[10/31/2011] [Okami Cio Cio]
In Amtgard, one of the most poorly explained complaints about the game is politics - as in, "I like playing but I hate the politics," or "I'd run for office, but I'm not into politics" and "We can't get anything accomplished in our park because of politics." Politics just seems like such an incorrect and imprecise way to describe mis-fired communication, or personal quests for attention and control, or getting things done.
The jobs of Monarch, Regent and Prime Minister are listed out in the corpora of whichever kingdom we play in. Though there are not a lot of step by step procedures, overall they're simple enough. For monarch as an example:
Post a schedule - make sure everyone knows what it is and where to find it.
Show up at the park and be nice to everyone. (Unless someone is breaking the rules or laws, wherein you have to be nice yet stern to them. In the worst case you might have to kick them out.)
Deal with the cops if they ever show up.
Deal with the guys you're renting the facility from if there is a need.
Give out awards.
Recruit and retain players.
Turn the reigns over to the next chump.
Nowhere in the job descriptions does it say, "decide who gets the privilege to run for office next," or "gossip about what so and so did," or even "tell everyone who can listen that you don't like Bob because he's a shot sluffer."
While you're in office, you're in politics. That's inevitable. What's important is to remember that you're a good politician. You're a man of the people. You are their representative. And though the motto for half your park may be "if you don't have something nice to say about someone, come sit by me," you can be above that. In fact, the best thing you can do is learn phrases like "no comment," and "oh, thanks for the info." You have the opportunity to show the best of yourself and the best of Amtgard.
"I shouldn't have to edit myself! I gots opinions and Bob IS a shot sluffing whore and I don't care who knows it. I didn't run for office to become some sort of nice guy!"*
Well, I'm gonna argue on that point, because ya kinda did. Now, I'm not saying that if you're the world's biggest and most dedicated douchebag that you can't do a good job in office. In fact, you may be great at it. I AM saying that if you are such a big douche and don't want to be nice to people, maybe you've chosen the wrong field. Monarchs who are jerks can get the job done. But they cause damage.
Sometimes that damage is small. Sometimes all it is will be somebody's bad impression of you that never goes away. Sometimes it's the cause of break-away parks. Sometimes it's the end of your chapter.
"Okay, if I have to play politics, what do I do?"
Well, it's easier if you change the mindset a little. Instead of playing the dreaded politics, think of yourself as on the job, in the position of "dude who's supposed to recruit and retain." Players will be more enticed if you tell them that everything is good, their new garb looks tops, their fighting is really getting better and so on. If you tell them they need to get better at sewing and quit sluffing, they'll most likely not be retained. Worse still, is when you tell that other dude, who then tells the new person, and the new person thinks you're a jerk. Support, encourage, foster. Of course, a time for honesty is appropriate - "I used to have trouble with stitches like that too, until Lord Sewsaton taught me a few tricks - Hey! Lord Sewsaton, have you met Fred newbie?" That's swell. Fosters growth and intergroup friendships.
In that job as Mr. Recruits and Retains, remember some basics, like "use people's names" and "if you can't say something nice about someone, say something nice anyway." This sounds like I'm being silly, or telling everyone something they should know already, but if it was being done universally no one would bitch about politics. You're the boss, and people take cues from those in leadership positions. You may think you're just letting off steam, but you may instead be steaming someone off! You set the tone for the group. Many people would prefer to play Amtgard in a friendly, supportive environment. You being positive and supportive will foster that behavior in others. It will be easier for you in the long run as well!
"Yeah, but I have this one guy who keeps calling me and bitching about this other guy and..."
I don't need to hear anymore. And neither do you. Seriously, listening to gossip fosters and encourages it. Stop it in its tracks; "Joe, I know you're really worked up about this, but I gotta take a neutral stance on this kind of stuff. Might I suggest you try and work things out with Bob yourself?"
Now, you might want to get to the bottom of things because there's a reason why this is going on, and surely if you just knew the facts you could fix it. . . but you can't. You can't fix a feud between two players (or factions or groups or whatever). Only they can fix their problems. You can redirect their energies. Ask Joe to run a quest. Ask Bob to make new loaner weapons. Encourage them when their skills surface. Don't get into the pot and stir it up and don't try to figure out the recipe. Got feuding factions? Give them a project to accomplish together!
"I try to run for office, but the Old-Boy Network keeps me from it."
Really? Everyone in your park is against you? You have no voters to canvas? Okay, that can happen. First some questions:
Have you qualled? Have you run any events? Have you come to your current monarchy and offered help? (I did but I get turned down. - don't give up - keep offering.) Have you got an idea for a really great reign and gotten everyone else excited about it? Do you show up at the park frequently with a good attitude and garb and your own equipment and such?
If the answer to those questions is no, then you are not helping yourself. An untested player with no track record can be a little scary. And I'm also willing to bet that some of those old-boys have been burned before by some other new person who had a lot of great ideas, but when it came time to live up to the promises they'd made, they couldn't be found. I wouldn't be eager to elect someone who didn't participate on a high level. Doing more will prove to your old-boys that you're the human for the job, and it will prove your fitness to the newer boys as well.
You may still run into people who try to stop you. Here's a little-known secret. Not all people are good at including new friends into their life. In fact, some people are bad at it and avoid new friends. It's not always because they're rude jerks (it might be), in fact often it is their own insecurity and fear that keeps you at a distance.
"Okay, sure, but what can be done about those kind of politics, the inclusionary/exclusionary kind?"
Be nice and friendly even in the face of jerkishness. Don't give up. Show your stuff. Sometimes people are prickly for reasons even they don't know. You won't win them over just because you're cute, or funny, or the best person in the world. They will resist your charms. They need a little courting. It don't hurt nothing to court. Improves your social skills and game. You're not just making Amtgard connections, you're making friends.** That awful jerk may end up being a great pal. That mean old curmudgeon may be your new mentor. That bitchy gossip may save your life someday. Okay, I'm getting hyperbolic, but ultimately, they have something that you want, and you say you can't just take it from them, so charm is really the next best step.
Don't give up. When you get shot down, ask for alternatives to help the group. Bring up new ideas. Educate yourself on what has and hasn't been done. Find what needs to be done and do it, even if it's cleaning up the park. You show your dedication and people will take notice. Turn that no into a yes.***
Show your stuff - so when you say, "I wanna run an event," you should have more in mind and on paper than "this will be kick-ass and we'll have giants as monsters!" A schedule, a locale, an outline and any other pre-event planning already on paper and good to go makes it a lot harder to say, "no, Bob, I don't think we should host that event." Making a feast bid? Give 'em a sample of what you're cooking. Heck, you already show up at the park frequently and have decent garb and people borrow your swords rather than you borrowing theirs. You're a responsible Amtgarder. The kind that I want running my park!
Now for the big one, the general "I hate the politics." Here's my take.
Everyone creates or abates politics of this sort. You feed it with gossip, being nice to Bob but mean to Joe, that kind of thing. You starve it when you refuse to engage in such behaviors. Yeah, we all want to know who did what to whom and for how many kopeks. And yes, we'll keep gossiping forever. As individuals, we can do little things like not gossiping, not acting all superior and judgmental. Not having an opinion on whether Bob is good or bad. Not snarling at the new kid who has been playing for how long and he's still sluffing me? If I don't care whether I win or lose and am just having fun with the game, what does it matter? I'm here to have fun.
That is the best thing we can do to ruin behavior-motivated politics. Have fun. Laugh it off. Focus instead on all that is going right. And if not enough is going right - be the one who makes things go right. Fight fair. Joke pleasantly. Make awesome stuff. Enjoy a beverage and a fun time with these Amtgard friends. When someone starts to drag the drama up, set it right back down and instead discuss something fun. Maybe they'll even learn from you that they don't have to be angry and gossipy and filled with drama anymore.
I personally like politics - or, to the point, I like effective and positive, interpersonal communication, and well-planned systems and activities. Heck, politics can translate into "and a good time had by all." You can make your park a place where no one fears politics too!
* This doesn't mean you have to give up being you. You're known for your acerbic nature? Groovy. I am too. I have accepted that this means people will not always like me, and will in fact get really mad at me when I say something I think is really funny, but they just find hurtful. I have accepted that my desire to be a funny jerk gets me in trouble and I get to beg for forgiveness now and then.
** Some people will never be your friends. No matter what you do they will always be rude or mean or back-stabby or whatever. Still be nice to them and then forget about it. You are great and I'm your friend and totally believe in you!
*** Remember earlier when I was talking about the political whiz - the "Recruit and Retain" you? This guy doesn't tell new players no. He just helps them make their yesses work.
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