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Born Died This article is written by Greg Costikyan. The opinions expressed are his alone, and no other person or organization should be deemed in any way responsible for their expression here. Saturday morning at Origins 77, the national simulations gaming convention, hosted that year at a college on Staten Island by SPI.
Inside the dealer's room, game companies feverishly prepare for the onslaught. Outside, beyond the locked doors, visible through the glass wall of the room, are the gamers, hundreds of them, pressed against the glass. At ten, the doors open, and the hordes pour through, charging into the dealer's room.
Most make a beeline for the SPI table, where they stand, six deep, demanding copies of the new wargame releases, overwhelming the dozen staffers who stand behind the table to fulfill orders. GenCon 96, the largest adventure gaming convention, Saturday morning in the open gaming area.
We browse around, moving from table to table, seeing what people are playing. Perhaps a game of Civilization, or Rail Baron. Oh, here's someone playing a wargame. Why, an out-of-print SPI wargame. The time has come to admit defeat, to say a farewell to hexes.
One might as well inscribe the tombstone: The Wargame, Requiescat in Pacem. Born, ; died Even a few years ago, there was some doubt. As late asfor instance, some claimed that there hadn't really been a decline in wargame sales, merely a dramatic increase in those of roleplaying games; but the claim was fallacious, even then.
And by the present date, the precipitous decline of wargaming is clear, to everyone in the field. Why did it decline? And -- who's to blame?
When you talk to industry professionals about the decline in wargames, they tend to sigh resignedly, and say, "It was inevitable. But I don't believe it for a minute. Wargaming's heyday was the 70s, when America was in the throes of post-Vietnam malaise, when anyone with an interest in military affairs was thought to be a fascistic warmonger.
In the s, military affairs became respectable once more, with the Soviet Union's renewed aggressiveness and the American defense build-up -- yet wargame sales declined.
In the late 80s, Tom Clancy and others established a whole new genre of fiction -- the technothriller, the modern war story, which appeals to precisely the same set of interests and emotions as the wargame. Far from seeing the decline of wargaming, the s should have been its golden age.
Why didn't it happen? One theory is that wargames just got too complex. It is hard to believe that even the most macho of 'I-know-the-rules-so-I'm-better-than-you-you-poor-pathetic twit' complexity enthusiasts play this thing much.
Joe might find a wargame at the local mall -- but it would probably be an older, and simple, Avalon Hill game. And throughout the period of wargaming's popularity, simple games were always available -- the SPI Quads, later the micro and capsule games.
While wargame marketers might have made more of an effort to reach out to new customers, the 'hypercomplexity' theory alone can't explain the industry's decline.
Another theory is 'computer games killed wargames.
Board games are not particularly well suited to solitaire play; computer games are solitaire by their very nature. Computer wargames have, with few exceptions, been derivative and intellectually void; still, their attractions for the avid gamer are obvious.
It seems likely that many board wargamers have drifted off to computer games, and that many younger players who might otherwise have been attracted to wargaming have gone to computer games instead.
But again, this argument does not explain the whole. Few computer wargames match paper games for sophistication, depth, and accuracy. And computer wargaming is a miniscule part of the computer games industry; in that field, the conventional wisdom holds that computer wargames sell to a small, niche market.
And finally, military conflict is by its nature a clash between two opposing strategists, something that solitaire computer games, with their clumsy artificial-intelligence opponents, simulate rather poorly.
Where's the smoking gun? Perhaps we need a little history. In its first four years of existence, Avalon Hill published eighteen games, half of them "general interest" adult games, the other half wargames. The wargames began to attract a following, a group of gamers who looked avidly forward to the next such product.Why is likability even a question?
Why are we so concerned with, whether in fact or fiction, someone is likable? Unlikable is a fluid designation that can be applied to any character who doesn't. Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by a student.
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