well-made play

French pièce bien faite

Play constructed according to strict technical principles that produce neatness of plot and theatrical effectiveness. The form was developed circa 1825 by Eugène Scribe and became dominant on 19th-century European and U.S. stages. It called for complex, artificial plotting, a buildup of suspense, a climactic scene in which all problems are resolved, and a happy ending. Scribe's hundreds of successful plays were imitated all over Europe; other practitioners of the form included playwrights Victorien Sardou, Georges Feydeau, and Arthur Wing Pinero, who brought the form to the level of art with The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893).

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or thesis play

Type of drama that developed in the 19th century to deal with controversial social issues in a realistic manner, expose social ills, and stimulate thought and discussion. It is exemplified by the works of Henrik Ibsen, who exposed hypocrisy, greed, and hidden corruption of society in a number of masterly plays. His influence encouraged others to use the form. George Bernard Shaw brought it to an intellectual peak with his plays and their long, witty prefaces. More recent examples include works of Sean O'Casey, Athol Fugard, Arthur Miller, and August Wilson.

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In zoology, actions that have all the elements of purposeful behaviour but are performed for no apparent reason. Play has been documented only among mammals and birds. It is most common among immature animals, but adult animals also play. Horses, cattle, and other ungulates run and kick up their heels even when not fleeing from predators or defending themselves. Dogs adopt an aggressive posture to entice others to join in mock combat. Otters are well known for their mud sliding. Male birds may spontaneously perform their territorial songs when there is no intruding rival.

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Vernacular drama of the Middle Ages. It developed from the liturgical drama and usually represented a biblical subject. In the 13th century, craft guilds began producing mystery plays at sites removed from the church, adding apocryphal and satirical elements to the dramas. In England groups of 25–50 plays were later organized into lengthy cycles, such as the Chester plays and the Wakefield plays. In England the plays were often performed on moveable pageant wagons, while in France and Italy they were acted on stages with scenery representing heaven, earth, and hell. Technical flourishes such as flying angels and fire-spouting devils kept the spectators' attention. The genre of the mystery play declined by 1600. Seealso miracle play; morality play.

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or mummers' play

Traditional dramatic entertainment. Mumming plays, which feature the death of a champion who is restored to life by a doctor, are still performed in a few villages of England and Northern Ireland. Originally mummers were bands of masked persons who during winter festivals in Europe paraded through the streets and entered houses to dance or play dice in silence. Thus the name has been connected with words such as mumble and mute and non-English words meaning “mask.” Mumming plays probably have links with primitive ceremonies marking important stages in the agricultural year.

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Allegorical drama of 15th–16th-century Europe. The plays' characters personified moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstractions (such as death or youth). One of the main types of vernacular drama of its time, it provided a transition from liturgical drama to professional secular drama. The plays were short works, usually performed by semiprofessional acting troupes that relied on public support. Everyman (circa 1495), featuring Everyman's summons by Death and his journey to the grave, is considered the greatest morality play. Seealso miracle play; mystery play.

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Type of vernacular drama performed in the Middle Ages, presenting a real or fictitious account of the life, miracles, or martyrdom of a saint. The genre evolved from the liturgical dramas of the 10th–11th centuries, which were intended to enhance church calendar festivals. By the 13th century the plays were separated from church services and performed at public festivals by members of craft guilds and other amateur actors. Most miracle plays concerned either the Virgin Mary or St. Nicholas, both of whom had active cults in the Middle Ages. Seealso morality play; mystery play.

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or history play

Play with a theme from history that often holds up the past as a lesson for the present. Chronicle plays developed from medieval morality plays and flourished in times of nationalistic fervour, as in England from the 1580s to the 1630s. They included plays such as The Victories of Henry the Fifth and The True Tragedie of Richard III and reached maturity with Christopher Marlowe's Edward II and William Shakespeare's Henry VI.

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Religious drama of medieval origin dealing with the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Early Passion plays were written in Latin and consisted of Gospel readings alternating with poetic descriptions of the events of Christ's Passion (i.e., his sufferings between the Last Supper and his death). Use of the vernacular for these poetic passages led to the development of independent vernacular plays. By the 16th century many of the plays had been overtaken by secular influences and had become mere popular entertainments. Some survived into the 21st century, most notably the one performed by local villagers every 10 years at Oberammergau, Ger. Seealso liturgical drama; miracle play; mystery play.

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Play-by-mail games are games, of any type, played through postal mail or e-mail. One example, chess, has been played by mail for centuries (when played in this way, it is known as correspondence chess). Another example, Diplomacy, has been played by mail since the 1960s, starting with a printed newsletter (a fanzine) written by John Boardman. More complex games, moderated entirely or partially by computer programs, were pioneered by Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo in 1970. The first such game offered via email through a major online service was Quantum Space from Stormfront Studios, which debuted on AOL in 1989.

Play by mail games are often referred to as PBM games, and play by email is sometimes abbreviated PBeM -- as opposed to face to face (FTF) games which are played in person. Another variation on the name is Play-by-Internet (PBI) or play-by-web (PBW). In all of these examples, player instructions can be either executed by a human moderator, a computer program, or a combination of the two.

In the 1980s, play-by-mail games reached their peak of popularity with the advent of Gaming Universal and Flagship magazine, the first professional magazines devoted to play-by-mail games. (An earlier fanzine, Nuts & Bolts of PBM, was the first publication to exclusively cover the hobby.) Bob McLain, the publisher and editor of Gaming Universal, further popularized the hobby by writing articles that appeared in many of the leading mainstream gaming magazines of the time. Flagship later bought overseas right to Gaming Universal, making it the leading magazine in the field. Flagship magazine was founded by Chris Harvey and Nick Palmer (now an MP) of the UK. The magazine still thrives, albeit under a different editor over twenty years later.

In the late 1990s, computer and Internet games marginalized play-by-mail conducted by actual postal mail, but the postal hobby still exists with an estimated 2000–3000 adherents worldwide.

Postal gaming

Postal gaming developed as a way for geographically separated gamers to compete with each other. It was especially useful for those living in isolated areas and those whose tastes in games was uncommon.

In the case of a two player game such as chess, players would simply send their moves to each other alternately. In the case of a multi-player game such as Diplomacy, a central game master would run the game, receiving the moves and publishing adjudications. Such adjudications were often published in postal game zines, some of which contained far more than just games.

The commercial market for play-by-mail games grew to involve computer servers setup to host potentially thousands of players at once. Players would typically be split up into parallel games in order to keep the number of players per game at a reasonable level, with new games starting as old games ended. While the central company was responsible for feeding in moves and mailing the processed output back to players, players were also provided with the mailing addresses of others so that direct contact could be made and negotiations performed. With turns being processed every few weeks, more advanced games could last over a year.

Game themes are heavily varied, and may range from those based on historical or real events to those taking place in alternate or fictional worlds.

Inevitably, the onset of the computer-moderated PBM game (primarily the Legends game system) meant that the human moderated games were pushed into the "non-profit-making sector" of the industry.


The mechanics of play-by-mail games require that players think and plan carefully before making moves. Because planned actions can typically only be submitted at a fixed maximum frequency (e.g., once every few days or every few weeks), the number of discrete actions is limited compared to real-time games. As a result, players are provided with a variety of resources to assist in turn planning, including game aids, maps, and results from previous turns. Using this material, planning a single turn may take a number of hours.

Actual move/turn submission is traditionally carried out by filling in a turn card. This card has formatted entry areas where players enter their planned actions (using some form of encoding) for the upcoming turn. Players are limited to some finite number of actions, and in some cases must split their resources between these actions (so that additional actions make each less effective). The way the card is filled in often implies an ordering between each command, so that they are processed in-order, one after another. Once completed, the card is then mailed (or, in more modern times, e-mailed) to the game master, where it is either processed, or held until the next turn processing window begins.

By collecting turn cards from a number of players and processing them all at the same time, games can provide simultaneous actions for all players. However, for this same reason, co-ordination between players can be difficult to achieve. For example, player A might attempt to move to player B's current location to do something with (or to) player B, while player B might simultaneously attempt to move to player A's current location. As such, the output/results of the turn can differ significantly from the submitted plan. Whatever the results, they are mailed back to the player to be studied and used as the basis for the next turn (often along with a new blank turn card).

While billing is sometimes done using a flat per-game rate (when the length of the game is known and finite), games more typically use a per-turn cost schedule. In such cases, each turn submitted depletes a pool of credit which must periodically be replenished in order to keep playing. Some games have multiple fee schedules, where players can pay more to perform advanced actions, or to take a greater number of actions in a turn.

Some role playing PBM games also include an element whereby the player may describe actions of their characters in a free text form. The effect and effectiveness of the action is then based on the judgement of the GM who may allow or partially allow the action. This gives the player more flexibility beyond the normal fixed actions at the cost of more complexity and, usually, expense.


With the rise of the Internet, postal gaming and postal games zines have largely been replaced by e-mail and websites. Play by mail games differ from popular online multiplayer games in that, for most computerized multiplayer games, the players have to be online at the same time. With a play by mail game, the players can play whenever they choose, since responses need not be immediate; this is sometimes referred to as turn-based gaming and is common among browser-based games. Some computer games can be played in a play by mail mode: one makes one's "move", mails a file to the opponent who uses it to make his or her "move" in response, and he or she then mails something back.

Several non-commercial email games played on the Internet and BITNET predate these.


An increasingly popular format for play-by-email games is play-by-web. As with play-by-email games the players are notified by email when it becomes their turn, but they must then return to the game's website to continue playing what is essentially a browser-based game. The main advantage of this is that the players can be presented with a graphical representation of the game and an interactive interface to guide them through their turn. Since the notifications only have to remind the players that it is their turn they can just as easily be sent via instant messaging.

Some sites have extended this gaming style by allowing the players to see each other's actions as they are made. This allows for real time playing while everyone is online and active, or slower progress if not.

See also

External links

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