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Press in Diplomacy

By David K. McCrumb

(originally appearing in Diplomacy World #44)




Play-by-mail Diplomacy has a different flavor of play from face-to-face Diplomacy, for many reasons.  Some of the most obvious include: the different type of interaction between the players; the longer time between turn adjudications; and the possibility of small articles dealing with the game. This last item, commonly called "press" is the most misunderstood and ignored difference in the two styles of play. The problem is not a lack of press, but rather because it is assumed that anybody can sit down and write a competent piece of fiction in only five minutes. For this reason, press usually lacks the intensity and thoughtfulness that are regularly found in the moves.


The greatest problem with press is that most people do not know how to write an effective article. By definition, press is criticism, news, etc. that is published in newspapers and journals. This definition has been expanded in Diplomacy to include all fiction about the game in progress. The number of press releases has not diminished over the years I have been playing Diplomacy, but the quality has dropped tremendously.


During the 1970s, press articles usually involved well thought out stories about the situations as they appeared on the game board. Characters were invented and their exploits followed throughout the entire game. Occasionally, spin-off characters (as is done with successful television programs) were formed, adding to the fun. Parodies of story and song were frequently used. While these were fun in themselves, the literary quality was kept high. The enjoyment of the games increased to the point where you would sometimes look forward to the next turn more for the press than for the results.


Press in its present-day form is much different. Most releases are only one or two lines long. They usually include a short note from one player to another apologizing for not writing that season, gloating over some success, or something of that nature that could be handled much better.  A few paragraphs about the subject would be much more interesting, especially if well done. The decline in secondary education may have something to do with this literary decline, but I am still surprised since most Diplomacy players are above the average intelligence.


Even with all the bad writing, all of the blame cannot be placed on the players. A great deal of it is the fault of the publishers. Many of them do not know how to properly write fiction themselves, and when it comes to reproducing a press article they make many mistakes. I have had releases printed with conversations all run into one paragraph, quotation marks left out, and date lines purged.  As a result continuity is lost, confusion reigns, and the story line cannot be followed. These mistakes should not happen if the editor is competent, all of them being mistakes a sixth grader would recognize. While some editors would claim space limitations as the problem, I feel that printing quality fiction properly is much more important than saving a few lines of type. I am very disappointed in how most editors handle press, and am in the process of looking for a 'zine that still prints quality articles.

Press is the major reason I join a game of Diplomacy. I enjoy the play and interaction of forming and breaking of alliances, but literary enjoyment helps bring it all together. Press is not the whole story, but it can be a major source of the fun derived from the game, even for the players who are getting trounced.