This past weekend was drill for my old unit, so in addition to sleeping in, I set up a wargame I haven't time to play for years.
The game is question was R.A.F., a solitaire game of the Battle of Britain. Designed by John Butterfield and published by West End Games, R.A.F. is somewhat unique insofar as there is no option for a second player. Once wargaming became big enough for market research, it was clear that most games were played solo and many of them had ratings for both complexity and solitaire play included in their advertising.
I'm not here to do a review per se - you can find a complete inventory on boardgamegeek.com or grognards.com, the point here is that this is how I spend much of my youth - playing wargames, with or without human opponents.
Wargaming could be competitive, but for me it was a way to interact with history. Instead of just reading a book, I could become and active participant (usually while reading books on the topic). Much of what I know about military history was acquired by playing a wargame on various conflicts.
West End Games was an eclectic outfit, and one without any particular focus. In addition to R.A.F. it published the brilliant Imperium Romanum II, a wonderful and sweeping study of the Roman Empire. Yet much of the company's product line centered on less erudite topics, such as sci-fi roleplaying (Paranoia) and some licensed products.
It seems incredible now, but back in the 80s, obscure lightweights like West End obtained the licenses for both Star Wars and Star Trek gaming systems. At that time, both franchises were assumed to be "kid stuff" and so anyone willing to try to make a buck on them in the new niche hobby of gaming was welcome to try for a relatively modest fee.
West End took the ball and ran with it, particularly in the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. A plethora of supplements, adventures and other aids flooded the marketplace and were eagerly devoured by fans left high and dry by the end of the original trilogy.
I was not one of them. I bought a couple of the wargames, but by that time I was putting Star Wars in the past, along with other 'kid stuff.'
How times have changed! Now even superheroes are unabashedly followed by people well into adulthood. We truly live in an age where childhood never ends and the phrase "act your age" had no apparent meaning. Back in the 1980s Bill Shatner could infamously tell a bunch of Trekkies in a Saturday Night Live skit to "get a life," but fandom is here to stay.
I don't think that's a positive development. Many of my contemporaries are developmentally locked in the late teens, and have abandoned relationship formation and child-raising in favor of a perpetual adolescent emphasis on hobbies. On a personal level, I haven't talked to most of them in many years - precisely because I have so little in common with them. On the macro-scale, we see plummeting birthrates and a culture where people are sharply divided in large part because they have so little in common.
A childless ever-teen isn't going to have the same approach to political questions as parents trying to bring up a family. Indeed, the oddly casual attitude to sexualizing children is part of this - people without proper adult formation see no need for such boundaries.
Meanwhile, West End ultimately lost its licenses and went out of business, along with most of its contemporaries. Gaming continues, but it is both more accepted and also more fragmented, sustained in large part by advances in print-on-demand services and online communities.
Thus, gaming and geekdom are still growing strong and have never been more accepted - which is a serious problem.