|It's the Foam, Stupid
Amtgard has grown dramatically since it was created in 1983. It’s not just the vast number of parks that see people swinging foam swords each weekend; Amtgard has branched out into the arts, the internet, and camping events, too. We’ve even touched the real world with regular movie demos, park cleanups, and community service. Only the most visionary of founders could have foreseen any of this twenty years ago when it was just a few dozen people dressing up funny in El Paso. Unfortunately, as evidenced by a quick glance through our Corpora, Amtgard wasn’t founded by visionaries. It was founded by people, doing the best they could.
This means the Corpora contains many flaws and omissions. Some of these are relatively minor, such as the failure of the Corpora to require that people be from a park to run in the park. Others, like the guidelines for duchies and baronies, are more troublesome. While most kingdoms have solved these problems by adopting their own Corporas, they all still suffer from having descended from this flawed document. Today, we’ll talk about one flaw in particular – what it means to be active.
Activity is important in Amtgard because all the kingdoms require members to be active if they wish to vote. The problem is that ‘activity’ is not clearly defined. Some lands define it as merely paying your dues and having a signed waiver, while others set draconian rules that require you to drive 100 miles each weekend while getting a tattoo of King Lukor on your thigh before they’ll consider you eligable to be thrown into the Pacific. Most, however, go for the middle ground and say you need to participate in a certain number of Amtgard events within the last six months in order to vote. Most kingdoms accept that only those who take part in Amtgard should have a say.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to participate, and what does ‘Amtgard’ mean? This debate is an important one, because it defines who gets a say in the direction our game takes. It’s also a corrupting argument… without solid standards, you’ll have people stretching the definition of active until it includes all manner of unbelievable events. Most importantly, it’ll include whatever it is they’re doing. You can be sure that there's a person out there making Amtgard-themed beef medallions, demanding that he be permitted a say.
I only have one thing to say about that. If you aren’t showing up to a park at least half the time, you’re not active. Amtgard is a rulebook that tells us how to hit each other with foam swords, and it has a list of classes that you can sign in as. If your level of participation isn’t enough that you can’t get a couple of piddly color credits each month, then you aren’t participating… and if you’re not on the field, you’re not playing Amtgard.
Sure, sure, people try to make arguments that they’re participating in all the other things in Amtgard. They say they’re active online. They say they’re doing a lot of sewing. They say they’re handling the paperwork, or that they go to all the events. I just don’t think that cuts it, though. I’m not saying all that stuff is worthless; indeed, it brings great value to the game. But you’re not active if that’s all you do.
It’s critical for these non-participators to put things in perspective. Take me, for example. I am extremely active online, and I maintain the e-Samurai website. I pay my dues, too. Let's pretend that I don't spend two days a week at parks, fighting 'til I hurt. According to the “Let’s all be active! Everybody, now!” standard, I’m active… except, of course, that I’m not, and here’s why.
Imagine me, sitting at work, writing articles for the e-Samurai. Now imagine my park, where there’s some twenty people fighting. Remove me, and people are still playing Amtgard. Remove the park, and all you’re left with is one guy talking about Amtgard. Active? Only insofar as I’m active in real life politics because I talk about them with my friends, or that I’m active in sports because I have a fantasy football league. Heck, by that standard, you might call me an active family man as long as I’m e-mailing my wife enough to let her know I still exist.
Even worse, imagine you have one hundred people and they’re all at parks hitting each other with foam and spell balls… and imagine what would happen if they all quit so they could spend all their time talking on the mailing lists, or handling contracts, or only going to events. Some people would say they’re still just as active in Amtgard as they were before, but the sheer lunacy of the situation I’ve described says it all.
The arts, politics, the ‘net… all these things are good, and I won’t deny what they add to the game. Instead, I’d like to call your attention to what I just said. “They add to the game.” All these things are not Amtgard in their own right. They are merely things that came about because of Amtgard. Because we were hitting each other with foam bats, we needed people to make good swords and garb. Because we wanted to recognize the good things people do, we needed officers to give awards. Because Amtgard grew, we needed ‘net communities to enhance communication. But all of these things came about because of the game. By themselves – without all those Amtgard-loving fools who like to fight each weekend – these things have no value at all.
Take away the fighting at the parks, and what do you have? If we only have the arts, we’re not Amtgard; we’re a sewing bee. If we only have the politics, we’re not Amtgard, because we’d have nothing to govern. If we only have the ‘net, we’re still not Amtgard… we’re just a bunch of people talking, when we should be hitting.
The only part of Amtgard that can stand alone is the part where we show up at the park each weekend and shout “Lay on!”. That’s why we have a full book of rules on how to play the game. That’s why the artisans, the politicians, and the Keyboard Cowboys make up less than a fraction of all the people who play this game. And that’s why, unless you’re showing up to the park, you’re not playing Amtgard.
Every society that has given control over to out-of-touch elites has fallen into ruin, and Amtgard will be no different. It's certain that the founders of our game weren't visionaries, but there's no reason why we shouldn't try; only by setting reasonable standards of attendance that require people to play the game can we guarantee our future.
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