Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The 2020 that Might Have Been

 “These so-called bleak times are necessary to go through in order to get to a much, much better place.”

David Lynch

The insanity of the year 2020 certainly gives me cause to reflect on what could have been if the pandemic hadn’t completely disrupted life as we know it. Contemplating these lost experiences helps me comprehend the scope of our sacrifice and look forward to appreciating them that much more should the post-covid future allow us. Among the canceled vacations, game conventions, family gatherings, summer camps, blockbuster film premieres, and routine excursions to relieve real-world stress – disappointments no doubt shared by many – is one gaming opportunity I’d anticipated immensely, one that might still develop and flourish once America learns to responsibly deal with covid-19. But for now it languishes with the “might have beens” of 2020. I’d long planned to develop a “Wargaming History” talk for the local museum and had finally met with the director to pitch it, even had it scheduled on the calendar, when the pandemic shut everything down.

I’ve taken a long time to learn and come to terms with my introverted nature. Maybe I’ve been an introvert all along. Those who’ve met me at conventions might contest this assertion; but in fact the outgoing, public performance required to run games at conventions takes a great deal of energy and concentration for me. I’m certainly becoming increasingly introverted as I get older and our society follows its current course, possibly a reaction to my general fear of a progressively uncivil sector of our population.

For a few years I’ve hoped to manage my introversion so I could volunteer my experience and enthusiasm for wargames on behalf of the local Museum of Culpeper History. It’s a small but engaging museum in the town’s downtown train depot, with exhibits ranging from prehistoric (actual dinosaur footprints you can touch) and early Indigenous American cultures of the region to the Culpeper Minutemen and the Revolutionary War, issues of slavery and discrimination, and, of course, the Civil War exhibits expected of a museum in a Southern town, particularly one in a county which arguably saw more action than any other during the Civil War. The museum hosts numerous gallery talks every year on subjects as varied as its collections (though Civil War topics remain prominent). The current director continues maintaining tried-and-true exhibits but also pushing the bounds with displays ranging from the process of making smoked hams and the intricate art of lace-making to the horrifying lynchings in Culpeper. The education coordinator has expanded offerings over the years to engage children with local history. When my son was younger we frequently attended the preschool “Wee Ones Wednesday” programs with stories and crafts. We even attended an after-school program for elementary school kids right before the pandemic hit.

So for a while I’d been contemplating how to outline a presentation geared toward the Museum of Culpeper History; one I could easily modify for other historical sites and periods should the initial program find success and other institutions express interest. Much of this was finding informative, interesting information about wargames and history while condensing it into an oral presentation. I geared my material toward kids from 4th and 8th grade and their parents along with interested adults. During the first part – around an hour long – I’d examine what wargames are and why we play them; discuss how wargames explore outcomes (with several historical examples); survey a host of Civil War wargames; and talk about some very basic game concepts. In the second part I’d explain and run a brief, basic wargame keyed to the museum’s history (in this case a Civil War cavalry skirmish) fought between two young, willing participants. I prepared a booklet outlining the talk, something I could refer to as a general outline during my presentation and hand out to interested attendees later as a reminder of core concepts and a resource for further exploration. I developed the talk and booklet during breaks from other, more pressing game-related projects (including writing for Hobby Games Recce); it took a while, as I’m much more comfortable immersing myself in preparing a presentation than stepping out of my comfort zone and pitching it to others.

Eventually I grew more satisfied with my preparations and comfortable with the idea of presenting the program in public. It took a good deal of effort to overcome my increasingly introverted nature. But I had a great meeting with the museum director, looked over the gallery area where they host talks, and scheduled a date in late March to give the presentation. If the initial event went well we’d consider repeating it or hosting occasional game days for kids and families at the museum. We also discussed the possibility of hosting a demo game at a museum booth at a public event highlighting community organizations in April. These offered opportunities for me to share both my large collection of toys and my enthusiasm for wargaming and history with young people.

And then the pandemic shut everything down. Oh, I suppose I could port the “Wargaming History” talk to some other format, but that’s a bit beyond my skill set. The learning curve for creating videos is a bit too steep for an old curmudgeon like me; besides, I’m not very capable creating media beyond the printed word. Perhaps I might make the pamphlet I developed available as an online PDF, but it’s extremely brief, little more than an outline and some basic resources. So for now it all remains a huge “might have been” atop the mountain of all the other abandoned plans for 2020.

Of all the activities we put off in 2020 to stay safe during the pandemic, setting this aside was the worst because the disappointment lingers. It represented a huge opportunity to expand my own gaming activities and share them with a wider audience, one that required a considerate amount of effort on my part in breaking out of my insecure, introvert shell. The potential for a “Wargaming History” program might still become realized in the coming year or two if an effective covid-19 vaccine can rein in the worst of the pandemic, if people can realize the importance of self-sacrifice for the greater good of public health, if we can find a way to safely come together in museums and around the gaming tables again.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius

Upbeat Postscript: I desperately try to remain positive in my online presence and interactions, with occasional exceptions like this particular blog post. That said, I’ve found a great deal of comfort reflecting on several experience our family enjoyed just before the pandemic: our family’s holiday trip to Colonial Williamsburg, including attendance at the Governor’s Holiday Ball in full 18th century regalia (courtesy of my wife’s amazing craft skills); a day trip to a regional toy soldier show where my son and I satisfied our urge to find and purchase historical miniatures; and our last gaming hurrah, a long weekend of historical sight-seeing and miniatures gaming at one of our favorite regional conventions, replete with lots of toy shopping, time well-spent with friends, amazing museums, and lots of games (which I’ve previously recounted here). As I look back on all this – and all we’ve since sacrificed – I look forward to a time when we all can truly appreciate new hobby experiences that engage us and enrich our lives.

Charitable Postscript: America’s hellscape response to the pandemic has brought hardship into many people’s lives; likewise many museums are also experiencing financial difficulties. If they’re open at all (depending on local regulations) they’re seeing lower attendance, hosting fewer events, and generally bringing in less money, all with salaries and bills to pay. A recent report from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) indicated as many as one-third of museums across the nation face a significant risk of closing permanently due to financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic crisis. If you value history and the role it plays in enriching our lives (and currently have the means), please donate to a local history museum that needs your help. And if history isn’t your thing, at least please contribute to a charitable organization helping the less fortunate affected by the pandemic, especially as we approach the Thanksgiving and Yuletide seasons when we count our blessings and celebrate the tiny, bright light of hope in this season of darkness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome civil discussion and polite engagement. We reserve the right to remove comments that do not respect others in this regard.