Home Forums General General The Evocative Dimension of Games

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    Otto Schmidt

    Dear List

    When I was  a wee lad at age 5 my parents too me to see the film “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”

    I was terrified and had to be taken from the theater.

    The movie seemed to real to me that I thought it was actually going to happen and that the squid was going to eat me after it finished with the Nautilus.

    Now, remember, I was only 5 , barely, and this was really the first movie I had seen. I had seen movies on television, but that was the 50’s and that was black and white and confined in a little box, and therefore there were constraints and filters on the experience that limited the reality. But there, in the movie on the huge screen Technicolor, the boundaries of the screen were off out of eyeshot and the images so real and vivid that to a 5 year old it was all too real.

    I think that experience is common to all of us. Further, I think that as we get older we attenuate the reality by certain filters which we gain with maturity which interrupt the signals from eye to brain which insulate us– a bit– from the emotional response of naked fear, or any other emotion.  This is attenuated but not eliminated, and the proof is simply that there are still movies which we watch which can bring us to “the edge of our seat” or which can engage us emotionally such that we feel a slght ripple go through our brain which says “Slow down champ… this isn’t real.”  This interrupts the “flight/fight” response hard wired into all of us which is part of our survival skills. We gain this with age and maturity but  it also is something we know can be short-circuited.  I remember two instances in adult hood where I felt this “ripple”, one was in watching “Das Boot” in the theater, and the other was watching ‘In a Foreign Field”  and it was not a ripple of fear, but of sorrow and yearning and emotion at one scene.

    I think that this emotion is one which we feel and which is central to our appreciation of wargames when we “see” the “Sense of wonder” of an army completed,  or on a nicely done terrain field. It is much attenuated, but I believe that in our minds eye, even though our fore-brain KNOWS we painted those troops and they are not real, the image of them in simulation is enough to trigger “an image of what it must have really looked like” and that is what resonates with in the mind of us all– the mind of  a five year old which does not have the masks and attenuators of the emotion, and which is in the end intensely pleasurable to us, and for which we strive ever more patiently and ardently to paint and model as best we can.  this is an emotion totally devoid of and unconnected to rules, which in fact are the deadly enemy of the sensation, drawing us away from it, drawing our eye “from the object of our desire”  to an intellectual morass  which offers no images and no sensations, only problems.

    I also think this is part of our desire to “beautify” the components we use even to the point of game materials and such things as dice and chance cards, all to give an evocative feel, and even a tactile sensation in the act of their use which provides a pleasant emotional response.  Like the “production values” of any movie, the better  the better, and that is one of the reasons for the extensive apathy towards using unpainted figures. They “break the spell” of the scene, which we desperately want to internalize.


    This is important for it means that the allure of war games must ever be on the visual, the sensory, the tactile, and come from outside of us, that is, enter through the senses and not through the “intellectual” aspect of the rules. But there is more to that. It ties in with the idea of the “artistic” or the ‘high art” dimension of gaming.   Thus as with any painting, there is a “coda” behind the painting. That is in the colors, postures, attitudes of figures and how they are composed which tells the story. For example in certain schools or styles a dog is a symbol of fidelity or watchfulness, but should that picture show the dog sleeping, it means that fidelity is asleep and the couple shown down the hall flitting across our field of vision are not man and wife but lovers off having a tryst. This code can change from genre to genre, but the symbols and symbolism are there, and we have a similar coda in our conventions of war game painting, things that mean something which are added as a “tease” and a “lifting the curtain” which again all adds to the vibrancy and currency of the image our eye sees again and again.


    This I suspect is one of the great pleasures of gaming and it must be one which never seems to tire.



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