What Ten Years have Wrought
by Eric Brosius
from Diplomacy World #57
As we near the end of the decade, it's appropriate to look back at where we've been. What has changed in the postal hobby in the past ten years? What has stayed the same? I've read a lot of old zines lately, and I'll try to answer these questions.
To be honest, when I was asked to write an article for Diplomacy World describing the "ten big events in the hobby in the 1980s", I scratched my head in amazement. Doesn't Larry know I only joined the hobby in 1987? Maybe he solicited articles from a number of sources, and wanted an uninformed commentator so he could cover all the angles!
A historian's most difficult job may be to decide how important the various events of an era were. When you're working from documentary evidence, as I am, it's hard to know just how things felt to the average person. I found it easier to focus on conditions in the hobby at the beginning and end of the decade, and I made two lists: things that have changed and things that have stayed the same. Let's start with things that have stayed the same.
Four hobby facts that have not changed during the past ten years:
Drop outs. Ten years ago the hobby was plagued by players who signed tip for games and disappeared without a trace. Publishers started zines and folded after a few issues, leaving games and players hanging. This is a problem today; it will be with us forever. Some people jump in head first without checking to see whether there's water in the pool!
Feuding. You may think feuding was invented in 1984, but it's just not so! Ten years ago the hobby was racked by bitter feuding not only between individuals, but between rival organizations. In fact, the last few years have been the most peaceful of the decade; we still have disagreements, but at least we're keeping them in perspective.
You won't get rich. If you joined this hobby to make money, you're in for a big surprise. Anyone who tried to make money in Diplomacy during the eighties came out wiser but poorer. Players periodically complain that. publishers' fees are too high, but it's a rare publisher who so much as breaks even. Look at it this way: it's cheaper than golf!
Differing goals. People have never agreed about the goals of the game. Of course it's best to win but what if you can't? Should you try to draw, come in second, or just have a good time? Differences of opinion can be a blessing; it would be harder to satisfy everyone if they all wanted the same thing. The Indians traded Manhattan for twenty-four dollars worth of beads; the Dutch though it was a steal (but what if the twenty-four dollars had been put into a bank for three hundred years to collect interest?)
In 1980 people worried about "ratings players" who wanted to climb to the top of the rating lists then popular. Ratings players, like hypocrites, are often complained about, but no one admits to being one! Ratings lists have fallen out of fashion (I've seen none since the Calhamer Point Count list in Diplomacy World two years ago), but the problem remains: it can be infuriating when other players in your game have goals which are incomprehensible to you. Just view it as a challenge: identify these people and give them what they want (while you go after what's really important.)
Speaking of ratings, e-mail/postal crossover hobbyists have been debating them furiously recently. Instead of complaining about a nonexistent problem, why don't you folks get together and produce a list? If no one takes it too seriously, it might be fun!
We've seen some things which did not change during the past decade. What things have changed during that time? Would a time-traveler from the hobby of 1980 notice any differences? Perhaps a few…here are some things which are definitely different, whether for better or worse.
Six hobby facts that have changed during the past ten years
Slower mail. Many of us still remember the sixties-bygone days in which most letters arrived within two days, even if they were going from coast to coast! Games with one-week deadlines were possible, and two-week games were common. This was no longer true in 1980 - publishers complained that some letters took up to four days to arrive! Still, ten years ago a game with four-week deadlines was considered slow. Today it's as fast as you can go. Mail service continues to worsen; my copy of Rebel rarely arrives within four days of the date of the postmark, and it’s only going from West Virginia to Massachusetts. Oddly enough they raise the price for this "service" every year or two!
The graying of the hobby. In 1980 most hobby members were in their teens or early twenties. Many were still in school. When John Leeder tried to run an old-timers game in Runestone, he had a terrible time filling it - to be an "oldtimer" you had to be at least twenty-five years old, and such graybeards were hard to find! Today many hobbyists are in their thirties, and since there are fewer teenagers alive today than ten years ago, the trend will only continue. Diplomacy isn't just it young person's game-anyone can play, regardless of age, sex, or physical ability. We must expand our horizons!
Computers and photocopying. Ten years ago publishers used ditto or, if they were well off, mimeograph. The few who used offset or photocopy were viewed with suspicion, like Rolls Royce drivers! Their folds, predicted in hushed tones, were considered inevitable. During the eighties the real price of photocopies plunged. I get my zine ark copied for three cents a page (in 1989 dollars!) No one starts ditto or mimeo zines today; those still around began that way years ago and have never switched.
Not only are most new zines photocopied, more and more are produced by computer. A computer won't necessarily make your zine look better, but it sure makes it easier to produce, especially when a last minute order change comes in. They say the home computer hasn't caught on with the average American family yet, but publishers seem to be the type of people who buy them. If computers keep a few more zines alive by reducing the work of publishing, they'll have done the hobby a service.
Other games. Variants have been around since the start of the hobby, but ten years ago most games played were regular Diplomacy games. Some zines ran hex games, but usually as a sidelight. This has all changed; now regular games form less than half of the total.
Sports and railroad games are increasing in popularity, but the biggest change is the explosion in Gunboat gamestarts. The most popular way to start a new zine today is to open a Gunboat game. A Gunboat game requires far less commitment than a regular game (you don't have to write all those bothersome letters!) and people are more willing to take a chance on a new zine by signing up for one. This development is not all for the bad; people have been playing Gunboat for decades in regular Diplomacy games! Better you should join a Gunboat game if you have no time to write.
Electronic mail. Though you may not realize it, "e-mail" is being used more and more - and not just in the hobby. I've heard that the Postal Service wants to slow down first-class mail service; it's [choke] too fast! By the year 2000 there will be one mail delivery a year, for Christmas cards. Everything else will arrive by e-mail.
More seriously, one third of the gamestarts in Everything #81 were e-mail games, and there's no reason to think this will stop. Ironically, email games run on one or two-week deadlines, just like the postal games of twenty years ago. E-mail has disadvantages as well as advantages. Wouldn't it be great if your mail were delivered within hours - even in the middle of the night? On the other hand, what if a letter needed not only an address, but also a list of all the post offices it was to pass through on the way? What if your mail delivery stopped whenever your letter carrier went on vacation? What if... well, you get the idea! E-mail Diplomacy has challenges all its own, but we'll see more of it as time goes on.
The decline of organizations. Ten years ago people thought the solution to the hobby's problems was a better organization. The TDA had been displaced by the IDA, which itself was starting to fall apart. Everyone had an opinion; letter columns swelled. There's nothing like an organization for creating controversy. Today there's nothing remotely resembling a hobby-wide organization, at least not in the United States. Most services are now provided by individual custodians under what Paul Milewski has described as the "Old Testament prophet" system - people "hear the call", take on jobs, and appoint successors when it's time to step down. Their sole authority comes from the confidence other hobbyists place in them. Amazingly enough, this system works quite well-even in an organization it's usually a few individuals who do most of the work!
What will the next ten years bring? How should I know? Just make sure you add to the enjoyment of others. If you publish, publish something people will enjoy reading. If you play, do it in such a way that your GM and fellow players are glad to have you. After all, it's a game. Go out and enjoy yourself!
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