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Panning for gold in the PBM graveyard
Over the years, I have written quite a bit about play by mail gaming, or as it is more affectionately referred to by gamers down through the years, PBM. Looks like it's time, once again, to add a page to that whole chapter of thought.

Some of what I have written in this span of time on the subject of PBM has been related to specific games, of course, but in recent years, most of what I have written on the subject tends to be on the hobby and industry of play by mail, in the broader sense. During such instances, I have frequently resorted to framing PBM in terms of life and death. Here, I do so, again.

I like colorful subject headings and titles, so the title of this editorial seems to fit that bill. Panning for gold in the PBM graveyard. I think that it has a glint of the colorful about it, anyway.

So, what do I mean, by saying that?

Quite simply, this time at least, I am talking primarily about myself. Forget everything that you've heard or read on the subject of the death or dying of play by mail gaming. Instead, just listen to me for a moment, as I expound on the subject by drawing up a fresh bucket of thoughts from the well of my mind, tonight, while I sit here in the pre-sleep hours before I awaken (Hopefully!) to a new day of work and routine.

Forget player numbers and PBM company profits. Forget overall number of games and specific games that might or might not be your personal favorite PBM games. Forget turn fees and set-up fees and special action fees. Forget the dozens of PBM companies and hundreds of PBM games that have fallen by the wayside or become lost to the sands of time down through the years. Concentrate, instead, on what may well be the real graveyard of play by mail gaming - the very same one that my mind seems to be taking a grand tour of this very night from the safety and comfort (Say, what?!) of my computer chair.

I'm talking about the loss of something called hope.

As the editor of the PBM magazine, Suspense & Decision, and as the sometimes absent site administrator for the PlayByMail.Net website, I reflect anew upon the magazine's history and its fate, particularly in light of my fairly recent decision to end publication of the magazine - a decision subsequently rescinded or overruled, depending upon how one views such things.

Over the years, there have been numerous different times when I have pondered shutting down the PlayByMail.Net website, and bringing to a close my adventures in the realm of all things play by mail. I could, of course, just let the domain name and/or the web hosting expire, and let it join the oh so many other PBM-related websites that have shut down over the course of the last however many years that it has been since players and PBM companies have been launching websites related to their hobby and their industry that we call PBM.

Yet, here's the deal, as my mind sees it, tonight (and before I forget the nutshell of what I was going to say) - when hope dissipates, death draws near.

However else that it may be described, when one loses their motivation for PBM, whether temporarily or permanently, hope begins to dissipate. In those moments, PBM as a whole seems a whole lot smaller, less significant, less vivid and alive.

Yet, when that old motivation kicks in, again, or just sort of ignites all on its own, the perspective changes. For instance, where I, myself, am concerned, I go from being ready to just end the only PBM magazine currently in existence (to the best of my knowledge), to feeling as if I really do have a better handle on how to proceed from here on out, going forward.

New ideas come alive! The spark of desire returns! A feeling of power manifests itself - the power to make a real and positive and meaningful difference!

Unfortunately, there is no way known to man to bottle moments like this. Opinions change. People change. Priorities and preferences change.

In the time since this forum has been active and online, I have spoken about El Dorado in the context of play by mail gaming on numerous different occasions. Just do a search of the forum, here, using the worlds El Dorado as your search term, if you don't believe me, or if you just plain can't remember what I am talking about. Anyway, this latest fit of hope on my part may not even remotely approach an El Dorado of any sort, but for the time being, I see the glint shining back at me, as I pan for gold in the recent episode of my own diminished motivation to continue on.

Issue #17 of Suspense & Decision magazine is already taking form. Sure, it's overdue - long overdue! But, that will soon be water under the bridge, and Issue #18 will then begin to loom large before us. And with it, I think that more than a few believers will be made of the doubting Thomases out there. If I fail, so be it! What, though, if I - if WE - succeed, though?

One man's treasure is another man's junk, and likewise, one man's success is another man's failure. But, if you think that there's a better PBM train out there, then I encourage you to buy a ticket and to enjoy that ride. The ride offered by Suspense & Decision magazine has been a bumpy one, that's for sure. We seem to always be holding on by a thread, or in danger of crashing at any moment. But, what of it? Why is that such a bad thing? The alternative to Suspense & Decision as your PBM magazine is what, exactly? 

Yes, yes, there are numerous forums and discussion groups out there on the Internet. There are a number of established player communities geared towards and focused upon certain sub-sets of the overall PBM market of games currently in play and on offer. And, yes, perhaps your time would be best spent there. Only YOU can determine that for yourself.

And likewise, only I can determine for myself where that I want to take this PBM magazine and this PBM website. PBM companies are charting their own destinies. PBM moderators are designing and running their own games (and, sometimes, the games of others). PBM players are playing what they want to play. They're deciding for themselves what they like and what they feel is worth investing their time and energies and efforts in.

Thus, there are lots of different visions playing themselves out, simultaneously, across the realm of play by mail gaming at any given moment in time. From time to time, I receive various suggestions from different individuals about how to make Suspense & Decision a better magazine. I listen. I ponder. Sometimes, I embrace. Other times, I don't.

Yet, through all of the ups and downs, this site is still here, and Suspense & Decision is still an ongoing publication. Somehow, I think that both are still relevant in the grand scheme of all things PBM.

What it boils down to, I think, is this: Active or Passive?

When PBM companies and PBM game moderators become passive, the future of play by mail gaming is jeopardized. When they are active, hope begins to flourish anew. Likewise, when I am passive, the magazine suffers, as does this website and its forum. When I am active, hope springs anew.

From a single spark, a wildfire can begin. Great forest fires can trace their origin to quite humble beginnings, at times. When it comes to PBM, I really do think that we all could do with a little more fire in the belly, for it is fire in our own bellies that, collectively, allows the great beast of play by mail gaming to be a fire-breathing dragon of gaming fun.

So, in the coming issues of Suspense & Decision magazine, some games or companies or individuals may get raked over the coals, and I may try to light a fire under a lot of asses. One of those asses may belong to you. Understand, though, that man's quest for fire continues on. If play by mail gaming is truly already dead, then there should be no real danger that anyone - myself included - can burn it down.

If you can and if you will, I need you to find the fire within yourself. I need you to speak with fire on subjects and issues pertaining to play by mail gaming. I need PBM companies to fire themselves up, and take an active interest in advertising their gaming products, and in developing some new games for a PBM industry very much in need of a fresh coat of interest. I need to see the fire in your eyes, and to feel the flames when your voice speaks on the subject of play by mail. Fire me up, and in turn, I will try to do the same for you.

The PBM graveyard is not a place that you visit on the Internet. Rather, it exists within us, in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls. The best reason that I can think of to pan for gold in the PBM graveyard is because that, I think, is central to opening the graves and to raising the dead. It's about perspective. It's about desire. It's about setting the place on fire!

So, strike a match, grab a torch, and help me to build a giant bonfire right smack dab in the middle of the PBM hobby and industry, that it might be a light unto the world of gamers just looking - and itching - for some gaming fun that they have never tried before, or which they haven't tried in a long, long time.

What say ye?
Well, I can tell you my PBM adventures have begun in earnest. I've completed my first game of Hyborean War in years (placed top ten as my first time running Kambulja), now in eight games, with three of them approaching their end state.

I'm in two different arenas in Duelmasters/Duel2.

I've found an active company running Adventurer Kings, one of my all time favorite PBS, and have just signed up for a game. Also for a game of online Diplomacy through them.

I'm contemplating a game of Middle Earth. Never played it back in the day, but might give it a shot.

There is still gold in them thar hills.
Oh yes, and still in Antony Dunk's Xott, which has been running since the 80s. My team has come a long way and has seen many joys, tragedies and changes in their lives. A joyous reunion is coming and major decisions are being made. Major challenges await, and the game goes on.

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