24 October, 2015

A Game about War

I visited the Australian War Memorial yesterday.

It's a sombre place, collecting memorabilia of war not to glorify it, but to help develop the specific stories that unfold during times of conflict. The Australian War Memorial is built in pride of place directly visible from the front door of our Parliament House, to remind politicians that their decisions could lead to the death of their countrymen and women. It is a place of deliberate symbolism and power, but then again so is our entire capital city.

One of the things that struck me was the Hall of Memory, containing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a series of stained glass windows (at the south, east and west).



Youth and Enterprise

In addition to these stained glass windows, each corner of the hall bears a mosaic indicating a branch of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Women's Services.

The whole thing is very ritualised.

It got me thinking about war RPGs, particularly the way that they seem to typically glamourise the action, the valour, the heroics, but rarely touch on the emotions and the PTSD. I accept that I really need to take a closer look at Grey Ranks and Night Witches (even if it is Powered by the Apocalypse, and therefore gets a black mark against it in my book), because it seems that these two games delve into areas of narrative beyond the typical action hero vibe we typically see the media portray when it comes to war.

I was actually thinking, as I looked at the stained glass, that maybe the fifteen categories of wartime virtue (divided into the three categories of personal, social, and enterprise) might make good attributes, or good traits to hang a system from. But they are a mix of nouns and adjectives, and some of the words are actually antithetical to the disciplined ideals typically seen as aspirations for members of the military...  Independence, Curiosity, Audacity... an officer would rarely see these as virtues in their troops.

On further reflection, some aspects of the hall seem a bit odd.

I also considered, while making my way through the various displays and artefacts, that writing a game about war while not gaving been a serving member of the military would be an appropriation of military culture. Arguably taking this culture as a surface set of narrative elements, would be just as bad as setting a game in a "pseudo-Asian" setting, or setting of natives versus colonials/imperialists. How many game designers out there are writing military RPGs while simply being gun fetishists? How many games actually weave deeper narratives about war and conflict with actual research done into the subject matter (rather than just watching a bunch of war movies)?

How much am I just overanalysing the whole thing?
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