Monday, 6 January 2020
I have spent the last three weeks back in Japan visiting relatives. The local supermarket has a display of Kamen Rider modular mecha robot/animal things that you can disassemble and reformulate to create all kinds of monstrous forms with human pilots, a bit like Zoids. Customers are free to play around with a range of the toys and every day there is a cluster of small boys creating various crocodile-bird-tiger-triceratops mecha and play-fighting with them. My daughter, currently 2 1/2, finds this all fascinating and always joins in, but in her make-believe world the mecha only ever say hello, hug each other, make friends and then go shopping together. (This can only be because she has been socialised to play in this way by the oppressive patriarchy, or something. I do often find myself wondering if there is mileage in a more cuddly mecha-related TV series, though. You could call it "Let's Mecha Friends".)
Anyway. This has reminded me of a thread I came across long ago on The RPG Site, in which people got very passionate, irate and serious about the unrealisticness of mechs and how tanks would always be better. I sadly can't find the thread now, but here is a more civilised version. If you google "mechs vs tanks" or similar you will discover that this is in fact one of the great arguments of our times, akin to nature vs nurture, left vs right, somewheres vs anywheres, and whether that dress was black and blue vs whether you are INSANE AND AN IDIOT.
Nerds have problems with culture. I have just finished reading Max Hastings' Catastrophe, his thoroughly enjoyable history of the military campaigns of 1914. At that time, it was fairly well understood that cavalry were no longer generally going to be suitable for use in contemporary frontline warfare except for some limited purposes. Yet the Great Powers all went to war with huge cavalry contingents. Why? Because the horse had prestige and that was hard to shake.
Another good example of this phenomenon is Japan's abandonment of firearms in the 17th century. Japanese armies in the 16th century were armed to the teeth with guns. By the time of the 19th century they weren't. This wasn't for lack of guns or the capacity to make them. It was because of culture - the sword had prestige.
Yes, eventually cavalry were abandoned and the Japanese started to use guns in warfare again, but it isn't hard to imagine a far future in which the prevailing culture(s) insist on the use of mechs for, say, the aristocracy and ban other war vehicles as vulgar. Why would people in the year 40,000 be duking it out in giant robots rather than the far more efficient and sensible tank? Because of culture - or, more plainly, because it's fucking cool. Duh.