H.G. Wells and the History of Wargames

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of H.G. Wells’s Little Wars, which created modern wargaming. Long before shooter and strategic video games, model lead soldiers were used to simulate battles in miniature wargames.

In 1913, just before the First World War, H.G. Wells published Little Wars, the first widely available miniature wargame rules, intended for a popular audience.

LittleWars

BBC News reports that “for Wells, the horror of WWI and what he called the ‘almost inconceivable silliness’ of the top brass had a great effect on him.

H.G. Wells related that “Up to 1914 I found a lively interest in playing a war game, with toy soldiers and guns… and I have given its primary rules in a small book. … I like to think I grew up out of that stage [somewhere] between 1916 and 1920 and began to think about war as a responsible adult should,” according to the BBC.

Little Wars continues to be played by a few enthusiasts, but the rules also spawned many imitators, creating an entire hobby of miniature wargaming—not only in Great Britian, but around the world.

Wells-LittleWars-photo

Rules and miniatures have been created for almost every major historical period, allowing wargamers to simulate the battles of the Egyptian-Hittite Wars, the Roman Civil Wars, the Mongol expansion, the Hundred Years’ War, the Sengoku Wars, the Thirty Years’ War, the British Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the Zulu War, the First World War, and Second World War, and beyond.

Miniature wargaming continues to be a popular hobby among some groups, but occupies a niche in comparison with the mass appeal of video wargames.

As H.G. Wells pointed out, there are moral dilemmas in participating in wargaming, especially if used to celebrate violence or to rehearse for war. However, historical simulations do have the potential to teach participants about the horrors of war, and some history teachers use them effectively as learning tools with their students, especially at the undergraduate level.

Wargames also shape popular perceptions of past conflicts, contributing to the construction of historical memory.

BBC News reports on the legacy of H.G. Wells’s Little Wars.

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This entry was posted in History in the Media, History of Violence, Museums and Historical Memory, The Past Alive: Teaching History, Undergraduate Work in History, War, Culture, and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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