By Hilary Titley
Before the days of the internet, committed “gamers” without adversaries would sit and handwrite (handwrite!) long letters to their opponents, detailing their moves in a game of, say, chess. Nowadays, the most common way of communicating is via email and while chess still holds, and will always hold a place in the play-by-mail gaming world, role-playing games dominate discussion.
“It’s interesting the different people. On the one hand you have people that fall in love with a genre–they take a work of fiction [like Harry Potter] and they play a game where they can be a wizard,” says Brandon Blackmoor, whose website, rpglibrary.org, acts as a kind of resource for role-playing gamers. “On the other hand you have people who have been playing face-to-face games for years that [maybe] have trouble finding people, or maybe their work schedule makes it difficult to sit down at a table with somebody else for four hours [to play a face-to-face game]. You know, for whatever reason they find it easier, or maybe they just prefer the email.”
Players enter into games by taking on a character in the outline of a story provided by a gamemaster. It is up to the players to further the narrative.
“The person running it [has to have] a good feel for the pacing of things–like how often new, exciting things [should] happen and how long you would let the players just ramble without something dramatic happening,” says Blackmoor. “It’s such a cooperative thing. It really requires most of the people playing to take initiative and go forward and add new things.” One thing that is often overlooked about playby-mail and role-playing email games is the fact that it takes a committed writer with imagination and skill to come up with interesting things to contribute and keep the story going.
Blackmoor warns that this type of writing isn’t like a novel with a beginning, middle and an end and that play-by-mail games like this rarely tie themselves up and finish–most games simply peter out. Games like this can and do run along the standard Dungeons and Dragons line while other types are faninspired, like Star Trek, but just as likely are games where players place themselves in ’30s inspired detective stories or in a love story set in Tokyo. Rpglibrary.org regularly links to such games looking for players as well as to articles on the latest news from within the community– a community or writers that has often been overlooked but is passionate and strong.