DixieCon, We Have A Problem… Or Do We?

I have agonised over whether to write about DixieCon or whether to move quietly on. Chalk it down to experience. Swallow it up.

Give me adversity and I’ll easily rustle up several pairs of lederhosen from the curtains whilst singing The Hills Are Alive.

I’m a social turnip. I’ll speak to anyone.

But when the taxi-driver offers to cancel his shift and take you out in Chapel Hill because everyone else went out and didn’t tell the new gal where – you know you got a problem.

For some, events will be turned back on my personal failings. “Lauren, you should have thrown yourself into a group, introduced yourself to me.” “You should have been more gregarious, more fun, more telepathic on where everyone was.” Or my favourite, “I just assumed you were having fun.”

Hmm…. I was sitting alone in the hotel garden, reading a book with a massive bag of sweets and a suite of cocktails on the Thursday and Saturday nights because I wasn’t invited anywhere else. No-one spoke to me.

Actually no, that’s not strictly true. Whilst waiting for a lift to the airport on Monday, a well-known Dip-Player said, “well, at least you brightened the scenery up.”  Thanks.

What a miserable weekend.

I will take time out from the sad tale to pay homage to the Tournament Director. He didn’t stop. Taking people to and from the airport at all hours, tidying up after everyone, organising, spreadsheeting, herding cats. I don’t think he slept all weekend.

I salute you, sir. You are a gentleman and a kindly soul.

But culture is rarely set by the hero of the piece.

It takes effort and want from gamers not to gravitate to exclusive, comfortable old-time cliques.

Or folks, just carry on doing what you’re doing and not even wonder why the newcomer never came back.

Bet they weren’t much fun anyway, eh.

Rubbish Diplomacy Player. Unworthy.

You’ll never know. So what does it matter?

The Expectation

Everyone has a story to tell about their Diplomacy journey.

Pull a chair up.

In November 2018, I go to my first UK f2f Diplomacy event.

I remember the trepidatious six-hour drive.

First time away from the kids doing something I’ve never done before with a bunch of folks I’ve never met.

I drink (quite a lot), laugh, stay up all night, connect, make some life-long friends, don’t talk about work and play some stonking, intense, fast-pace diplomacy.

Self-discovery, abandonment, a sense of being that extends beyond the roles we play in life (doctor, mother, daughter).

I’ve written about the sociology of play before.

It’s not afforded easily or equitably to women.

Whizz forward to March 2020.

We hit a global pandemic.

I am redeployed front-line covid. Catch the virus twice. Hospitalised once. Work crazy hours. Change in the garage and shower outside before hugging my kids. Lose my mum suddenly in June 2021. Subsequently see my 80 year old dad through three months of hospitalised care with covid and pneumonia. Oh, and manage the whole home-schooling/exam/school closure thing with three teenagers.

On the other side of all that…

My hand hovers over the ‘flights to Raleigh, let’s go to Dixie’ button.

My bad.

I want the buzz, joy, high-energy diplomacy and connection again. This time a bigger adventure. Pootle Paddington, Lost in Chapel Hill.

I splurge it over discord… ‘first time in the States’. I reach out to a few people who are going. ‘Don’t let me be a wallflower’ I cry.

Maybe I choose the wrong con; maybe my expectations are off; maybe people are preoccupied with seeing old friends; maybe there’s a cultural divide; maybe I’m a pain in the arse to talk to.

Who knows?

For some reason, the stars don’t align this time.

Just when I really need them to.

The Games

Ugh.

I’ll go backwards as Game 3 was definitely the most enjoyable. I’m also not going into them in detail. A flavour is enough.

Game 3 (Sunday): POOTLE ENGLAND.

France (an old-time DixieConner) lies to England and Germany out the box after hatching a cunning plan with Italy. Stabs both of us in 1902. Simultaneously. Wtf?

That was smart (British sarcasm).

France claims to be a top tactician rather than a diplomat. Germany and I look confused at his tactical prowess (sarcasm again).

Russia opens North.

Inevitably all three of us (EFG) spend the rest of the game as minor-league powers trying to contain the wonderful Doc B (Russia). Or not. If you can’t beat them. Join them (winks).

Russia and Austria vie for board-top in a time-limited game. Which everyone (but France apparently) saw coming within the first half hour.

Game 2 (Saturday): POOTLE AUSTRIA

Double Ugh.

Turkey stares into space, talking to no-one.

Russia immediately throws his orders into the box and disappears (somewhere?) every negotiation phase. Sometimes returning for the adjudication. Usually not.

England is standing-in to make up numbers.

People start talking about how quickly we can end the game so folks can go off and play Terraforming Mars.

So, when someone points at me and proclaims, “well, she’s only got a couple of years left, let’s call the IR two-way,” I don’t even get a name or spoken to directly. I’m ashamed to say, I don’t fight it.

It’s not like me.

But playing on feels like enduring root canal treatment without the anaesthetic.

Game 1 (Friday): POOTLE RUSSIA

Where the guy who is meant to be sandboxing on Backstabbr (after the moves are read) starts proactively entering the orders he thinks everyone should be making during the negotiation phase (at the table) when we are meant to be….. errrrr…. negotiating?

Of course, the moves he’s entering are most helpful to his own cause, lol.

Against the rules? Who knows.

I guess no-one else has access to this means of influence, so unfair? Probably.

And not like any face2face diplomacy game I have ever played before.

It results in a huge bust-up at the table. Shouting, screaming, the works. And a very long game of grinding players out the board, with a distinct lack of anybody talking to anyone else.

The torture finally ended at about 5am.

Maybe I ended up in the duff games and the high intrigue, subterfuge and complex, intense, intellectual negotiation was happening on the other side of the room.

The quality of my three games was disappointing.

What Next?

Change takes a will and a want from within the hobby.

A commitment to looking after the newbies and creating the conditions for inclusion. A change of culture.

Revolution is not created by the individual activist, nor the TD hero.

Sadly, my impression from Dixie is that it sorta kinda works for the regulars and most don’t care.

For anyone who might care, I have some suggestions:

  1. There really does need to be a hobby-wide commitment to new attenders at Diplomacy Cons.

I spoke to long-time Dipper and former WDC Champion, Doc Binder about how to crack it.

He told me best way was to attend hundreds of f2f events, get my face known and ‘work my way up the ranks.’

Few of us are prepared to throw money into a black hole of misery nor slam our heads off walls for the foreseeable future.

WDC 2019 attracted a record number of new attenders, including a wadge from my online community Play Diplomacy. As far as I know, none of these folks have attended again.

  • Some people are more warm and welcoming than others. Why not create some Champions for each Tournament specifically charged with ensuring new attenders are included?
  • Organise and advertise an open access social programme.
  • Make sure people are connected and know what’s going on. Circulating phone numbers and creating a WhatsApp group for attendees might help.

Retrospectively posting pictures of how much fun you had at your exclusive dinner on discord, doesn’t really cut it.

  • This one is just basic. Watch out for the people around you.

Wowzers, maybe even include the ones you don’t know and, importantly the ones who have travelled from afar and don’t know anyone else in the room.

If someone contacts you before the event and says… “Hey there. First time attender. Don’t let me wallflower.” Then….  FF’sS, why would you ignore them all weekend?

  • Facilitate quality games. Moderate unfair, abusive or misogynistic behaviour. Maybe balance the boards. It’s no fun playing on a board when players won’t speak civilly to you. An evolving Code of Conduct probably helps.
  • Finally, if you’re going to use stand-ins to make up numbers, make sure they are actually engaged in playing the game and don’t prioritise negotiating an early release so they can go off and do something more enjoyable.

The prize is worth winning.

An evolution and divergence of play-style, better quality diplomacy games, an International Community, and a sustainable future for the hobby.

Your Friendly Wallflower

PootleFlump

A few people deserve a special mention:

Dan and Carol (a big-hearted gaming couple who have been going to Dixie Con for years) who looked after me during some low points.

Board-game legend, newbie dip player and all-round lovely guy, Matt M for keeping me company, choosing my cocktails and introducing me to some weird-fish party games.

To Brad B for the truly delicious sausages, cheese n bread (which turned out to be the highlight of the diplomacy experience).

And to Mr Hood, TD-Extraordinaire, who did everything he could to put everyone else first all weekend.

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