|Between Stick Jock and Flurb
The recent discussion in the forums about what makes an event good ties directly back to the familiar stick jock-flurb dichotomy. It would be overblown to say that Amtgard is riven by this split, but it’s fair to say that there’s significant distance between what these two groups consider to be the ideal Amtgard, and between how these two groups see themselves and each other. Dissecting those definitions gets us closer to understanding our differences, which in turn gets us closer to learning how to run a good event. Along the way, we get to share a feel-good movie moment in which we realize we’re not all that different from one another... although that may just be my anti-flurb bias showing. I shall explain.
It’s been said often that people use the terms stick jock and flurb differently depending on context. This is true: both terms can be used either as praise or as scorn. When a guy says, “I am a stick jock,” he doesn’t mean he is an asshole – at least, not a bad asshole – and he isn’t claiming to be newbie-clubbing troglodyte who despise all forms of Amtgard outside of the ditch. Rather, he is expressing his vocation within Amtgard (“I am good at fighting”) as well as his disposition (“I like to fight”). Conversely, to insult someone by calling him a stick jock in no way passes judgment on what he likes or is good at, but instead accuses him fundamentally of being a bully – his disinterest in Amtgard beyond the ditch field being a symptom of his bullying.
A really nice guy who only ditched might be called a stick jock as well, but folks would be carefully to add a “but” to their descriptions... “He’s a stick jock, but he’s a really nice guy.” Someone who is very good at fighting, but had interests and abilities well beyond the ditch field would probably not be called a stick jock – or, if he was, the description would carry both a “but” and an “and” to clarify that he’s not an asshole, nor is he only interested in fighting. Through that cluttered clarification, we can see what the term really means.
A final complication to this definition exists among people who are incapable at fighting yet persist in calling themselves stick jocks. In doing so, they are trying to use the term to indicate disposition – “I like to fight” – but this represents a misuse of the term. Whether used positively or negatively, the term carries the obvious implication that a stick jock is good at fighting. A person who is awful at fighting is therefore not a stick jock – to be one, a person must at least meet some minimum threshold of ability. Although that threshold could be relatively mediocre, it is generally above the level of ability possessed by – ahem – flurbs who claim to be stick jocks.
This brings us to the flurb word, which these days carries two meanings as well. Like stick jock, it depends on whether the word is used positively or negatively. As self-description – “I am a flurb” – it carries the idea that the person likes roleplaying, battlegames, getting into character, and so on. As praise – “He’s a flurb” – there’s the suggestion that the person is goofy and socially weird, but otherwise really cool, capable, and nice. Like with stick jock, there’s a “but” there, but it’s implicit – “He’s a flurb, but he’s really useful and cool.” That, in turn, takes us to the use of the term as an insult, with a flurb being someone who is incapable socially. There is also – note the “useful and cool” – the idea that to be a flurb is to be incapable (and often unaware of that incapability) in terms of ability as well. Flurb thus serves to indicate an intersection of social ability, Amtgard ability, and Amtgard inclination. Distilled down, flurb as a positive describes inclination towards the goofier aspects of Amtgard, while flurb as a negative describes social inability that manifests in being irritating or incompetent. To put it another way, PAG never roleplayed.
With stick jocks and flurbs defined both from their own perspectives and from each other’s perspective, we can make a few reasonable assumptions. These assumptions are drawn from both sides of the coin: those who use flurb as an insult do not express disdain for battlegames and roleplay, but rather for the way in which the alleged flurbs pursue those objectives. Simply put, stick jocks don’t hate battlegames and roleplay; they hate bad battlegames and roleplay. Since, to them, flurbiness is defined by irritating ineptness, they see bad battlegames and roleplay accordingly. This distinction, admittedly, assumes an element of truth to the negative definition of flurb – after all, if there weren’t flurbs running flurby battlegames and flurby quests, the stick jocks would be playing in them, right? It also assumes an element of truth to the positive definition as well – after all, the stick jocks, when they get into good battlegames, happily talk about getting their flurb on. “I like to be flurby now and then too,” they’ll say – just realize that they are talking about the battlegames, and not about being an irritating incompetent.
On the other side, the self-proclaimed flurbs aren’t necessarily hostile to ditching and tourneys. What they are hostile to is the bad behavior they see in ditching and tourneys. Understanding that Amtgard is fundamentally a nerd society, and that the flurb/stick jock divide is frequently driven by physical ability, and it’s easy to see the distaste many have for the bullying and antisocial behavior common on some ditch fields. Flurbs would love to play, but they don’t want to get bruised because they backstabbed, or yelled at because their line broke, or junk-stabbed because someone else is having a bad day.
Negatively, then, we can see that both accusations are about social error, and that is where bridging the divide becomes difficult. Someone who is a stick jock in the negative sense – a bully, a thug – is never going to credibly bring flurbs to the ditch. Someone who is a flurb in the negative sense – irritating, incompetent – is never going to bring stick jocks to the quests. And both sides will look with irritating at the other with misunderstanding, since the stick jocks will scorn the flurbs for not wanting to fight and the flurbs will scorn the stick jocks for not wanting to roleplay, with both sides unaware that it is not inclination but attitude that drives this dichotomy.
Stick jocks want to roleplay; Flurbs want to ditch. They just don’t want to play with assholes, or to play in stupid games run by idiots.
The solution? It’s simple to say that the stick jocks who are assholes should stop being assholes, but that requires some introspection. Their asshole nature is driven by their stick jock nature insofar as, in a stick jock world, your ability to get your way is based on your might. Similarly it’s simple to say that the flurbs who are incompetent should stop trying to run things, but that requires some introspection as well. Their incompetent nature is driven by their flurb nature insofar as, in a flurb world, your ability to get your way has nothing to do with your might.
Somewhere in the middle, a little truth can be found. Amtgard has some magic to it – it’s more than just foam tag – and we play Amtgard rather than play karate because want to capture some of that magic. At the same time, that magic is based not only on what we can dream, but also on what we can do. We must all, therefore, approach Amtgard as an actor approaches a role: even though you can be anything you want in a movie, some of us are Liam Neeson while others are Keanu Reeves. Within the scope of our unique abilities, there are roles we can credibly play. Although there’s a mild judgment here on the relative abilities of Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves, I want you to know that I really liked Keanu in Point Break; it was a great role that his abilities fit perfectly. I also really disliked Liam Neeson in Rob Roy.
The point here is this: stick jocks, realize you are being assholes to other people. Flurbs: realize you are trying to do things you’re utterly incapable of doing well. Each of you can capitalize on your specific abilities to make the game better, while remaining cognizant of your weaknesses that make it worse. Realizing that screaming at a newbie made him and his friends not play Amtgard will make the stick jock a better Amtgarder. Realizing that running awful events made Amtgarders not want to play Amtgard – and that your abilities lie elsewhere – will make the flurb a better Amtgarder, too. Find things you are good at, and find ways to be nice to people, and you’ll move from stick jock and flurb to “a stick jock, but” and “a flurb, but”... and, in doing so, you’ll make the other side want to play in your reindeer games.
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