Bridging the Gaps Between
Diplomacy Player Communities

Simon Szykman

[Note from the author: the writing of this commentary was prompted by a message from one of the organizers of DipCon XXIX/World DipCon VI. Excerpts of that message include "...the postal hobby is dying", "It's time we as a hobby recognized the e-mail for what they are - the future...", "Learn from the mistakes of the postal hobby. It's dying, not just because e-mail is faster and more reliable, but because they failed to recruit new people." The interested readers can read the full text of that message.]

Technology is an amazing thing. I'm writing this while sitting in an airplane, about 39,000 feet above a-place-not-too-far-from-Minneapolis. Right after takeoff, the guy next to me pulled out a palmtop computer, not much bigger than a programmable calculator, and a Pilot (a personal information manager, like the Newton) and entered some things from one to the other. I believe that with the right cables, he could have transferred data electronically instead of manually, but I guess he didn't have them, or he didn't mind pushing a few buttons.

During my earlier stopover in Chicago, I wanted to check my e-mail but didn't because the phones at my gate didn't have a jack for me to plug my computer into and I didn't feel like wandering around the airport. I'm staring at the GTE Airfone in front of me, and when I'm done writing this I could dial in and FTP this article to The Pouch right from the plane... but I won't because I'd rather wait until I get to the hotel than pay the high rates for the call. Phone calls from the plane will get cheaper as they get used more, and they'll get used more as they get cheaper, as it was with cellular phones (one of which I have at home, incidentally, although I probably would have said I'd never get one if you had asked me a couple of years ago).

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that what some would call "high technology" pervades our lives, so much so that many people go about without even noticing it. We are moving from the computer age into the information age, and something as mundane to most people as a board game -- Diplomacy -- has not gone unaffected. Diplomacy has its own home page on the world wide web, The Diplomatic Pouch, which is read by several hundreds of people. There are a dozen computers throughout the world running play-by-e-mail (PBEM) judges which are also used by hundreds of people. Many other people are also playing Diplomacy by e-mail without using judges -- they just use e-mail as a way of communicating. There are several zines being distributed by e-mail and other zines that have their own web pages.

The Diplomacy hobby consists of three groups: the face-to-face (FTF), postal (PBM), and e-mail (PBEM) communities. Some people are members of more than one community, but many are not. It's true that computers and the information age are transforming the Diplomacy hobby. But I think these changes can be for the better. I don't believe that PBEM Diplomacy is the future of the hobby, but computers are changing the future of Diplomacy, a fact that some people have recognized and that many more haven't.

Because the PBEM community is rooted in computers, and The Diplomatic Pouch is a computer resource, many people are under the mistaken impression that The Pouch is used only be PBEM players. This is far from the truth. In November we put up a survey to find out information about our readership, and it turns out that there are a significant number of people who play exclusively FTF and/or postal Diplomacy, but who read The Pouch's zine and use the other information resources in The Pouch.

The PBEM community, having a foundation in computers, has viewed technology as a way of improving the hobby. It's time that the postal and FTF communities did the same. I know that PBEM Diplomacy doesn't appeal to everyone, and I'm not saying everyone should join the PBEM community. I do believe, however, that all the communities should view the Internet as a way of bringing the communities closer together and fostering interaction between them. Many of the lines between communities are artificial and do not have to exist. One of the other reasons for the survey was to solicit interest in reprinting The Pouch zine articles in postal zines, as well as providing a forum for reprinting postal zine articles in our web-zine (giving both the writer and the original zine an exposure to a very large readership).

The Diplomatic Pouch has resulted in many new people joining the PBEM hobby. I've gotten many e-mail messages from people saying they got involved in PBEM Diplomacy through The Pouch, or that they just found The Pouch and want to find out how to play Diplomacy by e-mail. Since information on how to get invoved is available on our web pages, I can only assume that many more people have done so without our knowing about it. This happened not out of an active recruiting effort, but because of the establishment of a presence on the Internet, a medium to which people are flocking in droves.

The PBEM hobby is growing, most definitely. This is due in part to the growing popularity of the Internet, and in part to the ease with which people can play by e-mail. But the Internet is not just for PBEM players. It's a means for bringing down the barriers between Diplomacy communities. I've viewed the Internet as a way of achieving outreach; the other communities should take advantage of this untapped potential. Create a presence on the Internet. Submit reprints of postal articles to The Pouch zine (submit them by mail of you have no e-mail). Support your own "sub-hobby" by contributing ideas to improving the content of the FTF and postal sections of The Diplomatic Pouch. Add to the content of your own zines by making requests to reprint articles from The Diplomatic Pouch zine. Join discussions on the Diplomacy newsgroup (which is mirrored by an e-mail mailing list if you don't have access to newsgroups). The hobby as a whole would be better off if people, rather than viewing the postal hobby as a dying one and asking PBEM people to fondly remember the past, simply embrace the future.

Simon Szykman
([email protected])
18530 Cherry Laurel Lane
Gaithersburg, MD 20879

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