There’s been a bit of discussion about VASSAL in the ASL community, started by this blog post (warning: auto-play music). The central hypothesis of this is that ASL is a social game (to which I agree) and that VASSAL gets in the way of that (to which I disagree very strongly).
I am a digital native. I have been on the internet for about ten years now, I used Twitter before it was cool and IRC greatly helped me overcome my social anxieties. Some of the people I consider my best friends are people I only know from the Internet.
As my blog might tell you, I don’t only play wargames. I am also a video game afficionado, and I play a lot of World of Tanks, an online game. Back when I still spent more time with that game, I often played with other people I mostly knew from a forum. Whoever claims there is no social interaction, no “having fun with friends”, in such games is clearly playing them wrong or simply ignoring them.
It’s the same with VASSAL/VASL. Playing a game of Advanced Squad Leader online is a social activity to exactly the same extent playing ASL at the table is a social activity. I have gotten to know people I would never have met otherwise through playing VASL with them. If meeting new people via VASL does not make VASL a “gioco di società”, I do not know how any game could possibly qualify.
The social bounds formed on VASL might be less strong than those formed in face-to-face play. I don’t blame anybody for preferring F2F if they have the option. But claiming VASL is simply an alternative to F2F play for loners is just silly. And not everybody even has the possibiltiy to play F2F on a regular basis.
ASL is not the only board game I have played via computer, I’ve played BattleTech (via MegaMek), Dominion, Battlestar Galactica and several other board games online. And never once have I missed social interaction. There was always enough of that, in every single of these games.
The internet is, first and foremost, a tool to facilitate communication between people. To bring people together who would never have met without it. If it makes you feel alone, you’re probably not using it the right way.