Morality of war

The Morality of Historical Wargaming

Is a hobby formed around war a moral thing to do? Historical wargaming deals with a particularly difficult topic. War is a brutal business whether it is in the ancient past or much more recent.

I am not discussing professional wargaming. Professional wargaming is not a form of entertainment, it is designed to either train professional soldiers or as a means of planning.

I am also not discussing fantasy or sci-fi wargaming. I am concentrating purely on the historical. Battles and wars that actually happened, there were real soldiers and real casualties.

There are many other forms of entertainment that deal with war. Films, books and computer games regularly tackle warfare in many different forms. Why shouldn’t tabletop wargamers tackle war in a similar way? There are films that deal with war in a very exploratory way, how war impacts the soldiers as well as innocent civilians who get in the way. There are also many war films and TV shows that are pure entertainment.

Should historical tabletop wargaming be held to a higher standard? Personally, I think tabletop wargaming should be held to the same standard as other pastimes like film and computer games.

The fact is that tabletop wargaming, films or computer games do not involve actual war. Nobody gets hurt when you play a tabletop game anymore than when playing a computer game.

I have never been pushed to violence when playing a tabletop wargame and I’ve have never seen anybody else either. For the most part, historical wargamers are very interested in the history of the periods they play and use tabletop games to explore the units and tactics used in real battles.

Tabletop wargaming is moral. Having said that, there are a couple of things I don’t like to see on the tabletop that are regularly seen in films and computer games.

Symbols Count

Wargaming does not exist in a vacuum. People outside our hobby and those within are likely to judge us based upon our behaviour. One of those behaviours is our use of potentially contentious symbols and what those symbols communicate about you to other people in the hobby as well as those outside.

The Nazis used to drape their flags over their tanks for identification purposes, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You also don’t have to use dice with swastikas or SS symbols. If you play with an army draped in Nazi flags, have dice with swastikas and other wargaming paraphernalia covered in Nazi symbols, don’t be amazed if people get the idea your politics veers to the hard right.

I appreciate that there is no legal reason not to use Nazi symbols in the UK (Nazi symbols are subject to restrictions in a number of countries but not the UK), nor any moral reason either. I don’t think Nazi symbols add anything to a tabletop game. They don’t add flavour, but they do potentially give the wrong impression of wargaming and wargamers.

The last thing we want as a hobby is for outsiders to get the idea that wargaming is synonymous with the far right. I know that it is not, but if people see Nazi symbols everywhere, you can’t blame them for jumping to the wrong conclusion.

There are of course other symbols that may be problematic. If you are in the USA, there may be sensitivities around the Confederate flag. Think carefully about whether your American Civil War Confederate army needs to be draped in Confederate flags. I don’t mean that the flag should be banned, just that you should be sensitive to how visible the flag is. Having small flags on the battlefield does make the units easier to identify. But, does having Confederate flags on your dice and elsewhere add much flavour? Personally, I don’t think it does and so it is not worth the potential downside.

Historical Soldiers

The death of a loved one is particularly distressing in war and wargamers should not take it lightly. Any war fought in the last 50 years would make me wary of placing historical figures on the battlefield. Anything earlier than that I think is fine. Having Alexander the Great as a figure on the battlefield isn’t likely to cause any of his many descendants a problem. Having soldiers with living relatives I think could cause offence.


When wargaming we are re-enacting a battle or a form of battle using miniatures. There is nothing immoral about doing that. But, we do need to be sensitive to how wargaming looks to those in the hobby and those outside.

We also need to be sensitive to more recent wars where close relatives are still alive. Be cautious in your use of named officers and men.

I appreciate that a lot of this is very subjective. This article is written solely from my perspective.

Note: the soldier sitting on sand bags image was generated by Copilot.


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