Redeeming BrikWars

I am an anarcho-pacifist. I love peace. But I also love BrikWars, "the plastic-brick wargaming system that throws the peaceful worlds of your favorite construction toys into wanton chaos and destruction!"[1] Naturally, this creates some cognitive dissonance for me, so here is my attempt to reconcile BrikWars and pacifism. I argue this on two points: A) BrikWars does not actually glorify violence, and B) playing BrikWars requires an anarcho-pacifistic attitude.

But first, a brief description of the game. BrikWars is a nerdy game played with LEGOs (or other similar toys), dice, measuring tape, and a monstrous 71-page rulebook - which advises you to ignore it at will. Players build armies of minifigures (AKA LEGO guys), vehicles, monsters, and forts, then take turns making them slaughter each other, rolling dice to see which attacks succeed and how much damage they do. There are two goals, played out on different levels: "the destruction and humiliation of all other armies", and the more important one, to ensure that "the level of mindless violence is kept at an entertaining high". It usually takes several hours to play.

So, on to my arguments...

BrikWars does not actually glorify violence

As seen in the above quotes, BrikWars certainly does glorify, and encourage, plastic brick violence. But it does not glorify or encourage real-life violence. In a successful (read: hilarious) BrikWars game, nobody wins. "As a general rule, it's not entirely common for any one player or team to 'win' a battle. This is because getting killed horribly in some ridiculous fashion is always funnier than the alternative (i.e., surviving horribly in some ridiculous fashion), and BrikWars is set up to favor the optimum result of a complete massacre of all participants, along with any bystanders and scenery." Playing BrikWars is fun, but it does not make me want to go to war, because it portrays war (accurately) as having no real winners. I get giddy over plastic tanks and starfighters, and I gleefully sprinkle little red pieces as blood whenever a minifig gets decapitated. But I'm not so much embracing violence as lampooning it. "Heroes" in BrikWars are much more likely to wind up humiliated - and dead - than decorated or martyred. In my last game, the commander of the eastern marauders, the acrobatic swordsman P.H. Featherhat, died nude from the waist down in a thoughtless cannon-related blunder, with nary a shard of dignity left. It's funny when it happens to toys, but it does not make me want to support a war.

BrikWars is certainly a parody of other wargames. I think it can also be called a parody of war.

Playing BrikWars requires an anarcho-pacifistic attitude

The rules for BrikWars are flimsy to say the least. Plus, they remind you countless times that you needn't follow them. "Fudge everything your opponents will let you get away with." "Following the rules and winning are the two lowest priorities on your list. Getting some good laughs during the battle and having a good story to tell afterwards are your primary goals." Since the rules are so flexible, it's easy to exploit them. But when one player exploits the rules in order to win, nobody has much fun. "BrikWars has a lot of rules. If the mandatory education system has had the chance to get its hooks in you, then you'll respect the authority of those rules, because they're all written down in a book, and some of them are capitalized. If things went so badly that you ended up going to college as well, then you'll probably not only shackle yourself to those rules but also then try to lovingly twist them to your own ends, weaseling out loopholes and exploits to cleverly frustrate the other players and ingeniously prevent fun for the entire group. If you find yourself engaging in that kind of rules-lawyering and munchkinism, then you have just failed at BrikWars."

Playing BrikWars successfully (providing maximal fun for everyone) requires a very delicate balance between trying to get your own way, and not caring what happens. If anyone cares about winning too much, the game is tense and frustrating. If anyone cares too little, it's boring. You must respect the limits of your own influence and the agency of the other players. You must try without expecting results. And you must love your enemy, valuing his success no less than your own.

Thus, playing BrikWars is like practicing anarcho-pacifism: loving enemies, respecting the freedom and agency of others, not trying to dominate events, not demanding measurable results from your actions.

The Master's power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

—The Tao Te Ching, ch. 55

In conclusion

These arguments don't justify playing Zelda or other games that more seriously glorify violence, but in my view they do work for BrikWars. I'm curious if any readers disagree and think it's hypocritical for me to play such a game, or if you have similar guilty pleasures that you've tried to reconcile to your values.

[1]All quotes are from the BrikWars 2005 rulebook, except where otherwise noted.