|Trashy Garb and Positive Perceptions
This article is based on a post I made to the Dragonspine list about a little camping event we had this past weekend. The post was very kingdom-specific, but you're welcome to go read it since it had a slightly different thrust. With that little disclaimer of self-plagiarism out of the way, on with the rant!
Amtgard is going in a direction that has a lot of drawbacks. The game is becoming more of a sport and less of a society. Is that a problem? For some people, the progression is ideal, but those are people who dislike garb, feasts, battlegames, court, and sword covers - you know, everything that differentiates Amtgard from, say, beating your friends with a funnoodle stick.
The pure combat side of the game is loads of fun, and I've argued before that it's the core of the game. The thing is, a core doesn't amount for much if that's all you've got. If you follow the idea that fighting is everything all the way to the logical conclusion - and many, many Amtgard groups have - you're left with a bunch of fat guys in t-shirts and white belts swinging purple sticks at each other in a park. Sometimes the sticks have ratty panty-hose on them that are so worn that they'd fit in at a goth convention. And did I say 'bunch of fat guys'? I meant 'half a dozen fat guys', because this kind of Amtgard drives everyone else away.
Presentation matters. Flavor matters. Fighting is definately key, but there is a bare minimum standard to which we should adhere even if all we do is ditch. We should at least have presentable garb (any garb would be nice) and good-looking (and dare I say legal) weapons. Too many chapters unfortunately fall well below that standard.
What brought on these thoughts was a little camping trip my park took this weekend to help a local crafts faire out. It was up in Cloudcroft, and we took a few weeks to plan it and get commitments from some of our members to go. In the end, we had about a dozen Amtgarders heading up to help with the faire.
The weird thing about this shindig is that we didn't contact the lady in charge of the event - she e-mailed us, right out of the blue. Nobody knew how she found out about our club, and we weren't able to find out until we got to the faire itself.
It turns out that she wanted to find a renaissance-style organization to come help out at the faire. She was interested in people who could serve as escorts between parts of the faire and people who could do combat presentations for people to watch. With that in mind, she called the Cloudcroft Chamber of Commerce and asked if there was anybody they knew who could do that for her. They said they knew a few groups, but their experience with the nearby Amtgard chapters had been very negative and they recommended against contacting any of them. Instead, they told her there was a chapter in Las Cruces she should hunt down. That's exactly what she did. She called the Chamber of Commerce in Las Cruces and was told that there was indeed a group in town that could help her. With their strong recommendations, she hunted Dragonspine down via the web.
Dragonspine, in the proper and in many of our duchies and shires, has always been a kingdom that placed a strong emphasis on community service. These events are sometimes a hard sell to our populace because we seldom recruit members when we do these things. My opinion has always been that we should do them anyway. They bring out old players and give the new ones things to do during the week. When we do more than just Saturday Amtgard, the group becomes stronger.
On top of that, we have the added benefit of developing a good relationship with the community. There are many stories, which I'm sure you're all familiar with, of Amtgard groups having trouble with finding parks that their cities will let them use. Some chapters even develop reputations that are so bad that local communities don't want anything to do with them. Because of the good image Dragonspine has presented, that's not a problem we have. There's no reason why every Amtgard chapter can't have a good reputation, and there's every reason why they should. It may take years to build up a good reputation, but all it takes is a few screw-ups to develop a bad one. A little vigilance goes a long way towards avoiding that result.
It's important for Amtgard chapters to look good, have good attitudes, get involved in the community, and stand by their commitments. Those things are certainly important for their own sakes, but they bring many more rewards in terms of how a group is seen. Whether a park is known as a good organization or a bunch of thugs with clubs depends on how it presents itself each weekend. A little work, some attention to detail, and a bunch of responsibility can cause any Amtgard chapter - and face it, we're mostly a crowd of unshaven, foam-swinging deviants in skirts - to be seen as a positive impact in their local communities.
And even if nothing comes of your efforts, you'll at least be fighting responsible people with good garb and safe swords each week. If nothing else, that seems worth doing.
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