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The Three Games of Amtgard
[08/04/2004] [Jabberwock]

In the Iron Mountains of late, there has been a certain amount of talk about the Three Games. Since this gloss seems to help talk about all of Amtgard society, I thought I would write a little informational article about the three games and what they mean.

In a lot of ways, progression in Amtgard follows the three games. You start in the first, move to the second and finally find and join the third. This is a pretty big generalization, though, and everyone will travel in and out of the games in their own ways. But I should probably get on with describing the games themselves:

First Game:

Characteristics: The First Game is the one that Amtgard appears to be from the outside. It is a game of wizards and powerful clerics, monsters and warriors. First Game is often what attracts new people: the idea of live-action fantasy role-playing. People who love the First Game love battlegames. They get to be a wizard, hurling fire at their opponents, or they get to be the wild, grass-chewing barbarian of the Z’gorth Highlands to the north of the City of Whispers. It is a time of innocence and carefree love of playing outdoors. Players of the First Game really have no understanding of the Third Game, and wonder why so many people seem to sit around talking and watching the battlegames instead of playing. Even Second Game players can be confusing, treating them like idiots and calling them names like “flurb”. For players of the First Game, awards are a bonus and a surprise. Class Masterhoods are some of the best awards one can get, and knighthood is about standing for what is right and getting to play Paladin.

Players: Ears and/or makeup are the true marks of a First Game player. Players of this game can be other races, other cultures, and sometimes even have multiple “characters” that they play, with different personalities and classes. Garb can be simple (especially for the new players who are more enamored with the role than the clothes) or intricate (for those who truly embrace their character’s lifestyle).

Progression: In the Iron Mountains, players often grow out of First Game. Everyone around them treats “pretending” as silly and childish. In other places, where there is support for First Game, people can live happily in the world of Amtgardia for years, and often progress to Third Game without ever touching Second. In more “stick jock” locales, the obvious progression is into Second Game.

Second Game:

Characteristics: To people outside Amtgard, it is hard to see the difference. To those on the inside, Second Game players tend to look slightly different; they are harder, and taken to wearing garb that is built for use and practicality rather than to portray a character. When they argue rules, they are not trying to determine what a magical sphere of fire would do, so much as find out what the rules actually mean, or what is best for the balance and play of the game. To the players of the Second Game, Amtgard is a sport. Wizard is about throwing balls to put your opponent out of the game. Fighting is about fighting, not about being a warrior from the Southern Deserts. Classes are more like positions than they are “professions”. Awards for Second Gamers are like marks on the scoreboard: they represent wins. Titles, even knighthood, can mean little, as they have no real bearing on wins and losses.

Special Note: Although I have mostly talked about Second Game in terms of fighting, there are other venues in Second Game which I am not as familiar with. A&S Second Game players are those who are into the act of creation… they are crafting in order to do amazing work and get better, rather than for awards or more political reasons. Just like fighters, a Second Game garber (for example) would look at Garbers and Roses as scoreboard.

Players: Second Game players are usually more heavily into tourneys and ditch battles than battlegames… but not always. Often, battlegames are just another kind of place to show expertise and learn to win. Second Game players love the game as a sport, not as a role-playing exercise or as a chance to be someone else. They are themselves, albeit with a funny name, and are there to play.

Progression: Second Game players almost never progress to First Game, instead moving on to a Third Game track for political or popular success. There is a lot of cross-pollination between Second and Third Game players, especially in kingdoms where Second Game success can score “Third Game points”.

Third Game

Characteristics: Most controversial of all the games, Third Game is not about Amtgard the game at all, but about Amtgard as a society. It is about respect, power, and influence. Players of the Third Game are about prestige. It can be difficult to see a Third Game player. Someone who excels and fighting and is working hard to become a Sword Knight can often be seen as a player of Second Game… but if the motivation there is gaining respect, prestige and influence, the actual game being played is Third, not Second. Similarly, I can imagine it would be possible to even use First Game strategies to gain Third Game success… if role-playing were held in enough esteem, someone with power “in character” would also have out-of-game political strength. “Third Game points” are marks of political success… making the right group happy, or helping out a powerful individual are both examples of winning “Third Game points”. There are some who believe that, in the end, any kind of Amtgard success will be measured by these points and by no other standard.

Players: For a player of Third Game, awards are extremely important, both as a measure of popularity and as marks of superiority. Offices are also popular, as they are a way to spread influence and earn (or command) respect or obedience. Anyone with influence in Amtgard has played some amount of this game: politicking, making the right friends, going to the right parties. Although it is easy for those who are not “winning” the Third Game to see this kind of power as corrupting and purely self-serving, there are many obvious examples of people using Third Game strength to better the game and encourage others.

Progression: Third Game has one curious quirk that can make analysis confusing. Sometimes, people “graduate” from the Third Game… meaning that they have enough influence and power that they can generally stop trying… and go back to Second (or much more seldom, First) game play. For the most part, the movers and shakers are Third Game players… and it is easy for older players to move from Second into Third as the physical demands of a sport become increasingly difficult. There is no real progression from Third Game… the levels, though are so stratified that it is possible to play for years.

These are the three games of Amtgard. Obviously, the analysis includes a large number of generalizations, does not, at this superficial level of coverage, include people who play complex mixtures of the three games. There is also a lot of emotion surrounding such a cynical analysis of this some believe that the very existence of the Third Game stirs up questions as to the worth of the entire game.

My question for readers is… what kind of player are you?

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