Friday, February 03, 2006

Gaming with People Unmet


One key to happiness – GAMES

Playing games with people you have never met in person can be an interesting pastime, and the gaming has a different feel to it than that of face-to-face games.

Shortly after I bought my first wargame (Afrika Korps), I subscribed to the Avalon Hill magazine “The General.” I then made the startling discovery that it was possible to play AK by mail and to locate opponents in the magazine. I was living in Virginia at the time and found a listing for another fellow living in Virginia who wanted to play AK by mail. I wrote to him, and over the next several months, we played a game of AK by mail. The process worked beautifully, and we were evenly-matched, both being new to the game. It was an eye-opening experience.

A year or so after my first PBM game, I purchased Diplomacy and found a thriving community of people across the country playing that game through the Postal Service. Playing Diplomacy by mail with six other people required a gamemaster and cost a small fee. I believe the first such game I played took over a year to complete. I was a co-winner of that game, because the other winner and I agreed to call it a draw after we eliminated the last of our opponents. The second time I played Diplomacy by mail did not require much of my time, as I was the first player eliminated.

Within this past year, I discovered online gaming. My first exposure was to BSW. I found that site to be intimidating and not worth the effort. In spite of an excellent online written guide and some helpful people who answered questions for me in real time, I just never enjoyed being there. I think it’s simply too big and complex for my tastes.

More recently, I was introduced to four other online sites – youplayit, spielbyweb, ludagora, and boiteajeux. Although the language barrier (for me) of ludagora and boiteajeux was an initial impediment, I learned to use Babel Fish to interpret enough words to allow me to navigate it and to play Through the Desert at the first and Torres and DVONN at the second. I have played Amun-Re at spielbyweb and Cartagena at youplayit. All of these sites provide excellent implementation of the games I’ve played. In December 2005, I purchased both Through the Desert and Cartagena, based, to a great extent, on my online experiences. The only reason I haven’t purchased the other games I’ve played online is that I do not believe my family gaming group would be interested in playing them. I will definitely continue to play these games online (well, perhaps not DVONN, as I’m not much interested in theme-less abstract games).

My most recent foray into gaming with an “unmet” opponent is a currently-ongoing PBEM (play by email) game of Afrika Korps, using Cyberboard software.

Playing games with people I have never met in person has been an interesting experience. I still have never met in person anyone I played against by mail, email, or online.

In face-to-face gaming, I pick up visual and oral clues about my opponent(s) which may either aid or hamper my play, depending on the astuteness of my observations or the degree to which I am misled or distracted by that input. Playing by mail, email, or online focuses my attention on the game board positions, the mechanics, and what I can infer from my opponent’s plays.

Face-to-face play is more social, involving more activity extraneous to the actual game play. Personalities play a strong role in whether the game experience is enjoyable or is a disaster. The environment also is a significant factor – the room temperature, lighting, relative comfort of seats and tables, distractions (family members, observers and kibitzers, pets), availability and quality of food and drink, the pressure of time deadlines, and the presence or absence of music or noise in the background are some factors that influence the enjoyment of face-to-face gaming.

Non-personal (not face-to-face) gaming removes most, if not all, of the above factors of gaming. There may be written or typed comments accompanying the moves, but that has a relatively minor effect on the play of the game. All of the environmental factors are strictly controlled to suit myself. This would seem to make it a more “pure” gaming experience, but the missing elements of the face-to-face experience also remove much of the “fun” side of gaming.

I am very much enjoying both types of gaming. I love the weekly face-to-face family gaming experiences I am fortunate enough to have available. I also appreciate having the opportunity to play games online or by email that I would not otherwise get to play. I would not want to give up either gaming method.

As neat side effects of my online gaming, I am enjoying an ongoing email correspondence (like an old-fashioned pen-pal arrangement) with the “unmet” person who introduced me to this contemporary gaming experience, and I am playing games with people living in other countries, an interesting experience which I am sure I would never have been allowed to enjoy, outside of online gaming.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

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