Suppose they gave a war…

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Once again guest blogger Michael Noble has a thing or two to say…

When I was a kid, there were all sorts of shenanigans to involve myself with. Along with the neighborhood kids and friends from school, we were forever busy. Table top games such as Trouble and Battleship and Life and Pong. Outdoors we had Jarts (real, steel-tipped ones to add that element of danger) and Capture The Flag and other sports or attaching bottle rockets to toy models and going up against whose was best by whizzing them down the street after traffic would pass by. If it wasn’t games on our agenda, we were forever racing Sizzlers. (Remember those? They were rechargeable Hot Wheels cars which used the same kind of bright orange track. We used to love to put butter on the track and make them squeal and burn out.)

Around this time, role playing games really began making the rounds, things to spur the imagination. Dungeons and Dragons was taking off something fierce but I never had any real interest in them. (Even to the present day I still haven’t sat down and played D&D.) Besides, it took money to invest in a lot of the role playing games. Money, as a kid, that wasn’t readily available.

Luckily, I had a vivid imagination. On the occasions when there weren’t any friends to hang around with, you could often find me holed up in my room drawing and writing and creating secret codes or reading comic books. I was a pretty happy-go-lucky kid given paper and pencil or a stack of comics. And while I had heard about the role playing games, I never really had any interest in them. But I was soon to be introduced to a primitive form of it for the first time.

I was in grade school. Friends and school mates were all around me – nearby, up and down the block, some too far away to get to without the folks driving me to their houses. One of my friends who lived a couple blocks away, Doug Schlaufman, invited me over to play “War.” I didn’t know what “War” was and I told him so, but that didn’t daunt him. “I’ll show you. It’s fun!” he promised.

So, after school one day I asked my mother if I could head over to Doug’s house for a while. I called him up and headed over. He was bursting with anticipation when I arrived and I’ll admit his enthusiasm was infectious. I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into but if he was that pumped about it, it had to be worth it.

We went to his room. Opening a chest of drawers he pulled out two huge bags of army men. There had to be at least 200 men in each bag. I don’t remember what color they were but I do remember each set held a different color of figures. He tossed one to me, opened his and dumped all his pieces on the bedroom floor. I did the same.

“This is what we’re going to do: You take out all your men and see what kind of weapons they have. Some have rifles, some have bazookas, some are running and yelling, some are on their stomachs with binoculars. Those are scouts. What you do is put them around the room and then they fight each other to see who wins … okay?”

I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about. How in the world were these little army men going to “fight” if we were putting them all over the room? They were stationary, immovable army men. But I went along and followed his lead. I watched Doug for clues of what to do.

He was positioning men kneeling with guns atop his shelves, putting different ones behind pillows on his bed, leaning some half hidden against the bedposts. Army men peaked out from the back of a pencil sharpner, they were in groups of two or three or more staked out in a tennis shoe, atop the doorstop in one corner, evenly spread out along one wall across the room. They were all pointed in the same general direction … at me.

I mimicked what he was doing.

A couple dozen men in, I was lost as to where to put the others. Right then and there I got the feeling I was in over my head. So I started putting a lot of men in a straight line on the floor, then more in another line right behind them. Lines of men ready to “fight” with back up reinforcements behind them. Made sense to me. And it was easier than slogging around the room hunting for places to put them. Besides, Doug was apparently getting all the good spots to put his.

What seemed like an hour later (it was probably only 15 minutes) revealed a room littered with clusters of military hiding in every nook, cranny and crevice of the room. On the floor, in corners, behind every conceivable hiding place … everywhere. And while Doug’s men weren’t readily visible in the grand scheme of things, mine were littered all about the room pretty much in plain sight.

“Wow … you’ll hafta work fast if you’re gonna beat me” Doug informed me matter of factly. I think I might have offered a shrug. “Okay, so this is what you do: You pick and man and, if he has a gun or some kind of weapon, you have him shoot at one of my guys. I’ll do the same. The first one whose men are all destroyed is the loser. Got it?”

That made sense … but I was at a complete loss on exactly what to do. But I did what I could to not look like a complete doofus. “How do I do that?” I asked with as much conviction as possible.

“Here … watch …” Doug went over to one of his men, a soldier laying on his stomach, brandishing a rifle. The guy was half peeking out from behind a sock tossed near a clothes hamper. He got down at eye level with the figure and scoped out one of my figures across the room. Then he took his finger, made the sound of a gun firing and traced the trajectory of the shot across the room, crawling all the way, until he came within striking distance of one of my guys. When he arrived at it, he flicked it with his finger and made a huge verbal explosion immediately followed by the sound of the soldier crying out in agony.

“See? You just keep doing that. You aim for my guys and kill’em and I’ll aim for your guys and kill’em …”

I was dumbfounded. This was what “playing war” was all about? It seemed stupid. But I was a guest in his house and I was bound and determined to go through the motions and give it a whirl. Maybe I’d warm to it.

Doug clambered back to his men and began the process all over again. His “firing of guns” was dramatic and continuous, his trajectories were always accurate and my men began toppling and dying in droves.

I tried to do the same. His examples of play seemed cornball and hokey; mine felt foolish and stupid. My attempts at taking down his men were feeble and half-hearted compared to his “expert” game play. It didn’t take long for me to realize “playing war” was one of the dumbest games I’d ever been involved with.

In a matter of 10 minutes his army had utterly obliterated mine. My men were strewn across the floor in heaps. I hadn’t realized some of the “kills” involved piling the deceased all in collective mounds. Additionally, I noticed such concussive devastation warranted men flying through the air and onto the bed or a desk top or next to a lamp on a nightstand. Had anyone walked into the room there would have been no doubt who the victor was.

“Yikes! That was a WIPE OUT! Wanna play again?” Doug asked.

“Nah.  My mom said I could only stay a little while. We’re supposed to go somewhere” I fibbed.

I helped him clean up the havoc we caused, said goodbye and thanks for inviting me over and left …

… never to “play war” ever again.

“War, huh, Good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again …”

~War, Edwin Starr

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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