|Politics Isn't a Dirty Word
My first experiences with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons took place years ago. My brother and I would run games together, some coming from modules and others from his own imagination. We both had a lot of fun, until one day I had some ideas on how to make the games even better. I switched from player to gamemaster and ran several adventures, and we both had a blast.
When it comes right down to it, there’s not a lot separating the gamemaster of a roleplaying game from the ruler of an Amtgard park. Both are the lords of their own domains, with voluntary subjects to keep happy and games to keep exciting. Both are selected by their peers. And both – this is the important bit – generally take the job because they want to make the game better.
If only Amtgarders believed this were true.
Nobody makes a secret of the fact that politics is a dirty word in Amtgard. The problem is that, even when people understand what politics means, they often make unfair and uninformed assumptions about their leaders’ motivations. A lot of this stems from the distrust of politicians that has become the norm in our modern age, but there are still a lot of Amtgard beliefs that cause people to sneer at the mention of politics.
MYTH: People run for office to feel special and have power.
REALITY: Leaders emerge because they want to make the game better.
Most leaders run for office because they believe they can do the job better than anybody else. They’re not interested in being special or having power except as a means to an end. Being in charge gives them the tools to make their ideas come to life.
Remember that no leader can get elected without the support of his populace. If the leader is corrupt, then the populace is corrupt – or easily fooled. In a game that celebrates the possibilities of human achievement and harkens back to a more innocent time, we have to give the voters more credit than that.
Even if you disagree with what someone is doing in office, it’s important to look at their motivations. Truly bad leaders are far and few between, and it’s rare to find someone who has the ability to get elected despite being corrupt and who has the time to make their schemes work in Amtgard. Most leaders aren’t truly bad. They just have different goals and motivations than you. Try taking a good, hard look at those goals and motivations, and you’ll see that there is often honorable intent involved in their choices.
Just like the players who want to start running roleplaying games because they know they can do it better, there are people in Amtgard who see ways to improve the game and strive to do just that. Claiming they’re doing it for the power is like claiming your gamemaster is doing it for the power. While it’s true that there’s the occasional 40 year-old loser who lives in his parent’s basement and gets a kick out of killing characters, who wants to game with the guy if they have a choice? And in Amtgard, we almost always have a choice.
A final, interesting thought on people who run for the power rush. . . if they’re doing a good job, who cares?
MYTH: Folks are always being political when they argue with each other.
REALITY: People can hate each other without it being political.
We’ve all heard of some poor guy quitting Amtgard because of the politics. You know how it goes. . . there’s an argument on the mailing list, some people aren’t getting along, and suddenly someone posts about how the politics is making the game less than fun and they’re quitting.
This is absolutely daft. First of all, the online debates almost never have any negative effect at the park. People still play, they still enjoy themselves, and nobody really cares if a couple of the participants had it out online. Second, it isn’t politics. I can hate my neighbor and it isn’t politics; in the same vein, I can hate some halfwit in Amtgard and it isn’t politics.
Furthermore, if I voice an opinion in Amtgard, it still isn’t politics! It only becomes political when the opinion enters into the policy-making process on a level greater than an individual voter. If, for example, I say that the king sucks and vote against him, I’m just making my voice heard. If I campaign for him and try to get other people to vote against him, it becomes political. If I base my opinion on whether or not it’ll get me votes, it’s political. And finally, if I work against someone because I disagree with some Amtgard policy they enacted, that’s also a kind of politics.
MYTH: If you’re being political, you’re being bad.
REALITY: Politics is a tool. What you use it for makes it good or bad.
I can be political by encouraging people to donate money to Goodwill just as easily as I can be political by campaigning in favor of killing puppies with rat poison. Politics, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It’s the goal and motivations behind the politics that’s important.
MYTH: Crown knights are people who master being political.
REALITY: Leadership, not bad politics, is a knightly virtue.
The crown belt is the only Amtgard title that is given for supposedly bad character traits. All the other knighthoods are given for great virtues – the sword knights fight well, the serpent knights are amazing artisans, and the flame knights have great dedication. But when it comes to the crown belt, most people assume you earned it for your political ability. You gamed the system, you didn’t get voted off the island, and you succeeded in the realm of politics.
In a game where politicians are scorned, this is hardly a compliment.
According to conventional wisdom (and an e-Samurai poll), a majority of Amtgarders respect the institution of knighthood. That’s why the myth that crown belts are earned for politics has to be smashed. Crown belts are earned for leadership, which is definitely a knightly virtue. Sometimes leadership involves being a politician – in the good sense of the word – but it never means playing political games. A crown knight who is recognized for his ability to abuse the system is a black mark upon Amtgard.
Either we must believe that our leaders are good, or we must re-examine our belief that knighthood is worth having. The moment that we shift to the second choice, the game we have worked so hard on is in jeopardy.
MYTH: The other side is always bad and political.
REALITY: Clannishness is stupid.
This is surprisingly common, and we all know how it works. Your company supports you in the election because they’re smart, but your foe’s company backs him because they bloc vote. Your kingdom votes in good kings, but the kingdom next door has a bunch of dumb voters and elects corrupt leaders again and again.
At best, this constitutes unhealthy arrogance; at worst, cloistered tribalism. We cannot forget that there are twelve kingdoms in this game, each with multiple groups of people voting for many different reasons. If we claim that only our own company, in our own kingdom, has a monopoly on reason or truth, then why bother playing with the rest of Amtgard?
Instead, we ought to examine – once again – the motivations of the other side. They might be doing something you disagree with, and you might believe that their goals will result in problems for Amtgard, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad people. It doesn’t even mean that they’re stupid or ignorant people. It must means they had a different set of experiences and came to a different set of beliefs about what’s good for the kingdom or the game.
… and finally, sometimes I’m wrong.
There is no myth/reality dualism to this point. It’s a simple fact that sometimes, we do get bad leaders. The same lack of time and energy that discourages powerhungry lunatics from trying to get their jollies at Amtgard also discourages us from removing them in the event that they get elected. We do occasionally get bad kings, and it’s often not worth the time and effort to remove them. We’d rather just wait ‘til they go away. And sometimes we get people who play dirty political games, and there’s not much that can be done about it. It happens.
This is because Amtgard leaders have the power of patronage, and our society makes the awards mean something. This is the incentive to be in charge and have the power – the ability to give titles to your friends and earn titles for yourself. It’s unfortunate that some people value the awards rather than the deeds that earn them, and it’s unfortunate that these people sometimes get elected.
The second way leaders can be bad is through high school “politics”. This is politics in the sense that most people wrongly see it – the games where you exclude or make miserable a certain person or crowd simply because you don’t like them. It’s not politics, but it is petty, and sometimes we get people in power who do it.
And worst of all, sometimes we really do get a group of five or six really bad people who are the only ones who vote. The leaders invariably turn out bad and the good ones are far and few between. This often happens at the shire level where the parks are very small, but it’s not unheard of at the highest levels of power in Amtgard.
This doesn’t mean that the entire system is broken, though. Remember that half of our kings went on to run for office again, and only a small minority of our crown knights are bad people. This reflects well on the leaders of our game as a whole. The thing to remember is that the bad eggs are statistical anomalies. For every veteran who ruins the game, there’s a dozen more who are inspirations to everyone. For every upstart kid who causes problems, there’s many more who work hard to make the game better. Amtgard is a game about hope and dreams, and it draws the kind of people who aspire to something better. The bad leaders really are exceptions.
The best choice when your leaders are bad is to realize where your priorities really lie. Amtgard is about hitting things with foam. It takes an exceptional level of bad politics to stop you from doing that, and Amtgard will notice if it happens because the other lands are paying attention, and most of the time, their leaders are good.
So the next time you are about to complain about politics, take a step back to think about it. Politics isn’t bad, and neither are politicians. It’s just a tool, and they’re just people trying to do things the right way. And if you think they’re going about it wrong, maybe it’s time for you to become one of them.
[ discuss on forums ]