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What Do You Say?

by Pat Conlon




What do you tell others about Diplomacy? You know what I mean. Many of us have respectable jobs with a fairly traditional image: bank managers, Army Captains, trucking company executives, lawyers, etc. We strive to uphold a certain, stable image in these jobs and we carry that image over into most of our personal lives. The president of the bank would not be impressed to see one of his bank managers pissing in the sink at a crowded rock concert. Your average general would take a very dim view of a captain who frequented transvestite bars. So, what do you tell other people about Diplomacy?

Dip is a game, and serious people don't spend much time on games. They're too busy raising kids, working towards the next promotion, or trying to get into that exclusive country club. Worse, Dip is a wargame, something that most people look upon as an activity for pimply-faced geeks after the science lab has closed for the day. Do you have an image in your mind of what the average Dipper looks like (and acts like)? Now I have met many wonderful, level-headed people in New York, Chicago, Madison, and San Francisco who just happen to play Dip. Despite all of them, what persists in my mind is an image all con-goers know from the hordes of role-players and fantasy-freaks. I'm sure most con attendees have been on an elevator with a grossly obese, oily-faced, unshowered-in-three-days gamer who's more gamey than a ten day old carcass and more loudly opinionated (and wrong) than Howard Stern. If you caught yourself holding your breath during that last sentence, then you know what I mean.

I thought that playing by mail would allow me to avoid that image. But PBM only serves to reinforce and even exaggerate that negative image. Because we generally lack an accurate picture of who we are playing and lack information about these people outside of their continued interest in the game, our imaginations take over and supply images for us. These images are the product of the other person's letters and what we as recipients read into those letters. Of course such images are further sullied by the occasional jerk, such as the guy who's first letter to me in a new gamestart included this bit of diplomacy. "I was going to compare you to weasel or dodo, but what would be the point." And I've received worse. Some letters appear to be written in pencil or crayon in large block letters by a ten year old. But the lack of sense in the letter suggests a five year old and hobby records may show the person to have been playing for the last 3 - 5 years!

Admittedly, not all dip-players look like a reject from a role-playing circle. But there are many who fall somewhere in between the respectable citizen and the nerdy teenager images, like the forty year old whom you suspect has no life outside the 30 - 40 dip games he's currently playing or the thirty year old with the ugly face, the foot odor problem, the twenty year old shell of a car, and a great job as the night clerk at 7-11. You know the word I'm aiming for: LOSER. All too often the world classifies people in one of two categories: winners and losers. Even the best people sometimes catch themselves making these judgements about others. The line that defines winners and losers is a vague one, defined differently by different people. And (surprise, surprise) most tend to put that line somewhere below their own perceived station in life.

So, do you tell your boss or your co-workers about your hobby? Do you show them maps and letters? Tell them how you once outsmarted an opponent with a forged letter? Or do you worry that may alter his/her image of you? Me, I just tell people that I like writing letters and keeping in touch with old friends. Even that gets raised eyebrows. Most of my friends think that letter-writing is too archaic and time-consuming. It adds a dash of realism (the kind of realism tailored to their biases) when I tell them that having a computer allows me to keep in touch with a large number of friends, since the computer allows me to write one basic letter to 20 different friends, changing only the salutation and whatever pertains to only one individual. How many dates before you tell the new girl (or guy) in your life about Diplomacy? Is that before or after you show her/him the booger collection under your bed?

Pat Conlon is a well-regarded Diplomacy player, and apparently also collects boogers and hides them under his bed.