Models and Games

model sailboat - navy
The Navy advertises for itself with - boats.

Boundless Inventiveness on Annual Display

Paris:- Wednesday, 8. April 1998:- When I walk into a salon like the 19th International Model Show at Paris-Expo, I am always amazed at the number of people. Why aren't they home babysitting? Or being entertained by 22 channels of cable-TV programming?

Since I am out and about all the time, and see there are lots of other people out and about, I don't know why I think everybody is probably at home. I did this for 30 years, but now I really know, if somebody sets up a card-table for running a shell-game in a corner of the supermarket parking lot, it will draw a crowd.

Any kind of attraction easily beats babysitting or watching cable-TV with 22 channels. Spectator sports on TV? Second best to anything; what you might do if you have to stay home and babysit.

About 200,000 live citizens will visit the ten-day salon. Considering the type of stuff on show, this does not seem likeprize pigeon house a huge amount. Despite Paris' many attractions, there are not too many other places where you can see a bunch of good old boys, riding around on their own steam trains.

You may have seen doll-houses before, and they are plenty of them here, but what about one modelled after the Château of Chambord? It is not even just enough to have doll-houses either; these all need furniture, decor, appliances too - so there are accessory stands where these items are on show, or for sale. All the models are like this; for every model type, there are the supporting accessories.

This is a prize-winning model of a 17th century pigeon house.

In case you would feel like making you own, there are also the tools for doing so. All the machines you might find for metalwork or woodwork, are here - in miniature - 'working' models.

There are some odd exhibitors too. The French navy is recruiting so it is here every year, with models of navel equipment, which are mainly ships. I imagine their sailors passing their off-duty time, making models of nuclear submarines, right down to tiny details like the nuclear reactors.

French Scouts have a stand too and it has full-sized models of four-wheel drive emergency vehicles. I want to ask them if they aren't in competition with the firemen, the police and the army, but I forget to do it.

Another stand, is hustling a WWII museum of tanks and armored cars located at Saumur near the Loire, and the RATP has brought along a couple of buses from their museum, just outside Paris in Saint-Mandé. Besides having a red London double-decker, they have a recent Paris one too - which I have never seen before.

That's the full-sized stuff. The big attraction is the scale models, the miniature stuff. Anything that is real, can have a model. I did not see them, but the brochure has a photo of what look like modelmodel speedboats fish. There are shown in a pool and I assume they swim, and if I could think properly, I could probably see the utility of having a model shark in your pool.

The detail work on these vintage speedboat models gets careful scrutiny.

A lot of the models do what their full-size originals do. They sail, fly, race, steam, glide, ascend; and for this there are a sailing basin, a small racetrack and a big area set aside for the flying stuff.

These working models are slightly amazing because many of them are not only remote-controlled, they are not attached to the people who are controlling them. In other words, they are robots.

They have tiny motors inside them to operate controls like steering, or flaps for flying, and I assume some of the model racing cars have brakes too. One train I see is running around a big layout and its front wagon has a TV camera in it, which is broadcasting to a black and white TV set. The image jumps occasionally, but otherwise it looks like a real train on real tracks, passing real scenery.

For the sailing ships there are big fans for creating wind. Some of these ships are old warships and I wonder if they shoot miniature cannon balls at each other - but when I pass by, the whole basin is taking a break and there's nothing to see except a lot of real water.

This salon is also a games show; and this is where I actually start my tour today. I don't play games myself, so I know very little about this human activity.

By 'games,' here I mean classic games such as chess, or battle games played on huge boards covered with historical terrains, and with hundreds of miniature soldiers. There are no electronic, computer or video games here.

This part of the whole model show does not take up much physical space. The difference here is that the paying spectators get to play; and much of the area is arranged for doing this, and it looks a bit like bingo night in an aircraft hanger - except that hardly anybody is over 25.

The older players are clustered around the historical battle games and some of them are 'playing' Napoléon's Egyptiansteam trains campaign. This seems to be popular, especially the part about Nelson missing the French fleet in a fog. On another stand, there is the battle game which features Nelson coming back and ripping the French fleet apart; so you can have any side you want.

Having your very own railroad is not a total simulation here.

These are, of course, simulations. Another class of these are pure fantasy. The physical game part comes in a small box, and this contains a sort of 'script.' One player is appointed 'game-master' and the other players have their 'roles.'

The 'game-master' reads the master-script's history, to set the stage for the following actions by the role players, and acts as referee to keep the players within their 'roles.'

Without knowing more than this, I can see that these games are obviously a lot of fun. While the 'game-master' calls the score, it seemed as if this is open to interpretation, and there is a lot of dialogue, arm waving, cigarette smoking, cola drinking; in short, a great deal of animation - all based on some pure fantasy of some science-fiction-historical plot.

It is a level of fantasy different from anything you see on MTV. The 'amazing' level of the video-clips shown is about one-tenth of what goes on with these simulation-games. It's like, you give thethe game players players a book that is blank except for a synopsis, and tell them to write the rest. No, sorry, not write: 'play' the rest.

There is also a companion industry. While a lot of what goes on is purely imaginary, there is a parallel production of figurines - which are obviously a modern version of tin soldiers, of which there are also a stupendous variety.

The games people play - aren't like they used to be.

This in turn requires paint, accessories, ever-new catalogues with ever-new models; and somewhere behind it are ateliers full of sculptors turning out prototypes. Most of these figurines are sold unpainted, so the collector has this little job to do.

For the battle games, where you need a lot of soldiers, I can see the need for masses of figurines. For the simulation games, I don't know if they are an essential accessory or merely bits of decor, to have around when no 'play' is currently going on.

The figurines are not confined to this game area; I saw them over at the small stands of model-accessory suppliers; they seem to be an industry of their own.

For the models, there is an annual competition for the best ones. Some of the entries are based on off-the-shelf kits, that have been heavily customized.

The prize-winners are models which have been completely hand-made. The photo here is of the 'Pigeonnier de Vascoeuil,' from the 17th century, and it won a silver medal. Another, merely showing the Champs-Elysées on a particular 14. July, with planes flying overhead, and about 19,000 tiny people celebrating the event - was impossible to photograph, inside its glass cases.

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