Hothouse Flowers and Weeds... How Does Your Garden Grow?
by Yamamoto "Spearweasel" Kansuke
This article was originally printed in two parts on The Electric Samurai
Hothouse Flowers and Weeds
I have a theory that stick jocks are the lowest “energy state” of Amtgard. This is different from saying that they are the lowest form of Amtgard. By this I mean that for stick jocks to flourish at a park requires very little attention or effort on the part of others. This makes them the most persistent players in a failing park, resulting in them often being blamed for a park’s decline.
Role-playing is a "hothouse flower"; it is delicate, requiring proper setting, attention to detail, and enough motivated people to sustain a story or even just a mood. It requires cooperation, consensus about story and mood, and a variety of other intangibles. If you get beyond a certain critical number of people who are even apathetic about the role-playing, the whole thing pops like a bubble... *pop* and you have no role-playing... just people in funny clothes, wandering about looking for a lost fragment of Dream. If a bunch of people shares the same illusion, it can pass as reality of sorts... if they don't share, you have a field full of wanna-be psychotics lost in their own elf-filled hallucinations. You must have common ground for role-playing to work. This takes a lot of energy to sustain, often with little visible reward... role-play is its own reward, and not everyone enjoys it. Key to the success of RP is leadership that wants it and populace that wants it. Lack one of those, and you won't have RP. Neglect kills role-playing fast.
Stickjockery is the ultimate LARP weed. It will survive anywhere, even in an area hostile to LARPing in general. It requires nothing but shared rules, the desire to fight, and a place to do it. The combatants don't need to agree that one is a Drow Ninja Were-Dragon while the other is a Virtuous Servant of Light... they only need to agree that a hit is a hit, and sometimes not even that much. Because it is an athletic activity, one doesn't have to be overburdened with an active imagination to be good at it and derive pleasure from it. It certainly doesn't hurt, but all you really need is a competitive streak of one sort or another. You don't need a reeve, or garb, or a rulebook. It's tag with sticks, self-contained, low maintenance, and all you need is a few people to show up. If for some reason a park is suffering from low turnout, or low amounts of drive in the populace, a few people will still show up just to fight. A park with no role-playing and no A+S will often still be able to sustain membership just on the strength of a few hardcore players who come out to fight, plus whatever casual people see it and join in the fun.
This means that when all else is gone, the stick jocks will still be fighting. Since they are usually the last ones left after a park has declined, non-stick jocks see them as the cause of the decline. Sometimes they are. Usually they aren't. Role-players need consensus, for the stick jocks to play along with their role-playing, or the RP vibe will be disrupted. Stick jocks need nothing except an opponent, and often don't want to be shackled with what they see as irrelevant fah-fah-fooey. A vivid if not entirely accurate analogy would be this. Imagine trying to play 3ed DnD at the dining room table, while your brother and his buddies are having their poker night at the same table. I'm pretty sure that Poker wins, as you don’t need to set the mood to play Poker successfully.
Is there a solution? In most cases, the answer is segregation. A population will settle out so that some parks, especially those blessed with good terrain, will become known as RP heavy, but with mediocre fighters. Others, especially those with less varied terrain (like a province in a park with just a big field) will often become stick jock havens, renowned for great fighters but no garb newer than 2 years old. While sad, this segregation seems to work most of the time. At events or raids, the two groups make faces at one another, usually finishing with the stick jocks driving the sulking RP weenies from the field with neither side happy about the battle... the RP weenies got thwacked by guys in jeans instead of the Darklord's forces, and the stick jocks didn't get the fight they'd hoped for.
Another option is for strong leaders to build political will for role-playing, by cleverly selecting RP venues that stick jocks can get into, and gently seducing the stick jocks into the world of mild role-playing. No matter how jockey the stick jocks, they were still geeky enough to get roped into a boffer LARP. Losing sight of that is the RP weenie's first mistake. Given the proper motivation, even the crustiest stick jock, maybe even Zumat, can reach deep inside and find that little RP weenie that pulled him away from football and into boffer combat. If you have both RP weenies and stick jocks at the same park, the RP weenies will have to be the ones to compromise a bit... they need the stick jocks' cooperation more than the stick jocks need the RP weenies.
All that being said, I prefer a mix of both in a single park. I want both fighting and RP. But RP takes cooperation and participation, two things often in short supply in Amtgard.
In the meantime, there's always ditching.