It is quite easy to recognize what all sports have in common: their close relation to physics.
They all need some kind of field, court, track, pitch, of a certain nature—dirt, asphalt, lawn, sand, ice, air or water—and of a strictly defined size, from the surface of the gymnastics beam to that of the golf course.
They use all kinds of abstract, arbitrary props, projectiles and targets whose size, shape, and weight are designed to make visible, manipulable the laws of physics they’re challenging. A heavy spherical shot made of metal or a shuttlecock made of feathers. Pucks, stones, rings, sticks, arrows and javelins, weights, pins, hoops, and balls of all kinds. For throwing, lifting, passing, bouncing, flying, sliding, rolling. Sometimes we ourselves are the projectiles, on skis, at the end of a pole, on a springboard, a sled or a Formula One racing car.
And what make all of them exist as sports are the constraints, the obstacles that we added to them; challenges that force the players to aim for mastery: the rules. You must never use your hands, or only use your hands; or your feet. You must play with a racket, or with a stick, large or small. You must keep moving or stop moving. Between lines, poles, buoys. Around nets, that you must aim at or avoid touching. Barefooted or in footwear fitted with blades, wheels or spikes. Parachuting or on horseback. Within 10 laps or in 60 minutes or 100 meters.
What all those parameters do is delimiting the reserved, specially designed area, in which any sport activity must take place. Define this small sample taken from the laws that govern the Universe, where they are domesticated for the sole benefit of our personal edification and enjoyment.
Viewed from a distance, all sports and games of physical skill are an inexhaustible series of variations on a common theme: the laws of physics.
Well, historical simulation board games are quite similar in regard to the events, schools of thought and historical figures of the past.
They too use a limited playing ground, are of a limited scope. Their components and their rules and constraints are more or less arbitrary, but excel at simulating historical circumstances. In ways that make it possible for us to modify, manipulate, explore, perhaps master them.
Just to see.
To see what can, what could have happened. To see what we are capable of, how far we can go. To identify and explore historical currents, fault lines and patterns that we couldn’t experience otherwise.
Simulation games will never be as popular as sports of course. But they will always be as inseparable from our nature and our relationship to the world. Are historical simulation games in any danger of disappearing? That seems an absurd question to ask.
Since we’ve been drawing lines in the sand, and until we can not even do that anymore, we will need to sit inside our tiny magic circles, these makeshift settlements that we keep building on the ever-changing immensity of history, just to play.