Play by Post

Gemini makes me think a lot of the old days, by design obviously. Looking back, it was interesting how we worked with what he had back then, and appreciated the tools we had at the time for what they were, free of the relative perspective of what exists now against which to draw comparison.

In particular, what I am thinking about here are "play by post" games hosted upon forums; by far the most popular way to do things in the later 90's and earlier 2000's when dialup still reigned supreme. At least in the rural area in which I grew up. While IRC existed at the same time, naturally, it wasn't nearly as heavily utilized for this kind of thing. "Continuous and uninterrupted gameplay" was comparatively foreign at the time, and I had enough trouble trying to bring together my companions for an hour-long game of Command and Conquer 95. A six-some hour session? Unthinkable!

If forums were the main medium, the main game, insofar as my experiences go, was World of Darkness. I suppose I ought say "Classic/Old World of Darkness" at this point, for it has gone through several questionable iterations (leaving us at Iteration X, if you will. Har har.) by this juncture. Of those, it was Vampire the Masquerade that was the most common to happen upon. The rarest was probably Mage the Ascension, unfortunate being that it was also my favorite bar none.

Wraith the Oblivion remained perplexingly popular throughout that entire period regardless of how many groups it destroyed. I dare to say that game was made as a trap for those bearing overconfidence in the maturity of their friend group. The concept of the playable Shadow is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting-yet-horrible ideas to come out of White Wolf. Mind you when I say this, I mean that anything related to the Black Dog books is simply horrible without any tangible upsides.

They were good days, I remember them clearly despite the weight of time's sands thereupon. Speaking just of the games themselves, they were a breath of fresh air compared to Dungeons and Dragons - itself a decidedly more action-oriented game when paired against WoD's slower and social emphasis. Being that my in-person groups were primarily fans of D&D, the break was refreshing. Speaking of the community, they were almost always of an unusual sort, but so were people interested in home computing back when it was still in its earlier years. While hard to find like minds back in the real world then, especially in the boonies, it was one of my earlier experiences of the glories provided by the internet.

If not some WoD variation, then you were liable to find weird homebrew games of every stripe you can imagine, freeform or rule-based in equal measure. Even though tabletop has become far more popular, I feel that the Renaissance Period of it had already passed by the time we arrived here in the year of our Lord, 2021.

Much younger at that point, I remember spending a wealth of time awaiting replies. These days, now that I myself am far busier, I've come to appreciate the forgiveness in scheduling such a medium provides.

Those gave way to IRCs or the increasingly popular IM programs as we approached the 2010s, with PbP pretty much being dead by 2012. Most of mine had either went belly-up or moved to IRC, AIM, or Skype. The former in greater quantity than the latter, and IRC the most popular of its replacements. I remember mostly haunting Rizon and DarkMyst. Multi-User Dungeons/Multi-user Shared Hallucinations (MUD/MUSH) are worth mentioning here too, but I never got into them in any great capacity. Their rigidity put me off of the medium, combined with the cliquish nature that seemed to fester within them as naturally as algae and fungi do to form lichen. An inseparable composite organism, both of these things.

Then three years later the advent of Discord laid low what forums remained, IRC, and IM all. I still find it somewhat suspect how hard it was pushed and how fast it was adopted, especially considering its many drawbacks. Terrible performance being a prime one, notable since it stands in contrast to what it's target audience (gamers) ought to want from a program meant to run concurrent with high-end games. Not to mention it's many glaring security and privacy flaws [1][2], which kept me from pursuing it more so than its gluttony for system resources.

There are still PbP forums out there, and IRCs, for it is rare for anything of this nature to truly die. That is practically the mission statement of this protocol, as those of us so established know. Yet still, one has to go out of their way to find them. I miss the wealth of them moreover than the venue itself, the vast and oftentimes publicly accessible troves of people's interests and hobbies given life. Again, much akin to where we are here. In later days the ones that did exist seemed to get far more exclusive, perhaps in response to the "New Eternal September" ushered in by smartphones. I'll save such topics for another time, save to note that this is a common reaction and one that oftentimes accelerates the death of a community rather than delaying it.

Having said this, the aforementioned MUDs/MUSHes are going about as strong as ever. If one finds themselves interested therein, a search engine can easily produce aggregators hosting a few dozen still active examples apiece.

One day I'll find a Mage the Ascension game again, surely.

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