Play-by-Mail Diplomacy vs Play-by-Email Diplomacy

Some Differences in Style and Feel

by Jim Burgess

This must be represented as a personal view of some of the differences between the world of Postal Diplomacy and the world of E-Mail Diplomacy. Others may have had different experiences or different conclusions from those experiences. What I hope it will do to the electronic audience is to give them an idea of what factors might lead them to want to try Postal play and vice versa. JB.

Differences that are General and not Confined to Diplomacy: Postal is more touchy feely. There is an esthetic value to touching a letter or a szine that is missing on E-Mail. This is generally accepted by people when they use E-Mail and has been widely discussed on the Net for years. But this brings out a general pervasive factor that affects how the games are played. People flesh themselves out into real people far more often in the postal world than they ever do in the E-Mail world. Postal people also are much more likely to organize and go to Diplomacy Conventions. Efforts by E-Mailers to organize face-to-face get togethers usually fare very poorly. For one North American DipCon recently (the one in the Bay Area), I and other people intensively pushed all of the Convention details on the net. There are LOTS of E-Mail players in the Bay Area. I didn't go, but all available evidence suggests that this effort resulted in NO participants. Pete Gaughan was part of this effort and discussion and he did go. When there are such personal involvements they tend to work in the other direction, where a convention attendee finds the Internet a place to play Diplomacy in between tournaments and get-togethers.

Issues with Definitions or Technical Capabilities: The biggest issue here leads right off of the previous discussion. On the Internet, anonymous games are extremely popular! This is where your identity (both E-Mail address and name) are concealed from the other players. All negotiation occurs through the Judge. Paul Rauterberg once tried such a game postally (I played in it), but it was very difficult and time consuming for him to do the activities that the Judge handles so effortlessly (taking in mail, stripping the identfier, and re-mailing it). E-Mail players seem to like Anonymous games for two reasons. First, since they are anonymous, no one has any excuse for trying to inject any personality into the game (in fact it is severely frowned upon because you might be doing it in order to let your real identity slip). This is good for people who like to do all of their negotiations in quick one liners that are devoid of personality. Second, there is no reputation factor. Good players with lots of experience like this since people can't gang up on them for fear that they will sweep the board with their skill and they think that gives them a better chance of doing just that. Poor players or novices believe that it gives them more time to develop some skills or some luck, but people won't quickly gang up on them either. I don't have any complete statistics on this, but roughly speaking about half of all games are anonymously played on the Judges. What postal players call "Gunboat" games (anonymous games that do not allow "partial press" or private press between players) are also popular on the Judges for the same reason... they play out quickly without requiring the injection of personality, but they also don't require negotiation at all.

Psychological Factors: The E-Mail crowd tends to be younger than the postal crowd and really represents the large pool of high school to mid-twenties aged players that always used to be hanging around the postal hobby, but are now gone. This creates a difference in the psychology of games. It also feeds all of the discussion above. Moreover, computers and E-Mail themselves tend to generate a more mechanistic style of play on the Internet. Many more people are fascinated by finding and knowing stalemate lines of all types, even stalemate lines holding fewer than 17 centers. The analogy may not be apt, but many E-Mailers sit in front of their computer screen in the same way as they sit in behind their stalemate lines.... silently and with no intention of breaking through or moving forward. There are a lot of wins in the E-Mail world, but I would assert that they are due to the high novice factor. In games between experienced players, they nearly always quickly move to the stalemate lines and lock into large draws. The free-wheeling aggressive postal players are nowhere to be found.

Press and Other Subtle Details: Postal Diplomacy games (good ones especially) are well known for their "press". This press appears in publication with the game results and can be funny, sarcastic, or witty. Good GM's collect and order this press for maximum reader impact. Many E-Mail players cannot see any reason whatsoever for writing this kind of press (dubbed "broadcast" press by the Judge) and one of the reasons is the technical one that the Judge does not save up such press and print it all at once with the results. Instead it goes out by itself as the equivalent of one hand clapping. Nevertheless, the intricate detailed stories that many postal people write as press with their games, or filks and poetry based off of popular songs or other inspirations, would seem to be possible and desirable. They are nearly unheard of on Judge games. These are speculations, but I would assert that the speed of E-Mail games is a factor here. Most games schedule moves once a week, or even faster. There just isn't time to get involved in this way. There are also greater emphasis on the quantity of games played, possibly because of the quantity based nature of the dominant rating system (the HoF) where the more good results you have, the higher your rating. Perhaps a switch to average ratings would change this. It would be an interesting experiment.

There are many other differences between postal szines and the Judges that organize Diplomacy games, but this is a good summary of some of the ones that I think are most important. I'd be pleased to have feedback on these ideas and will incorporate them into updates that I hope to make in the future. Try both! They each have aspects that are interesting, but if you're interested in meeting people and the interaction of personalties and things outside of the strict conduct of the game, the postal world is the place you have to go.


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