Blogger and wargamer JD Glasco wrote a beautiful sad story about the decline of American historical wargaming, in reply to remarks about a decline made by the American wargame designer Sam Mustafa in a podcast.
It’s a very, very long story, maybe too long. Glasco writes at great length about personal experiences, but somewhere he summarizes:
When I stated in the 1980s, historical miniature wargamers were everywhere, even in sleepy southern Arizona. Also, the players were fairly young, in their 20s and 30s.
That continued on in the golden age of American historical miniature wargaming, the 1990s. Even in the early 2000s, I found historical gamers in central Illinois (…) The same was true when I moved to Oregon (…) but not anymore. I also noticed, like Sam Mustafa, that the ages of the players has gotten older and older. When I first started playing games in Salem and Eugene, I was in my early 40s and I was not the oldest and not the youngest, most of the players were about my age. What was missing was the 20 year old crowd.
He now has difficulties to find other historical wargamers and tries to explain why.
There seems to be a balkanization of rules in my area and in some other areas judging by what I read on Internet forms and the like. There are no massively popular wargaming rules (…) Gone are the days where you could say, I play American Civil War and others would ask, Johnny Reb or Fire and Fury? No there is no one left to even ask that question.
He questioned his 16-year old son, who plays zombie miniature games
First, I asked if kids still made plastic models like I did from about age 10 to 14. He said no, he didn’t know of anyone that did, and never saw any old ones in his friends’ rooms (…)
I also asked if any of his friends ever played historical board games. Again, he said no (…) When asked if kids played wargames in some form or another, my son said that some still played computer games, like Civilization, and that some played the first person shooter type of games via game consoles.
He also noted that kids his age still played Dungeons and Dragoons, and that
it was still mostly a social thing, which is something that has not changed. What seemed to have changed is that there are no longer many people making that jump from board games or role playing games to historical miniature wargames. Likewise, those who had been playing historical miniature wargames seems to be declining in numbers (at least in my experience and that of Sam Mustafa).
Glasco mentions a big age gap between the younger generations of gamers and the veterans which is diificult to bridge:
I don’t think it would have been the same if I was a 20 year old and played games with a bunch of guys age 45-65 who had established lives with wives and children and jobs and money. So I can see why there aren’t as many young people coming into the historical miniature wargame hobby today. It is just a bunch of old guys who came in at the right time and enjoyed structural forces that made them prime candidates for the hobby.
Then the beautiful part. The poetry of his blog. The poetry of wargame clubbing:
When I was in my 20s and 30s, gaming was more about the people I played games with than the games themselves. I used to not realize that. In those discussion group questions about why you played games, I would always rank my historical interest and the games first, the social aspect second, but I was wrong.
For me it was about being with my friends, even some that I would not have liked outside of gaming.
We were all sort of sad miserable lots.
We were struggling through school or struggling to get going in our jobs or careers.
We had girlfriends that came and went, and we envied the other guys who had met the wife of their dreams, and consoled the 50% who found out that their wife was not the one of their dreams.
We had enough money to buy beer and wargame figures, but not enough to do other more expensive and more interesting things that we dreamed of, which also left us with plenty of time for all day games on Saturday or Sunday.
We also rarely had real responsibilities like children and major jobs. If one of us did, we would all rally to help that person so that they could still play games.
(…) It wasn’t all about the games for many of us, but those we gamed with. It was the shared experience of being at the same age and having similar experiences that bonded us. The games were just an excuse to get together with each other.
He suddenly understands he’s an old man. Gone are the days of youth.
At age 53, hearing about old guys’ medical issues or political views is not the same (…) Games are fun and the people I play with are great people, but it is not just the same anymore (…)
We are graybeards, and one by one we will decline in numbers, leaving only the hardcore types left to game, and I think most of them are really still trying vainly to recapture the fun they had 25-40 years ago when they gamed with their friends who through shared experiences became their lifelong friends.
But play on and find friends.