Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Deep Thoughts: Realism Vs. Escapism

We watch movies for one reason, to immerse ourselves in a story and get a break for a couple hours. We play table top war games for much the same reason, to get take a break from reality and let our imagination take over for a bit. Table top war games are designed to provide one of two different things, realism or escapism. Realism necessarily provides a complex and thorough rule set that provides a structure for imposing a sense of realistic outcomes in a random game setting. Escapism attempts to provide a break from reality by immersing the player into an alternative reality, complete with a compelling background, where they can do battle. These two concepts don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive, but normally game designers will drift towards one or the other.

Living the Raider lifestyle: Escapism

Take for example Flames of War with its multiple unit brackets of ‘early war, mid war and late war’. A unit of Panzer Grenadiers from early war has no real resemblance to the Panzer Grenadiers of the late war period because after 7 years (Germany invaded Austria in 1938) of high intensity conflict the personnel, training methods and experience of the units changed. This is blatant realism as the game designers clearly are trying to replicate the battlefields of Tunisia, Italy, Kursk and Villers-Bocage with one congruent system. In order to do this they must add complexity to the unit choices and abilities to accurately represent those historical battlefields. This is all very great for realism, but it necessarily creates a complex rule system in order to provide it. Flames of War is somewhat unique in that it also provides a great deal of escapism due to the real historical back story that is utilizes, who hasn’t contemplated hunting Panzer III’s in the hedgerows of Normandy after watching Saving Private Ryan? However, the complexities of the rules are what I am after to prove my point.

Now let's look at Warhammer 40k, our favorite after dinner treat. Does it provide realism or escapism? I can think of several example's where it provides a bit of both. All in all I think Warhammer 40k actually walks down the line between these two competing concepts fairly well. That being said, there will always be people complaining about either the realism or the escapism inherent in the system. You get people saying 'missile launchers today don't scatter that much! Why will it scatter like that 39,000 years from now!' While the guy next to them complains, 'This game sucks, I wish they would advance the time line. That emperor guy has been on that throne for like 20 years!'.

I think Games Workshop does a good job of treading the line between the two concepts, keeping the background compelling while trying to have a realistic gaming system. At the end of the day its really about having a fun gaming experience and getting away from the daily grind for a bit. People, and internet people in particular, have an tendency to get too wrapped up in pointing out what is wrong with something rather that looking at what is right.

still practicing_


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