Friday, 22 May 2020

Game changing

“These games sprang from their deep need to close their eyes and flee from unsolved problems and anxious forebodings of doom into an imaginary world as innocuous as possible.” 

                                                                - Hermann Hesse, Das Glasperlenspiel

This front pages of this morning's newspapers are filled with news of a Covid-19 test which is apparently going to be a game changer. Now a more cynical man than me might think that this sudden announcement by the government was intended to make sure that the media did not instead lead with the embarrassing policy reversal on their immigration bill that they had been forced into by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer; any cynicism perhaps being strengthened by the fact that they said the same thing two months ago and nothing happened. Starmer, by the way, is proving quite an effective exponent of Bismark's assertion that politics is the art of the possible. Ironically, Bismark - just as conservative as, although substantially more competent than, the current UK government - was himself forced into introducing a number of social welfare programmes in Germany under pressure from socialists.

Game changing is something we are all too familiar with in the wargaming fraternity of the lower Wharfe valley. As I have often observed in these pages, it is rare that a game in the legendary wargames room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach ends using the same rules that it starts with. Like me you have probably been thinking of the rather pertinent point that Wittgenstein made in his book "Philosophical Investigations":

"Let us recall the kinds of case where we say that a game is played according to a definite rule.
The rule may be an aid in teaching the game. The learner is told it and given practice in applying it. Or it is an instrument of the game itself. Or a rule is employed neither in the teaching nor in the game itself; nor is it set down in a list of rules. One learns the game by watching how others play. But we say that it is played according to such-and-such rules because an observer can read these rules off from the practice of the game, like a natural law governing the play. But how does the observer distinguish in this case between players’ mistakes and correct play?"

How indeed?

Earlier in the lockdown I had an email from James about a quote he had found whilst reading on the history of wargaming, a quote which coincidentally once again relates to late nineteenth century Germany. It was about rigid Kriegsspiel, that is, Kriegsspiel moderated by strict written rules and dice rolls. Apparently, the game was largely dismissed by most officers prior to 1870 but afterwards gained a following in German military circles. However:

"….it was not due to the rules but rather in spite of them. It is doubtful if there was a single war game in the Prussian Army that was played according to the rules."

He concluded his email by saying that not much changes. It certainly doesn't.

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