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How To Change The Game
[02/04/2009] [Potato]

“Being an elected leader in Amtgard is a lot like herding retarded cats. Bad enough they won't go where you want them to, but they walk sideways getting there and look at you funny.” -Sir Angrist Galvorn.

Many members of our foam-slinging community swear by the misconception that Amtgarders are wholesale-stupid and couldn’t vote to save their lives. This bad-decision-making-phenomenon, which tends to plague the East in particular, is not really a product of stupidity. Any Amtgarder that is more than a couple of years into the game knows of ‘the dream’ and of its subjectivity. Each decision, whether it is an althing vote or an election, is a step of the majority towards a collective dream.

Inevitably, many individuals experience dissatisfaction with various decisions made towards another’s dream. In turn, these disappointed folk express frustration to anyone with ears, labeling these masses as either sheeple or page-bots. This dissatisfaction with policy is the match that lights the internet flame wars, reinvigorating old vendettas, and regurgitating decade long grudges. Soon, the entire internet is bogged down with retardation en masse until the fingers are too crippled with lactic acid to pump out anymore hate.

So what can be done? It is important to realize that these decisions are not necessarily malignant – they may have negative consequences, but few Amtgarders have stabbing their park to death on their agenda. When an althing decision or election has gone bad, one of two things has happened: (1) either the discarded alternative was actually bad or (2) a key player has convinced a lot of younger Amtgarders into supporting a poor decision. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss what makes a good and bad political decision; however, the presence of newbies is the lifeblood of the game. Newbies are rarely ready to vote intelligently until several years into the game because they do not understand their new context. Being able to gather support of this dues-paid weekend-warrior majority is the key to affecting change towards a personal vision of the dream. Coherence of specific issues aside, the ability to gather this support is primarily the function of visible redeeming qualities, the severity of the issue, the quality of communication, and the audience.

Visible Redeeming Qualities

Many Amtgarders with great ideas go relatively unnoticed or have their suggestions pushed out violently. A friend of mine from Crystal Groves, Shadow, is a great example of this. He has a good sense of the game and its functions as a whole in regards to political points, like the addition of subgroups, and some specific opinions on alteration of the corpora. Sometimes these ideas seem to be congruent with my own opinion and, at the very least, a logical backing exists.

However, Shadow’s ideas tend to go relatively unattended to by the general populace. He is generally unable to gather the support he would need to affect a change. This is due to a low amount of visible redeeming qualities – Shadow has been playing for years but has been unable to gather garb or maintain his own weapons due to his mundane situation. Though his logic tends to be sound in a debate, the general populace tends to ignore or reject his opinions. This is largely because of a lack of positive visible redeeming qualities. These qualities are titled redeeming because anyone involved with politics is slightly less cool by default.

Visible redeeming qualities are crucial – the majority of a park’s general populace, who just plays to have fun, is likely going to judge a lot on appearance. Good garb and equipment is a great way to build an immediately positive image. First impressions are extremely important to winning over a fickle general populace. Things like appliquéd fighting tunics with garb pants are great while tabards are generally bad. Having to constantly borrow equipment tends to promote an ineffectual image. An Amtgarder decked out in stunning court garb sends an image that he or she takes the game seriously enough to make a judgment on a crucial topic.

While dress indicates a great deal about an individual, it does not entirely comprise visible redeeming qualities. The symbolism of a clean white belt, purposely a noticeable color, visually indicates that this person has invested a great deal in the game. While knights are influential because of this visual association with success, there is plenty of room for non-knights create a similar kind of symbolism.

One way to increase the amount of these redeeming qualities is becoming strongly associated with one or more specific pillars of Amtgard: fighting, service, leadership, or arts and sciences. A good set of garb or armor is highly visible to the average Joe. Being strongly associated with leadership of the park is also a good way to build political clout, though it is not always accessible since other key figures are likely dominating that field already. Fighting is arguably the most visible aspect of the game because it is hard to ignore the guy who just stroked you. It is no wonder that many of the most influential people in the game are also sword knights. Again, this is not always accessible, since it requires a minimum of a half decade of practice to begin approaching the top-tier.

Perhaps the most accessible way to gain visible redeeming qualities is service and there is a broad spectrum of skills required to run an event. It is important to remain visible while serving: being holed up in the kitchen washing dishes is bad, running troll is somewhat better, and reeving battlegames is good. It should be noted that this path is still very long and not always fun but it requires less money than pursuing A&S and is more accessible on a physical level than fighting. As a bonus, a lot of service work can act as an entry way to leadership that can help build an amt-resume.

Because it is most important to ensure one’s own longevity in the game, picking a pillar that is most enjoyable for the person is the main factor in building visible redeeming qualities.

Quality of Communication

Spoken communication is very sensitive. Short of corrective classes, speaking is habitual and relatively constant. The best advice that could be effectively contained within the scope of this article is to avoid communicating aggressively both on-field and off-field. Though most veteran Amtgarders are capable of separating these two zones, the general populace, who is new to the context of Amtgard, is not. Be careful to separate communicating aggressively from communicating assertively – assertive communication is backing up your calls and resolving disputes firmly but respectfully. Aggressive communication is calling a reeve a "blind two-bit filthy faggot fuck" during a tourney in front of the last newbies in the city.

Written communication is perhaps the driving force in Amtgard politics – most groups have some form of email list and the internet has brought Amtgard into an era of nation-wide communication. At minimum, a person seeking to affect a political change should utilize some sort spell-check which is a built-in feature for many updated browsers. This act typically takes less than a minute and reduces unwanted noise that in turn inhibits communication. A clear and coherent response is likely to be read more closely than one containing chat abbreviations or lolcats.

It is important to adequately separate formal from informal communication. Goofing around on a forum with various memes is commonly acceptable in general discussion categories, but references to althing votes being over nine-thousand in favor of a certain measure is unprofessional, especially to people who don’t get the joke.

Another avoidable annoyance is overuse of self-disclosure: many people are turned off by reading about another’s personal life. A common adage describing Amtgard is, “This is how I escape from reality,” a far cry from: “This is how I escape from reality into a sea of someone else’s problems.” An example of acceptable and constructive self-disclosure was Oznog’s discussion of his dog’s death: Wizard was known and appreciated by a large portion of the Amtgard community, and his loss was felt by many. This formed a common connection with a great number of Amtgarders, and rendered it a pertinent topic to discuss. An example of awkward self-disclosure would be a 14 year-old complaining about being grounded on E-Sam and, thus, being chided by anyone and everyone in a veritable fire-sale of bandwidth. At minimum, remember that Amtgard is a social circle and not group therapy.

Solid advice for written communication is to post slowly. Reread and revise. Stay away from personal insults even when personally insulted. Simply acknowledge the insult for what it is and move on. Assume that other Amtgarders are adults with positive intentions to move the game forward. The first person to throw insults is often chided by a populace concerned with keeping the peace. I like to call this Potato’s Theory of Mommy-Daddy-Please-Stop-Screaming-It-Makes-Me-Sad Effect.

Audience and Context

The term “big fish from a small pond” is used by the stick-jock community to describe the reaction of a shire’s top fighter to being submerged in a ditch with real top-tier fighters; an ego-crushing gorilla gang rape. This same concept applies to any potential agent of change – the context of the change must be analyzed. There is nothing much to do in increasing the quality of knighthood without being a knight or a monarch already. Making a big A&S push without knowing how to produce wrap pants is a wheel-spinning waste of time.

In addition, being influential in a low-attendance barony does not indicate the ability to guide the kingdom, just as a newbie founding a shire is unlikely to add a new class to the rulebook. As one of the top fighters from Crystal Groves, I am still highly unlikely to convince western warlords to get in better shape. The context is crucial; in order to be an agent of change in a kingdom, a baronial Amtgarder would have to build visible redeeming qualities on the kingdom level by helping at events or competing in A&S.

Severity of Issue

The last consideration in affecting change in Amtgard is the severity of the issue. While most changes to the game are usually resisted, some things are easier to change than others. For example, increasing the fighting prowess of a shire is relatively easy as its fighters learn better form and create new techniques to trump each other. Changing the corpora of a kingdom, however, will potentially be met with much more resistance. This is where visible redeeming qualities, context, and communication come into play.

The above chart visualizes the likelihood of success in gathering support from the general populace in terms of the previously mentioned variables. This chart assumes that drastic changes naturally meet increased difficulty. An example of a minor issue would be running a particular battlegame. A medium level change would be scheduling a midweek fighter practice. A high level change would be alterations of corpora.

Viktor and PAG are classic examples of high-severity low-quality pushes towards change. Not only are the changes they advocate drastic, but they have low communication skills and little in the way of visible redeeming qualities. The knee-jerk rejection reaction of the E-Sam community is congruent with this correlation. Brennon’s work on the 7.0 rulebook is an example of a high-severity, high-quality push because Brennon has a strong image on-field and off-field. Imagine if PAG had attempted to spear-head the production of 7.0. Even if the two parties produced the same exact rulebook, there is a considerable chance that PAG’s 7.0 would have rejected for his low amount of visible redeeming qualities.

In essence, while Amtgarders might accept a battlegame from a denim-clad newbie, they are unlikely to make radical changes to group structure at her suggestion or vote her into an important office. Mid-level crutch fighters, no matter how addicted to their board, are not going to consider input from a slow and awkward fat guy. A crown knight in fantastic garb who attends every week will find that an email rife with grammatical confusion less effective in gathering support than a well polished post.


Achieving change in Amtgard is difficult, but feasible. There is something to be said for sticking to one’s ideals and fighting as hard as possible for a specific cause. This dogged determination is a very positive quality; however, these ideals must be weighed with the desire to foster growth in the game. Ass-kissing is always bad, and a seasoned Amtgarder will nearly always recognize this, but the extraneous factors that influence a park’s decision-making process require significant attention. Without good communications skills, visibly positive qualities, and adequate address towards an audience, change is nearly impossible.

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