History’s First Geek – H.G. Wells

This isn’t much of a post about writing, or reading, for that matter. But it is a post about H.G. Wells, and would there be an SFNovelists without H.G. Wells? Especially since, were Wells alive today, he would certainly be one of us, going to cons, writing books. And playing RPGs.

That’s right, H.G. Wells was a role player. Not only was he involved in a lot of the 20th century’s big ideas – literary, political, philosophical, and scientific – he was involved in the little ones, too. He even gets a lot of the credit for first developing and popularizing them. Every time you log on to World of Warcraft or play Halo, you’re doing something Wells thought up a hundred years ago.

Sort of. To explain, we need to take a short look at the history of games, specifically, the history of wargames. And by wargames, I’m not talking about the abstract classics like Chess or Go, but actual attempts to simulate warfare. The Germans did it first, of course, or more precisely, the Prussians, whose general staff developed a system of simulating projected military campaigns on a large tabletop using dice and referees they called Kriegspiel. Modern variants of this system are still used today by every major armed service in the developed world.

Fred T. Jane, of Jane’s Fighting Ships, adapted Kriegspiel for more general use, in 1898, but that was only for naval warfare. Not until H.G. Wells published a pair of children’s books a few years later, Floor Games (1911), and Little Wars (1913), did anyone actually do the same thing for toy soldiers, at which point miniature wargaming was born. It took half a century, but the line from miniatures to board wargames is a direct one. In 1958, Tactics II, the first commercially successful board wargame was published, which led to a gradually increasing flood of titles in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and, finally, to Gary Gygax and D&D.

The rest is history. Or fantasy, if you prefer. But there is no question that H.G. Wells, one of the primary originators of SF, is one of the distant grandfathers of RPGs as well.

What about you? Are a game player as well as a reader? Are you amazed at the karma of how Geekdom really is all connected?

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  1. 1. Scott Seldon

    Yes, Jules Verne may have come first, but Wells was much closer to where the genre went. I think that is why I’ve heard Verne called the Grandfather of SF and Wells called the Father. It’s fun to know that Wells was responsible for war games and RPG’s migrating from the war room to the living room.

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S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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