General Hobby – An Essay…. Has my Hobby passed?

To preface my essay, I’d like to say that this not in any way an indictment of what someone else finds value in. The opinions expressed are my own personal perspective and driven by my own personal hobby… so please dear reader I hope you do not take this as a slight against anything that you enjoy. Please continue to enjoy it!

I will begin this story by observing that I appear to be amongst a dwindling population of wargamers.

I hesitate to place labels, but if I were to soul-search I think I would qualify myself as a romantic. During my formative years as a young man experiencing the hobby of miniature wargaming I was captivated by what I can only call the experience of wargaming. It was not anything I had done but the works of others that I was so smitten with. In gaming and comic book shops and at local clubs in basements and community centres I bore witness with growing fascination to these tiny, crystalized worlds where heroic battles took place. I marveled at these tiny soldiers as they marched across blasted landscapes and open fields to lay waste to their enemies. I could see the mud torn into the air by the tiny tracks of tanks and hear the clash of shield on shield as ranked infantry catapulted into their foes. It was inspiring! The detail! The craftmanship! The amount of love poured into creating these scenes was something that completely caught the attention of my young mind and had me whispering ‘This… I want to create something like this.’

And so I tried. I built battlescapes out of Legos and eagerly slathered Testors enamels across lead figures and plastic beaked space soldiers. I pestered these older gamers for advice and help. I made towers out of sour-cream contaiiners and hovercraft out of deoderant tubes with the stolen guns of GI Joes. Crude as my legions were, I was very proud of them and took great pleasure in being able to put them on the wonderfully tables the shops and older gamers I knew had the forbearance to teach me to play on.

Moving ahead two and change decades, that is still the driving force behind my hobby. As an openly polygamerous individual, when I discover a new game or model line I don’t just create a force to play in it. I build scenery. I make little accessories and objectives to play for. And until the forces and setting is complete enough, I do not signal the call to arms. It just isn’t in me. I enjoy the strategizing of any good game. I love testing my wits and having those ‘aha!’ movements were you pounce upon your foe and drive him into the sea. But for me, part of that is the visual portrayal of what we do. It is what sets the miniature hobby apart from board games and video games. We create what we are going to experience and bring it into being.

I have been fortunate in that all of my life I have traveled. Even as a child I have ended up in far flung and different communities in Asia, Europe and North America. When I was younger, I assumed that everyone expereinced the wargaming hobby in the same way as myself. Not because of what they said (I mean, playing in a Grand Tournament or attending a convention fifteen years ago, you might only ‘know’ the gamer you were meeting for an hour or two), but because of what they had with them. Every meeting was prefaced with that grinning display of someone elses army. You would get right down and peer at it inches away, figuring out how a model had been converted or how a particular detail had been aciheved. There was this shared sense of pride…. this feeling of ‘I did that. This is mine and it is unique and I brought it onto this battlefield’. Does that mean they were beautiful? Heavens no! The height of innovation of the day was drybrushing. It was the pinnacle of painting techniques. But everywhere I went (and I obsessively sought out gaming stores, hobby shops, conventions and clubs the breadth and width of my travels) that common thread seemed to be there. I still remember using a disposable camera to take photos of a scale tank from Warzone someone had crafted in Oxford UK because it was just that cool and I wanted to remember that.

I still travel. Constantly… as in 36 weeks a year I’m on and off airplanes all over North America. Somewhere though, and I think I’m just starting to realize it, that thread has been cut. I still see those people in gaming shops and at local conventions… but they’re very far between. They’re usually only talking to each other. There as still tons of games being played and clashes of arms occuring. Shouts of victory and cries of outraged defeat. But the scenes are different. Pre-painted terrain has replaced the hand-made battlements crafted from foam and painted with textured paint. Grey (sometimes black or white) legions of armless, weaponless army-men move token-like across blank tables. The warhorns don’t ring in the air when i watch that happen. Silence hangs as I see these models tossed casually into a tool box or old cardboard container. I see those other gamers, playing each other in the corner, quietly pack away their game and leave.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to start generationally-gapping. I don’t have anything in common with these gamers. They can’t hear the martial beat of drums when the dice are dropped. They don’t seem to know the exploits of their armys commander, or the legends of his followers. I watch the games take place and I feel… nothing.

It can’t be age. I know it isn’t, because every now and again I’ll come accross a new hobbyist peering into a glass cabinet somewhere with that feverish look in their eyes. He’ll have his nose to the glass and that crease in his brow that screams ‘How did they do that?…. How can I do that?’ He will demand from those around him to see it explained. You can just tell that he can hear the drums and when you watch him play games he will always seek out those quiet ones in the corner with their proud and carefully transported foes.

It is almost as if a genetic line is slowly breeding itself out. An evolutionary dead end. Where before traveling and meeting gamers felt like reuniting with long lost cousins, today it is almost like returning from a long voyage to find the homestead changed and your people moved on. Did you change or did they? It was a small thing and a slow change. It happened in little steps over years and years. Perhaps this is why we weren’t supposed to talk about Fight Club? Does the illusion lose its magic when the trick is explained? Perhaps broadening the audience away from us obsessive few has thinned us out.

Sadly, I don’t think there is an answer. In fact, I may not even have asked a clear question. I have many fellow hobbyists and friends who can still hear the drums. I have some who could in the past but seem to have lost the trick. I feel I won’t be able to finish this tale with any kind of moral… in fact that may be at cross purposes to what writing it was trying to achieve. If there is a statement I’m making it is that in the past twenty years, the experience of the wargame seems to have taken a backseat to the individual model and the gameplay.

Perhaps it is best I end this with a questions.

Has the time of the complete hobbyist (one who finds joy in completing all of the aspects of the Wargaming Hobby) passed?

Thank you for reading.

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~ by Achilles on February 12, 2011.

6 Responses to “General Hobby – An Essay…. Has my Hobby passed?”

  1. I find the problem for me is finding the time. I’ve been a non-painter for years but now I am really starting to enjoy it.

    Big army games like 40k itimidated me my new found love of skirmish games is allowing me to lose the fear. Maybe I should try to make some terrain after I get my Kemvar done and my CCC started.

    • Totally agree! I’m a huge fan of kitchen-table games for exactly that reason. I still love large scale wargames, but I can get into playing skirmish games in a satisfying way really quickly.

  2. Great article, very thought provoking.

    I have very little skills when it comes to making terrain, but I really appreciate good terrain. So any ready made stuff that looks good is great in my mind as it allows me to create the scene that I want to play in.

    Also agree regarding the time aspect. It took me many years to paint up a Space Wolves army and it doesn’t even look very good. On the other hand I can spend the time to paint up a small force for a skirmish game in a couple of weeks and they look pretty good. I also don’t get bored as the models are all rather different.

    • Agreed! I really hope I was clear about the message not being an indictment of people enjoying any particular part of the hobby. Its more an observation I’ve made during my travels that less and less I see people making a production of all parts of gaming and tending to focus their hobby on a particular thing. I guess my follow up question would be (and I doubt there’s one answer); why did this happen?

      • Not sure why it happened… I know that 10 odd years ago GW stores in Australia wouldn’t let people put down models unless they were painted. Similarly most tournaments had the same rule regarding painted models.

        Now however a lot of places don’t care; which makes sense from a business perspective. Why drive people away when you can just let them play and push up sales by encouraging people to hop from thing to thing (not that I need much encouragement 😉 ).

        Perhaps it stems from your background. In my case I was an avid reader whilst young and was into RPGs in high school. So when I got into miniatures it was like those things in the flesh. So for me, all aspects have always been important to me.

        I have seen some people change though. There was one young player who just seemed to slop paint on his models, but after he asked me to paint one of his knights and we started talking about them he started to take a lot more care with his painting and started to get into the fluff etc.

  3. I can still hear the drums! 😛 I think it might be more a question of time and money. If you have plenty of time you might not have the money to really build entire terrain boards (the costs are not too abd, but you need the materials, paints etc.) or if you have the money you might lack time to make your own stuff. That said you could obviously get someone to build your terrain and paint your miniatures, but that might disconnect you from your army/ game.

    Another theory is, that there are still many such people around (if you look at past Tactica displays in Hamburg (Germany) you see that there are plenty of people who go all the way), but given the player base has grown in the pats decades there are also people who see it more like a board game and put less emphasise on the visual aspects.

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