanks for your comments.

I have no idea why the Napoleonic boards should produce any more heated discussion than other periods. I cannot speak from experience, because I only have experience of the Napoleonic boards. But I have read that this also happens on the Ancient boards.

I suspect that this type of bad behaviour is general throughout the internet, as opposed to when people meet face to face. It is such a shame, because the internet should provide a safe and friendly space where like minded people can feel free to express their opinions and share their interests.

It is a pity that the "silent majority" to not speak up when this happens. I can understand that most would not want to get involved, and simply walk away. But unfortunately that leaves those who should loudest in command.

regards

Paul