The Case for Print

The discussion regarding a professional journal for wargaming is an interesting one. Rex Brynen makes cogent points about the logistics of having a refereed journal dedicated to the practice of wargaming. Having been assistant editor of such a journal in my academic past, I can verify his points. Without repeating the previous arguments against such a journal, I would still add that because our community doesn’t live in academia but rather in the world of classified events, the bulk of people who would have something useful to contribute would find it very difficult to do so in most circumstances.

But I think the case needs to be made for a publication of some sort nevertheless. The first idea that we simply need to drop is that it be refereed.  Aside from the logistical issues already elaborated upon, such a journal doesn’t actually address what our need really is. One of the most useful things that happen at Connections is the often spirited dialogue that erupts regarding subjects ranging from the mundane (such as definitions of terms) to the complex (such as my personal crucible, the usefulness of social science in PolMil wargames). For those who have attended Connections in the past, you know that the downside of Connections is that we have the same discussions every year. Even the notion of a journal is a subject that we raise year after year.

As I see it, our needs in the near term are:

–          The ability to continue these discussions outside of Connections so that when we return, our working groups can focus on a much narrower and focused band of topics of concern to the community.

–          A forum within which we can advance the legitimacy of our profession outside the boundaries of our own minds.  (I still come across people who either have no clue about wargaming, or think it’s a complete sham. This is a real problem for us, and we need to think about how to do outreach to overcome that more often than once a year.)

–          A place where new ideas about wargaming can be shared within the community without having to subscribe to or keep up with 20 different tangentially related sources.

Put simply, we don’t need a refereed journal, but we do need a place to publish our thoughts and ideas that are directly or indirectly related to our practice such that all of us know where to find it. That place also needs to allow conflicting opinions to be aired and meaningful debates to be had. We need an actual journal to do that rather than a blog forum for the very simple reason that we write differently for print than we do in the comments section of a blog. I WANT to read well considered debate, I DO NOT WANT to read flame wars that WILL result from trying to do this in a free-form, potentially anonymous blog/web enabled environment. An EDITED journal can go some way to prevent debates from turning personal, while elevating the thoughtfulness of the dialogue. We’ve already got volunteers lined up to do the heavy lifting. All the rest of us need to do is think and write. I say let’s get on with it.

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About Jon Compton

The Harlan Ellison of Wargaming!
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6 Responses to The Case for Print

  1. Rex Brynen says:

    While I agree with Jon about the value of a forum for discussion and debate that doesn’t involve the formalism and effort of a peer-reviewed academic journal, I’m not convinced that a blog/online forum necessarily results in flame wars. SWJ certainly doesn’t suffer that problem, nor do the anthropology blogs that Ellie cited in her recent comment. Indeed, “flame wars” can be stopped in their tracks by simply moderating the comments.

    Play the Past is a very good model too. Thoughtful, readable, intellectually-sophisticated contributions. Timely. Non-flame discussions. Crisp presentation.

    Web publication is also far more accessible to those folks we would like to reach out to. A print publication, by contrast, is unlikely to reach much outside the usual suspects.

  2. Jon Compton says:

    I have seen comments on SWJ that come pretty close to personal, and much of the commentary on pieces there frequently fall well short of the worthwhile reading mark. Furthermore, I’ve seldom seen a forum where wargamers gather that didn’t suffer a fair bit of dialogue that greatly lowered quality of the discussion, frequently resulting in the abandonment of the discussion by the strongest minds present. All that said, the most important part of print is the presence of a published body of work that we can point to, which carries a gravitas that, IMHO, web publishing will never equal. To reach out to the people we need to reach out to, I’d much rather be able to point to a printed publication for legitimacy than a handful of blogs, moderated or otherwise.

  3. pvebber says:

    In the long run, some kind of paper document is preferrable for reasons cited above, but the problem that faces us is not web or print but CONTENT in the first place. We are off to a decent start here getting folks to engage, but my sense is that a paper publication is a product of a community far more mature than the one we have.

    One of the reasons I did not pick a platform like WikiDot that supports a forum and broader array of tools for content management (ie a wiki structure) was to avoid some of the “shoot from the hip” comments that are far more prevalent in the discussion forum venue than in the semi-formal blog venue. Its one of those things that part of me HOPES enough people contribute with enough varied opinions to cause a need to moderate. If this place stays just a collection of the usual suspects posting to each other, then we have little hope of ever getting to the level of paper publication.

    I believe that this site can address need 1, and if we all commit to act in the role of “early adopters” to our peers communicating that it is the “place to be” in the interim to a more professional venue then it can address 3. I have a shortcut on my desktop that pops right into the site with no interaction other than a double click (trusting windows to remember my password until it forgets…). Once we get a critical mass of content, and the various lines of argument and research sort themsleves out, then we have a hope of advancing on the front of 2. Even a PDF surrogate for a paper publication that can be printed out and “looks professional” can go part of the way to the “something to give a non-wargamer to let him know that this community is pursuing a vibrant, intellectually active, and problem-solving discipline.”

  4. elliebartels says:

    While I agree with Paul about our relative lack of maturity, and the need to take baby steps towards a “real” journal. To me the corollary of his comment “Once we get a critical mass of content, and the various lines of argument and research sort themsleves out” is that this should aim to be a place with a norm of producing longer (~1000 words) pieces that are intended to be readable as independent thoughts, rather than a focus on the more typical shorter, interactive pieces.

  5. Brant says:

    The initial intent is not to focus on a refereed/academic-style, but rather a collection of more serious, long-form articles. As noted by Jon above, we have a lot of the same discussions (or at least the same topics) every year. Let’s get a record of those discussions and debates that are more accessible, and more easily presented to the non-wargaming crowd, than Matt’s archive of PPT decks on the Connections website

    Distribution can certainly be both web *and* print, as PDF-distribution probably makes a lot of sense, especially during the tentative baby-steps we’re at right now.
    Again, folks, the goal is to build toward something larger, not to start out there. You don’t build the top floors of the skyscraper first. I think Jon’s arguments are exactly in line with where we’re trying to go.

    Trying to capitalize on the momentum on Connections ’11, we were aiming for a first issue this fall, with the intent of repurposing as much of Connections content as possible and collecting it into a consolidated volume that would give us a first issue that didn’t take 18 months of work to get to. Building off of that, we’d have some time to work towards the collection of material for a Spring issue in 2012, leading into Connections ’12.

    Yes it is a lot to do. But part of this effort is having a tangible output that the community can point to and say “that’s us”. Right now, we don’t have that.

  6. pvebber says:

    Brant,

    As you get documents that are “ready for prime time” email me a copy pvebber(substitute the symbol for “at” in here)gmail(dot com) and I will add a “cloud” link to them here.

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