How to Survive Postal Diplomacy

By Doug Beyerlein

The idea of an article on how to survive postal Diplomacy may at first sound rather strange. But look around you. How many of your postal Diplomacy opponents, allies, publishers, GMs, and friends have left the hobby? How many of the people who entered the hobby when you did have since left, or just dropped out? If you have been around the hobby as long as I have (since 1966) you have seen a lot of friends come and go. The purpose of this article is to help keep you from becoming one of the unfortunate statistics.

I don’t have actual numbers, but I estimate that the half-life of a postal Diplomacy player is three years. That means that one half of the postal Diplomacy players who entered the hobby in 1980 will drop out by 1983. Of those remaining, one half will disappear by 1986, leaving only 25 percent of those novices who entered in 1980 left. You can see by this high turnover rate that to stick around in this hobby for more than five years is quite an accomplishment. I can count on one hand the number of active participants from my era who are still going strong. Why is this the case?

The postal Diplomacy hobby has a high turnover rate because postal Diplomacy is an intense activity. Players, publishers, and GMs over-commit themselves and burn out. Players join three, four, or more games at a time and many will play in. 20 games or more any one time. (Ron Kelly at one time was playing in over 100 games simultaneously.) Publishers type, edit, print, collate, and mail anything from 20 to 60 pages of material every issue every month. And GMs start multiple games at a time and run ten or more at once. The hobby is addicting; more is better. The more one does, the greater the pleasure (to a point). But what starts out as being pleasurable slowly turns into a pain. When overload occurs the participant drops out. Winning game positions are abandoned, zines fold, and games are orphaned. This is not the exception; this is the rule. It is a rule we have all seen far too many times. But does it have to be this way?

No. If you can identify the symptoms before overload occurs, you can get the problem before it gets you. The symptoms vary with the participant, but there are some general things to look for. Ask yourself: (1) Do you have the desire to spend more time with postal Diplomacy activities than you are already spending? (2) Do you prefer the involvement with postal Diplomacy activities to person-to-person activities? (3) Is every weekend and most evenings devoted to your Diplomacy activities? If you answer yes to any of these three questions then you are a prime candidate for overload and dropping out. It is only a matter of time.

Even if you think that you can handle a hobby involvement that borders on overload, there are side effects to consider, man does not live by bread alone. Nor can he make an interaction with the mailbox and typewriter substitute for real human contact. The dynamics of the game of Diplomacy do not teach the necessary social skills for true personal interaction with others. It is true that friendships are made in the hobby that transcend game level interactions, but it is rare that these friendships continue once one has left the hobby.

Similarly, over-involvement in, the hobby can put a distancing effect on those who are close to you, but do not share your interest in Diplomacy. In more than one case, an over-commitment to Diplomacy has been a contributing factor in the break-up of a marriage. This is nothing to take lightly.

What is the answer? First, assess your situation. Are you spending more time on Diplomacy than you should or would like to be spending? If you are not sure, than ask someone close to you for their opinion. Listen carefully and be honest with yourself. If you decide that you are over-involved in the hobby, then decide what activity (playing, publishing, or GMing) you enjoy most. Cut back on the things that are of less importance. Try to limit your involvement in the hobby to less than your capacity. Go for quality, not quantity. Does this plan work? Yes. It has been the only way I have managed to survive 14 years in this hobby as a player, publisher, and GM while going through high school and college, getting a job, getting married, and becoming a bicycle racer. Learn from experience. I have.

Reprinted from St. George and the Dragon No.61 (Feb 1981)


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