We All Have War Stories

I sat passenger in the sidecar of a hurtling motorcycle, German this time, racing towards the enemy flag deep in what I like to call, The Death Zone, ominous I know.

As enthusiasts of the board and video games we’ve all been bestowed with a wealth of stories to tell.

Long, starlit nights around the campfire glow spent recounting those tales of epic endeavour and derring-do, as woodland creatures and Gods on high revel in our glorious escapades. Okay, over-egged it a tad. Hang on…

Long, light bulb lit nights around the TV’s glow spent drunk and a bit nauseous from a Dorito over indulgence, trying to remember that time the grenade we threw bounced off a wall and killed our whole team, as spouses, parents and kids tut disapprovingly from the kitchen. Nailed it!

I have no idea who these people are.

But honestly, despite scenario two being closer to the truth, I consider myself a romantic from camp one, and I do love a good yarn spawned from the carboard and digital playgrounds.

Stories are something we’ve all taken from the games we’ve loved, and hated, and even been indifferent about. Each one, no matter how beige the play might be, can leave us with a colourful tale or two to tell, and whilst the solo and single player by and large leaves us with a similar story, the gatherings at the table and online multiplayer madness that exist beyond the solo realm offers something far more unique and rewarding. It’s that special place where the story is played out by the people, and the game itself is merely a platform.

I’ve got war stories. I’ve got loads of them. Some are sprawling epics of drawn out battles across desolate, distant battlefields, odds stacked heavy against our merry band of van drivers, postmen, builders, IT specialists, and more, who at that point are soldiers, bonded and battling side by side towards an uncertain future and the likelihood of death. There’s that over-egging again. Others are little snapshots of joy, of humour and hilarity, and of, “How the hell did I just do that” awesomeness!

And I love these stories. I enjoy when they pop back into my head unexpected.

Like the time two of us, strangers to one another, held off the oncoming rush of snarling German soldiers (They were snarling to me okay). Holed up inside a ramshackle barn, limited ammo, little defence, side by side we fired, reloaded and fired again, until eventually after what felt like an age the smoke cleared and a victory was ours, a lot of the other team probably rage quit, but victory is always to be savoured. We celebrated over the mics, an unbreakable new friendship formed in the smoking guns and shrapnel of that day, a new unbreakable bond, brotherhood forged from the video game battlefield, never to be broken…I forget his name now, in fact our paths never crossed again, but it happened! And it was memorable, unique and a little bit special to me.

Or maybe the myriad times at the board game table (mild mannered dining table by day) that the game has proved little more than a vessel for utter joy, chatter and first class traitor stylings. My angelic 11-year-old daughter revealing a dark side as the Dead of Winter traitor, a glint in the eye and a stash of fuel, food and meds in her hand.

Or the time I sat passenger in the sidecar of a hurtling motorcycle, German this time, racing towards the enemy flag deep in what I like to call, The Death Zone, ominous I know. Heavily defended Allied territory we ploughed headlong into the fracas, bullets whizzing by my noggin as all hell broke loose around me. The rider of the bike, leapt from the saddle all blazing guns and bravado, he was the first to die. Axis and Allies fought all around me, grenades ruptured the air, smoke rose, yells, screams, someone playing music down the mic, I paused to mute them, death and destruction spilled from the screen. And all the while I sat in the sidecar trying desperately to remember which button it was to get out. Eventually I hit the right one and leap into the fray, but the fray was already frayed and gone. All that remained were the bodies of those heroes from the fight. I take a moment, a moment of silent contemplation, of respect for my fallen comrades. Then I pick up the flag and skip whistling away into the sunset. I think we all know who the real hero here is.

The moments that capture us off guard, when the game becomes secondary to the people playing, are for me, the perfect gaming moments. This is when games, whether at the table or across the internet, truly shine and deliver the experience I’ve always envisioned. The people at the table when the dice are rolling and cards are shuffled, or on the mic as the virtual bullets fly, will always be capable of elevating a game far beyond the sum of its parts. This is the place stories are born and this is the place I’m at my happiest as a player. I adore board games in part because of the fun element of the game itself, but in much larger part because we gather as a family at the table, and for a few hours we talk, we play, we laugh, and we forge stories together. 

The tales spun are the gifts we take from our games. When the joy of the moment subsides, the stories we can share with friends, or drift off into, remain. I’ve got war stories, you’ve got war stories, all of us have war stories, and that is a part of gaming I’ll never tire of.

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