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You Are Not the Flurb Messiah
[11/04/2010] [Randall]

Whither the Flurb Messiah? Even as Amtgard is not lacking in those who profess a love for roleplay, the inability of roleplayers to reach the promised land is persistent year after year. Why? The game is not necessarily structured for or against roleplay. Regarding the rules themselves, they are today more flexible than ever in permitting all kinds of roleplay, and yet actual roleplay seems permanently consigned to the back of the Amtgard bus. When it does exist, it emerges on what amount to roleplay reservations. Sure, people might talk about Knoblander or roleplay taverns, but by and large these are myths whispered to flurb children as they are tucked in at night. On a daily basis in the parks of Amtgard where the game lives and dies, the search for roleplay reveals an apocalyptic landscape. Some try to scratch out a roleplay living from this unfruitful earth, but even these hardy souls reconcile themselves to a game where their persona, such as it is, amounts to a tunic and perhaps a name. The rest don’t even try, and instead wait for the one who will restore roleplay and make it safe for them to thee and thou with their heads held high. They wait for a messiah who never comes.

It is thus that the leitmotif of flurb consciousness is despair. Although Amtgard was never a strong vehicle for roleplay, it is commonly believed by flurbs that the old days were better. Roleplay today is seen as diminished from its lofty heritage. As for the future, it will necessarily be worse as those who do not actively promote roleplay appear to be the ones most able to leave their imprint upon the game. Faith in halcyon days of lost promise is easy to internalize for flurbs, many of whom brought their dreams of roleplay to Amtgard believing that the game would accept and incorporate them without difficulty. Even the best of welcomes would have been insufficient to reconciling the imperfect fit of Amtgard with these roleplay dreams. As it happens, many flurbs did not receive the best of welcomes. Those who did, believing they had to choose between Amtgard and roleplay, left their dreams behind.

There has been disagreement about what it means to be a flurb. Originally a term conveying a combination of ineptness with a love for Amtgard’s gentler pursuits, it has for some people been divorced from its derogatory roots. Many Amtgarders who do not fit the flurb stereotype will assert that they’re into “flurby” things like roleplay, quests, personas, and battlegames. Nevertheless, discontent about roleplay in Amtgard persists, and no-one is credibly stepping forward asserting a mandate to fix it. The standard-bearers of flurbdom are often flurbs in the older sense, frequently lacking the skills necessary to translate their dreams into reality. As for the rest of the lovers of roleplay, their efforts are somewhere between token and non-existent. The roleplay forums on e-Samurai are a ghost town. Roleplay efforts throughout Amtgard seem to only succeed if vigorously led, and sometimes fail despite being vigorously led. Even without these avenues, fans of roleplay seem to do nothing even when nothing is stopping them from roleplaying. When all it takes for roleplay to happen is two flurbs touching each other honestly, what does it mean when the host of Amtgarders who lament the slow strangulation of their dreams does not lift a finger to save them?

It first means that the traditional distinction between flurbiness and flurby pursuits is mistaken. It is not a coincidence that flurby pursuits are identified as the ones embraced by people who can’t seem to accomplish those pursuits. If the majority of lovers of flurby pursuits were capable of making them a reality, the question posed by this article would be moot. This doesn’t mean that all lovers of quests, to pick an example, are flurbs: a person who loves roleplay but is not a flurb in the derogatory sense will roleplay, just as a person who loves to ditch will find someone to ditch with even if there’s no ditching planned. Certainly, these things exist on a continuum, but it is generally in the combination of incapability and hobby that we find the essence of flurbness. A flurb, then, really wants to do quests and roleplay and the like, but fails to do those things. This failure can come from many sources: a genuine lack of ability despite effort; effort that is merely token, allowing the flurb to “try” in a way guaranteed to fail and reinforce preexisting worldviews on roleplay; a fear of even trying at all. Fundamentally, then, proponents of roleplay do not want an opportunity to roleplay, per se. It is insufficient to accord them that opportunity because they are unable to take advantage of it. They are instead reduced to waiting for someone else to begin the roleplay for them.

A flurb is therefore a sort of Amtgard nerd. There are those who will object to this definition, saying that we’re all nerdy by virtue of our pajama dresses and foam bats. This is a facile assertion. Although it is meant to shame those who look down on flurbs into accepting the things they have in common with the flurbs (and thus treat them better), it fails because it excuses those people from taking any action to help the flurbs. After all, if we’re all nerds, then the nerds who can’t seize their dreams have only themselves to blame. We might imagine a stick jock saying that, if he can roleplay despite being a nerd, why can’t the flurb do it too? If, on the other hand, we’re not all equally nerds, then conceptual space is opened for us to examine the whys and the wherefores of flurbdom. That is when we discover that flurbs approach the game in a way that is fundamentally different. They are the nerd’s nerds of Amtgard, and as such they lack the emotional tools necessary to take advantage of opportunities. They are vulnerable. We have to understand that many people come to Amtgard because it is a place they can belong. A person can talk about Dungeons and Dragons at the park and not be judged as a weirdo. This means our population is going to be nerdy as a baseline, making those who are nerds among nerds especially emotionally vulnerable. Tell a flurb that he can roleplay if he wants to roleplay, and he will recoil. Empowering a flurb requires more than providing options. The flurb must be shown the way. Fundamentally, this all means that the flurb messiah will not be a flurb.

“Flurb Messiah” is a term of ironic rebuke that I deploy in conversations about roleplay in Amtgard. These conversations are always with non-flurbs. When people who are not themselves classic flurbs pop up advocating for roleplay in Amtgard, I use the term as a summary response to ideas that are slightly wrong. Slightly wrong is all it will take. Flurbs often have an unrealistic view of what roleplay means, and will construe, flurb-like, any deviation from this vision as a failure and a reason to abandon the effort. Others will be afraid to try at all. This sensitivity born of vulnerability is key to understanding why introducing roleplay has little margin for error. It is also key to understanding why a roleplay space is not enough. He who preaches, “Let all who are hungry for roleplay, there is a roleplay tavern over there” will not succeed. The message instead must be, “Let all who are hungry for roleplay, come and roleplay with me.” And even that is insufficient unless the preacher throws the first stone. What a flurb wants most of all is to feel comfortable roleplaying, and that requires a crowd. Since the flurb can’t make a crowd, someone else must.

As for these false prophets of roleplay, they have so far lacked the je ne sais quoi required to serve as a catalyst for change. None among them is the flurb messiah. Were it otherwise, we would see the change around us, and this article would again be moot. From all of this, an epistemic truth emerges. The flurb messiah will not be a flurb, and will know why the flurb messiah will not be a flurb. This knowledge is foundational but not definitional. It is the minimum.

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