Recently, I found the archives of the Avalon Hill General, easily one of the most important publications when it came to the formation of modern wargaming.
Published by Avalon Hill, and devoted to their military games, it helped to link the many, many tiny cells of wargamers around the country.
As well as rules discussion, hints, tips and challenges, the General contained regional editors (fan volunteers), an index of local players and 'want ads' for play by mail games. From a pure marketing standpoint, it was brilliant: a collection of user-generated content that turned isolated players into a community of (Avalon-Hill-Buying) regulars.
It is also a really interesting look into the demographics - and the culture - of early wargamers. There are, as you might expect, a lot of high school boys, ex- or currently serving military men, and a few middle aged men. The list of active players in the newsletters is all male (although some women may be hiding behind initials), and virtually all with Western European surnames. Basically: white guys.
Discussions of the finer points of military history are common, as well as a lot of self-aggrandisement: the editors tend to introduce themselves by collecting expertise points, and justifying their editorial presence at length. One editor proudly boasts about his record on the school's debate team!
The tone is also, to nick a phrase from Anne, 'high serious'. There's not a lot of humour, more... serious men talking seriously about their serious hobby. An early attempt at humour, from an editor in the first issue, included a 'wacky' wife-beating joke. Ah, the hijinks.
What follows is a letter to the editor from the third issue. I can't tell whether or not it is one of the community's rare jokes, or, alternatively, if it was actually written by a woman. My guess: another 'wacky' attempt from one of the male editors. Either way, the letter - and its response from the General team, also included below - also goes a long way towards demonstrating the tone of the fledgling wargaming culture at the time.
Dear Sir Honey,
I recently came upon a copy of the General in some old magazines. Upon reasing [sic] it I noticed that all of your “Editors”' are boys. Why? What's wrong with girls?
Since they say all’s fair in love and war I believe the two are very similar and a game via the male, oops, mailways as to how to catch a rich mate would be just dandy for us gals on the look.
We could work it out that the winner would be the one to get or choose the best mate, not just the richest. Since all mates would score differently with each player, a set of standards would be created for each type. In addition to likes and habits, all other factors would be graded making this a type of totaling game on which the actual winner would be based on figures, perhaps from the stock report.
It might even be fun to use those cute editors as targets and let them try to escape our clutches by letting them state their own list of selling points.
Just think of all the sisters and wives of your subscribers who would be reading the General. Why is this important? Women do most of the gift buying you know and this makes them aware of Avalon Hill. I'll wager that 90% of the women right here in Baltimore have never heard of you. I believe this would have noticeable results in your Christmas orders. How many games do you mail out addressed to girls?
I would like to visit your plant in order to see for myself just how that empire of men exists in a world free of all the sweet, soft, warm, lovable, bright, ever-understanding but all to [sic] often in the way, girls.
Nancy E. Shearer
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Editorial Offices are open 9 - 4:30, Nancy, baby.
The Avalon Hill General (Vol. 1, Number 3, September 1964) -- Read it here.