Now that’s an innocent enough question… I hope most people who read this will get the reference (and don’t get it confused with the Saw franchise), but if you don’t, it’s from the 1983 film Wargames. A film that still ranks up there as an interesting premise, well made, well acted and it’s imbued with that Cold War paranoia – although the BIG fear was “global thermonuclear war”, the smaller fear wasn’t the Russians, it was AI. AI that needed to be shown that there could be no winners before it would stop trying to play the game.
Ironic when you think about the context here…
Hot off the back of Cape St Vincent in February 2015 and The Battle of Jutland in August 2014 we’re now looking at hosting our first Open Day (of sorts) at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. The Dockyard has the V&A War Games exhibition starting on the 27th June and running until the 20th September, so we thought it would be appropriate to hold some sort of event linking to the exhibition.
The War Games exhibit is touring the country and explores the relationship between war and conflict and children’s toys and play. It includes a wide range of toys and games from the past and uses them to reveal the links between play and warfare.
Here’s the official blurb…
“War Games explores the fascinating relationship between conflict and children’s play, providing an insight into the ways toys have been influenced by warfare from 1800 to the present day.
With toys and games including Risk, GI Joe and classic Britain’s toy soldiers, as well as photographs and archive documents, War Games represents differing sides of conflicts from around the world. This thought-provoking exhibition reveals the sometimes surprising links between play and wider attitudes towards warfare, and delves into the secret history of toys as tools of propaganda and espionage.
The exhibition examines war play in four themed sections:
Playing at War
War play is an enduring aspect of children’s imaginative play. It can be physical, or children can use strategy to beat an opponent.
War play is controversial. It is actively discouraged by many parents and teachers, as it is thought to encourage aggression. But aggressive play, a type of active play, is not the same as real aggression, in which a child intends to harm.
Research questioning whether war play and aggression are linked is inconclusive. Fears that they are may come from personal beliefs and assumptions influenced by the pacifist and feminist movements of the last fifty years. War play can also bring benefits. It can help children to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. And it can help them to explore their feelings and understanding of an often violent adult world.
Like real wars, many see war play as being highly gendered, and revealing differences between boys and girls. But to what extent is this true? And what is the role of biology and the influence of society in this?
On the Battlefield
Toys have mirrored the developments of weapons technology, the geographies of new war zones and the creation of new armies for emerging nations.
Changing attitudes to warfare have mirrored a varying appetite for war toys. In more militaristic periods, like the lead up to the First World War, war toys were viewed positively as a part of a child’s broader education. But during conflicts such as Vietnam, widespread anti-war sentiment led to a decline in realistic war toys.
During the 19th century, toy manufacturers used printed images from illustrated news reports to quickly and accurately portray contemporary battles with tin and paper soldiers. 20th century manufacturers such as Corgi dealt directly with the military to produce accurately scaled toy military vehicles.
But war toys carry stronger messages beyond that of accuracy, and can communicate changes in social and political beliefs. Ideas of militarism, nationalism, imperialism and patriotism have all been instilled through toys, games, books and comics.
From Reality to Fantasy
Ideas of futuristic weapons and machinery date back to the 19th century with writers such as HG Wells and Jules Verne. But it was from 1945, in a new atomic age, that science fiction reached a new height in popularity within the material culture of childhood.
Despite growing opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, toy makers and comic publishers harnessed the public’s fascination and fear of the atomic age and the space race. Superheroes, aliens and monsters replaced human soldiers to fight in fantastical battles of good against evil. These were produced for a largely Western market and often strongly alluded to the Cold War.
Protests against the brutal war in Vietnam also saw toy companies shift their attentions away from representing current conflicts. Instead they looked back in time for inspiration to historic wars and battles that were seen as more palatable.
In this period, many toys were made that glorified events as recent as the Second World War, or as far back as those fought by medieval knights on horseback.
Although toys are often thought of as innocent playthings for children, this is not necessarily the case. Toys have been used in warfare in secret, shocking and surprising ways – to train and to influence, to comfort, to heal and even to aid escape.”
So this time around we’re not planning any single large scale demonstration or participation game. What we’re proposing is a room full of all sorts of games that people can drop in and join. Whether it’s chess, Risk, Battleship, Warhammer 40,000, Victory at Sea, Flames of War… It will involve card games, board games, tabletop wargames, sci-fi, fantasy, historical, mass produced and niche games. We’ll set several tables up, get a few like minded people involved and just play games for the weekend.
The dates have been set for the 15th and 16th of August and I’ll post more details and confirm the sorts of stuff that people will be able to take part in shortly. If you want to find out more about the War Games exhibition, there’s a really good Telegraph review here. In the meantime, if you want to actively take part or have any ideas for games that should be included (and please remember the idea is that members of the public should be able to step in and out easily) then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org