Frontline with Philippa Irving

Philippa Irving


A perennial question of wargaming is whether it’s morally justifiable to make a game out of the mass destruction of human life. We first have to ask whether there can be an absolute objection — ‘war games are wrong, judged by an external standard’ — or whether it’s a matter of individual feelings.

Curiously, it’s easier to ignore the moral question altogether if we accept that wargames could be absolutely wrong. All wargames, from Ancient Rome to nuclear war, would be equally wrong because they make a game out of people killing each other. One could then choose to say that if all wargames are equally bad, modern settings are no more offensive than games which depict ancient wars. But people are generally reluctant to admit the logic of this, in their hearts anyway.

The conspicuous thing about most historical wargames is that they don’t take sides, or at least not within the game itself. Many offer a chance to play either side of the fence, and those which don’t usually don’t because of memory restrictions.

Wargames which do take a position are normally the ones which raise objections, and this is fair enough, particularly when the war in question still effects us.

It wouldn’t matter much if a game condoned the Romans in their war with the Carthaginians, but when American software houses produce propaganda about Vietnam it’s time to feel uneasy. Politically slanted wargames represent one side as morally justified: unbiased wargames allow the player to make his own judgment.