Last Thursday, I went to my post office mailbox, and found something I hadn’t seen in quite a long time: a letter asking for game help.

Yes, I was astonished, and even touched by his faith that I’d still have the box. He’s one of what I used to call my “regulars”: people who wrote to me at more or less regular intervals for game help.

I’ve always been happy to help gamers who were stuck. In the early days, there were few resources available. Hint books were uncommon, and not many gamers were online with a proprietary service like CompuServe, or even a local BBS.

I knew very well the agonies of being stymied; just read “In The Beginning”. So from the start, I planned for people to write me if they needed a hand with a game.

Of course, back then Computer Gaming World was a small magazine with a tiny circulation. Even so, it wasn’t long after my column first appeared that mail began to arrive.

No, I didn’t frame the first letter and hang it on my wall. Heh. Maybe I should have, since I remember nothing about it at all. Then again, that was a long time ago.

Receiving mail was always a thrill, but the bigger one was getting letters from outside the U.S. It was always a kick to see that airmail envelope in the box.

The first one came from Australia. That just blew me away. Australia! Wow! And I hadn’t even been doing the column that long; a couple of issues at most. Yet that was only the beginning.

As the mag and circulation grew, more came in from overseas. Great Britain. Europe. South America. Africa. New Zealand. Malaysia. Indonesia. Hong Kong. Singapore. Egypt. Lebanon. Bahrain. Almost everywhere, though none ever from Russia or China.

They didn’t come in a tidal wave, of course. The letters drifted in over the years, but usually there were several per month. The mag’s reach never ceased to amaze me.

It also never ceased to amaze me that people were actually writing to me. I knew they would, but somehow never quite believed it until I looked in my box.

Typically, an answer went out the next day. Since it took several days to reach me – sometimes longer from overseas – and the reply would also take as long, I wanted the response to get there as quickly as possible.

Yet, on occasion, a miracle occurred. The record for fastest mail has to be this one: a letter sent to me from Texas on Jan. 2nd – a Saturday, and after a holiday yet – was in my box the following Monday, Jan. 4th. Whoosh! Don’t ask how that happened, just marvel along with me.

Sometimes, it was the reverse. One gamer who lived in California happened to be in New York on business, and sent his letter from there. No doubt he expected the answer to be waiting when he got home. Alas, his letter, mailed from Manhattan to Manhattan, took a week to reach me. He had to wait a little longer for his answers.

Not surprising, the majority of writers was male. But they weren’t “just kids”. Their ages ranged from pre-teen into the eighties. They were students. Military. Clergy. Physicians. Teachers. Programmers. And probably a lot more, but not all mentioned personal details; they were usually more interested in describing their game problems. Gaming, the great leveler.

At the peak, I was answering 60+ letters a month. Yep, that’s a lot of letters and a lot of work. It was all free, too. CGW didn’t pay me for this; it was a purely voluntary service on my part. All I asked was that those writing in the U.S. include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

With the rise of the Internet, the proliferation of hint books, and the rise and demise of the 900-hint lines, mail dropped off as gamers had ways of getting answers faster. Today, of course, with very rare exceptions, there is none at all.

I look back on that now: so many years, so many letters, so many gamers, and I’m glad I set up that mailbox and offered to help. Even more, I’m glad I was able to help. That is the most important thing of all, and even now, gives me great satisfaction.

The mailbox may feel differently. I’d swear, if it weren’t inanimate and a fixed size, that it’s shrunk from starvation. Ah well, at least it had a surprise appetizer last week…miniscorp