My great-great Uncle Martin (left)
playing chess during the Great War.
These problematic connections extend beyond family and into the history of where we live. Culpeper County was one of the central focal points of the war in the East, though few people hear about it. Armies clashed in two major battles here and innumerable skirmishes. It stands between the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the battlefields of Chancellorsville and the Wilderness in the east, with “Mosby’s Confederacy” to the north. It suffered occupation by Union armies. At a recent convention the Little Guy participated in a kid-friendly Civil War game recreating the Battle of Cedar Mountain, an engagement fought not far from where we live. By sheer chance he controlled half the Confederate forces, so he could identify with the Southern side on a very simple level. Given the recent tragedy in Charleston, SC, and the controversy it caused over flying the “Stars and Bars” (in lieu of more earnest discussion of gun control issues), the concept of identifying too much with the Confederate cause (particularly its association with slavery) has led to some serious family discussions.
With historical conflicts, particularly those relating to us or our family history, I generally wander off into a discussion highlighting the subjective nature of “good guys” and “bad guys.” The pieces on the game board represent ordinary people on both sides who dutifully served their countries – right or wrong in the eyes of history and humanity – often because they had no choice. Maybe they believed their nations’ political rhetoric regarding the war, maybe they simply felt obliged to serve in the military. Regardless of their motives or feelings, they fought, suffered, and died on the battlefield on both sides of the conflict. Even then it’s not such a clear-cut issue, but generally speaking – and at the level of a five year-old – it provides some simple perspective on a difficult subject.
Many games based in reality, particularly historical reality, can raise issues about the “bad guys,” even for adults. In our increasingly sensitive society, we as gamers must sometimes confront subjective viewpoints as they relate to fellow players. I once met a wonderful gamer friend at a convention who declined to play in some of my Heroes of Rura-Tonga games because he was half Japanese; some scenarios I created for that setting sourcebook and adventure collection deal with Japanese use of chemical and biological weapons, experimentation on prisoners, and super-weapons of potential mass destruction. Even cast through the filter of the pulp genre these issues remained understandably touchy for someone of Japanese descent. Regrettably people in our modern society are still conditioned to view the world in a tribal fashion, distinguishing casually or even belligerently between members of “our” nation, religion, political party, heritage, hobby, fandom and others who don’t share our perspectives or beliefs, the timeless distinction of “us versus them.” Occasionally conflict and viewpoints within a game can stir these feelings beyond the bounds of enjoyable entertainment. Even as adults we sometimes prefer to view the world in stark, simplistic terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.”
These remain difficult issues for adults to confront and discuss; doing so for kids in a way they can understand poses an extremely mature challenge to both parents and children. I’d like to think I’ve done an adequate job so far. It’s an aspect of being a gamer parent I’ll need to work on as we continue to explore games, both the fantastical and historical.
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