WARGAME WEDNESDAY: Picasso and Wargames

Wednesday , 6, September 2017 6 Comments

Around the beginning of the 20th Century there was a revolutionary painter entering the art world by the name of Pablo Picasso. His work is often studied on its own merit and looked at within the art world, but my favorite angle on his artwork is through the lens of the newest emerging art form and technology at the time: Photography.

Before the development of photography, which was just hitting the mainstream after half a century of development, painting was the primary way of recording a person or event: Portraits from a skilled and known master were and still are worth a great deal—beyond the enormous sentimental value to the elite who would commission the portraits! So what does art have to do with Wargames?

Photography made one of the primary and visible uses for painting absolutely obsolete as soon as it hit the mainstream. A portrait took hours and took a fair amount of money, while a camera took less than an hour and could be done by almost anyone—even at relatively new technician took considerably less practice than a portrait painter. Picasso was a major voice in the reaction to the new technology and his response was to do with his brushes what was impossible to do with these newfangled cameras: Abstraction. Up until that point, precise reflection of reality and especially evocation of a mood or flavor of reality was the goal of painting. Picasso played the maverick, with deliberately warped and twisted figures and scenes with strange colors. It wasn’t entirely original: Artists had created these effects before such as the recent and wildly influential Vincent Van Gogh. Today, Wargaming and analog gaming in general is facing a similar reorganization and adaptation to digital platforms like Tabletopia.

“Wait a minute,” I hear you saying, “Hasn’t there been digital Wargaming since at least 2003 with the release of the VASSAL engine for Virtual Advanced Squad Leader?” Yes indeed. But unlike VASSAL, our Pablo Picasso, the evolution we are undergoing now is more akin to digital cameras instead of the first devices. Now, everyone has a camera. Now, anyone can swap over on Steam to play the games, board game cafes with digital tables are cropping up, and major platforms are buying in instead of launching cease-and-desists against their fans who enabled it as happened with VASSAL. Now, everyone’s used to seeing classic games beyond Solitare on their phones, desktops, and other devices especially tablets.

We face an age when our hobby is adjusting, and many designers are taking previous works into new and exciting frontiers and substituting computer algorithms for dice in our hand. We’ve seen it with the storied Battletech coming soon to Steam and now Ogre. With these more mainstream titles pulling attention that way, this article was mainly designed to inspire some discussion: What are some classics that you’d like to see adapted to digital medium? What are some of the things that are lost with digital Wargaming communities instead of in shops or dining rooms?


  • anonymous coward says:

    Photography made one of the primary and visible uses for painting absolutely obsolete as soon as it hit the mainstream.

    Factually false, almost a hundred years passed between the invention of photography and the mainstreaming of non-representational art.

    Abstract art came to dominate not because of modern technology, it came to dominate because of modern freedom of religion.

    Abstract art is part of a strong religious iconoclast tradition — Jews, Muslims, Western-European Gnostics and certain Christian heretics are all strong believers in non-representational art.

    Why the iconoclast religious tradition came to dominate the West is an interesting question, but the development of photography certainly had nothing to do with this.

    (Countries that had no freedom of religion — e.g., the USSR — had no abstract art despite having just as easy access to cameras.)

  • Sam says:

    The USSR had abstract art. Propaganda posters.

    • M says:

      A Google search for “Soviet propaganda posters” shows a lot of posters that look quite realistic – certainly compared to what was going on in the West in fine art at the time.

      I’ve heard the tradition called “heroic art”. It’s not photo-realistic; it portrays its subjects as larger than life – if there are wrinkles then they are heroic wrinkles, “earned in battle with the bourgeois enemies of the state”.

      In any case, it’s certainly not abstract.

  • CL says:

    The “timing” of photos to Pablo is not the point, but an example of transition. Had photography not been invented, then Pablo’s work would have been received far differently.

    Anyway, the point, the transition of a medium, is a good one. Things, they are a changing.

    The author asked about “things lost” by moving to digital. Having played plenty of analog and digital, here are some:

    – Group interaction. Get a group game going, say Twilight Imperium, and the group dynamics are tons of fun. Group interaction much harder via Skype and the screen.

    – Board overview. The small screen makes it hard to get overviews of the board. As you zoom in, overall perspective is often lost. Zooming out doesn’t offer enough detail.

    – Spontaneity goes away. Ever start a game and after a few turns decide to switch to another game, for various reasons? This is harder to do digitally. Analog, you browse the collection and decide to give something a go. Digitally – is there a module, it’s harder to do a pre-game examination, etc.

    Just some thoughts on what’s going away as Pablo takes over.

    • Terry Sanders says:

      I’m not sure Picasso would have been received all that differently without photography. It’s like saying James Joyce would have been received differently without radio.

      Abstract art, atonal music, stream-of-consciousness “literature”–all were an elitist reaction to the popularization of their media. You didn’t look at a Picasso, or read ULYSSES, or listen to a Cage “composition,” to enjoy something beautiful. You did it so you could prove yourself superior to those lowlifes who couldn’t appreciate “real” art. The arts had become too accessible–something had to be done to make them the domain of the elite again.

      That said, transition is real. The printing press changed books. Radio changed both theater and music. TV changed both again. And so on. And trying to see what’s changing is good. Keep going.

  • Scott says:

    Q: What are some of the things that are lost with digital Wargaming communities instead of in shops or dining rooms?

    Most definitely the social aspect. I’m guilty of it myself at time but most PBEM exchanges have minimal interaction, just attach a turn and play. Moving from PBEM into the 21st Century a lot of the chat features in online games are only used as part of the game play (get the other opponent angry, etc.). Online play is great but a game where one can chat with an opponent, take a break, snack, enjoy a favorite beverage, etc. is hard to replicate online.

  • Leave a Reply to Sam Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *