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Peripheral Amtgarders (and A&S)
[01/04/2010] [Randall]

"Peripheral Amtgarder." It's a term I've been using for awhile now to describe a certain type of Amtgarder - the sort that comes out to the park about half the time, hasn't got good garb, doesn't hang out with the park's core members, doesn't run for office, isn't in any major fighting company, and isn't belted to anybody. This isn't a derogatory term, as I hope will become apparent over the course of this article. Rather, these frequently invisible people should form the bulk of a healthy park's population. It is therefore critical to nurture this segment of your population if you want to ensure that your park stays strong. Peripheral Amtgarders have different needs than your core members, and these needs must be met if you want to keep them properly engaged.

First, a little discussion of peripheral Amtgarders. I am using Dragonspine proper's numbers to make the following observations, but I have noticed similar tendencies in attendance in many of the surrounding parks as well, so hopefully these numbers are more or less right for most normal chapters. Out of a healthy park of about thirty people, a little under twenty of them (two thirds) will be regular attendees. On any given weekend, you can pretty much expect most of those eighteen or nineteen people to show up. When attendance dwindles, those are the people who remain. On top of that, you have another three or four people (about ten percent) who show up every month or so. Between the two extremes are Amtgardres who seem to show up every other week, and sometimes every week for short bursts of time. These people are your peripheral Amtgarders. In a healthy park, they often seem to represent a third of your weekly turnout. If they all showed up, they'd represent more than half of your park.

Peripherals are a different demographic than your core. The core are the "pretty people" with nice garb who all go out to eat after the park. They probably all sit by themselves around the main trees at your park. They're the "cool kids," if you will, who form the upper strata of your park's pecking order. If you're keeping score, this is derogatory, again for reasons that will become apparent. Contrast them with the peripherals, who often hang out at their own tree, wear poor garb, and don't get included in the social circles of the pretty people. As a general rule, the pretty people like to ditch and the peripherals like battlegames. This is a variation on the stick-jock/flurb dichotomy, but there's a subtle difference.

When there are very few battlegames, or the pretty people are yelling at the peripherals and hitting them hard for "sluffing" and getting away with it, your population will drop off as the peripherals simply quit playing. You will not notice this happening at first, and you may never notice - you'll simply realize one day that your park is down to a dozen people or worse, and wonder who isn't there. This is because peripherals tend to be invisible to the pretty people. This means, if you want to train yourself to keep your park healthy, you need to start noticing them. For many Amtgarders, that's a major step. The second reason why a drop off in peripherals will kill a park is because, although peripherals seem to represent a minority slice of the population, they often represent more than half of a park when it's healthy. People, especially the peripherals themselves, seldom notice this; those who do get the peripherals to pay dues and start winning elections.

Peripherals thus represent a vast untapped resource in a typical park. This makes them a key demographic when considering retention. By engaging the peripherals, you can transform them into more regular players, which in turn makes it more likely for their peripheral friends to come out and play too. Remember that nine out of ten Amtgarders heard about Amtgard from a friend.

Engaging peripherals means talking to them at the park and making them feel welcome, but it also means inviting them to do things away from the park too. Many parks go out to eat after the ditching is done. In parks where the pretty people rule the roost, the peripherals are not invited. Changing that behavior is a major step towards engaging the peripherals. Most importantly, it helps transform the peripherals into core, but not into the pretty people core. That means this: going out to eat as a park, peripherals included, is an investment in your park's future, because you're training your next generation core to treat people the same.

Think about it. The converse of this is true as well. When the pretty people club newbies, yell at kids about "sluffing", and ostracize the uncool kids, their pages and squires learn to act that way as well. Consider which cycle you would prefer at your park, and act accordingly.

This is where I get to Arts and Sciences. In Dragonspine proper and in many parks, there is a regular weekly meeting of artisans, often called "Arts and Sciences," "Collegium," or simply "A&S." Ours is on Tuesday nights at seven. When I was a newbie, we were always invited to this, and we'd get rides if we needed them. We'd watch movies like Blood of Heroes, talk about Clan and other events, tell stories about Amtgard, and hear stories from Amtgarders with more years under their belts. And sometimes, sometimes, we'd work on some A&S projects. I don't think anybody quite realized this at the time, but the prime function of this weekly meeting was never A&S.

I remember looking at the records of Dragonspine proper's attendance over the nineties and seeing a decisive slump beginning in roughly 1997. I remember as well a conversation with a person who was the regent for most of that year. In our park, the regent hosts the meeting of A&S, and this particular regent decided to ban people from attending if they were not working on some sort of project. This effectively killed the regular meetings of A&S, and, I believe, contributed to the long-term decline in attendance at our park. It may simply be a random correlation, or an obvious outgrowth of inceased attendance, but I have noticed since then that a boom in A&S coincides with a surge in attendance, while a drop-off in A&S coincides with a slump. In my mind, these changes in A&S presage changes in attendance at the park. It is therefore my belief that this weekly gathering on a non-park day where everybody is invited to hang out and do Amtgard stuff is critical to a park's health.

If you host a regular A&S, make a point to invite your peripherals. If you don't have one, start one. You don't even have to be in office to do these things. Don't rely on word of mouth alone. Give them flyers with contact information and offer them rides. That last step is critical. Putting something in a person's hand and personally inviting them to come do stuff works where posting announcements online fails. Once you get them to show up, hang out and watch Amtgard movies. Make swords with them - you'll even get a bonus out of that because they'll be using good swords the next time they show up to the park. Help them make better garb. See if your club officers will toss in a bit of the coffers now and then for pizza for the night. Brainstorm battlegame ideas, talk up upcoming events, and get those peripherals motivated.

It will be hard at first. You might only have one or two people show up. You might have to try again and again to make it stick . . . during one slump, we had A&S attendance die off at least three times in a row before there was a solid resurgance. Trust me when I say it will be worth it. The process of engaging your peripherals will gradually transform them into core players, and your park will be stronger for it for years to come.

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