It’s not just a game: Exploring campus gaming culture

By Karen Ho

Fifty years ago, gaming culture consisted of children running to a local arcade with friends after school to avoid homework. It consisted of a simulated ping pong session on a clunky home TV. It maybe even consisted of playing chess with an uncle and losing every time because at least he knew what he was doing.

Gaming culture was relatively simple.

Fast-forward to recent times and games immerse players in post-apocalyptic situations, tug on their emotions and moral heartstrings, require genuine concentration and strategizing and even sell out arenas.

As gamers grew up, games grew up with them. Games have evolved within the past 50 years, and its culture has become one that is complex and is emerging as a well-developed entertainment medium.

On one end of the gaming spectrum, video gaming culture is about what exists beyond the game and the gamer: the art, the music, the mechanics and especially the community, which was first catalyzed by the eSports scene.

“It helps people find common interests,” said Kyle Turchik, a fifth-year computer science student and president of the Game Design and Development club on campus. “[Games are] a very social thing where you can actually interact [with other people] while you’re playing a game.”

Games also serve as good conversation because of the many inexhaustible topics to talk about.

“The conversation never ends because games are always changing,” said Andrew Wood, a second-year computer science student. “There’s always a new game coming out, and there’s a million different things to talk about for each game.”

The experience from playing games with others and forging friendships constitutes a large part of the culture. Turchik and Wood said that the memorable moments and “crazy things” that happen are precious mementos that people share in video gaming culture.

“It’s a happy feeling,” said Wood.

Another budding aspect of video gaming culture is the rise in numbers of people on streaming sites, like YouTube and Twitch, who watch games rather than play.

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel notably broadcasted a skit poking fun at game watchers in 2015, but was immediately met with a wave of criticism from the video gaming community.

Turchik and Wood don’t consider the act strange. For Turchik, it’s a convenient way to experience a game without slaving hours on end, especially during the busy school year. And while Wood agrees with that, for him it’s also just another form of entertainment, like sports watching, and a way to share an experience with the gamer.

“You don’t have to take part in everything to find entertainment,” Wood said.

On a quieter yet steadfast end of the gaming spectrum, board gaming culture is similar to video game culture in that it is also social, but necessarily social. Friendships become a natural result of it.

“The social aspect is a huge part of it,” said fifth-year computer information systems student Otto Moses, president of the tabletop gaming club Gamers Union. “You come to a place, you sit down with someone and you spend an hour or two across the table from them”you make friends.”

Moses said that the board gaming community is largely comprised of friendly and accepting people and that most of his friends were made through the club.

“It’s been a huge deal for me,” he said.

At Cal Poly Pomona, the campus represents its fair share of the gaming community through a few clubs.

One of them, the Game Design and Development club, strives to provide opportunities for people to learn to create their own video games and foster an environment where aspiring game artists, writers, musicians and businesspeople can grow.

The club is fairly new compared to others. It was founded in 2014 in response to the lack of a game design and development club on campus.

“Most other colleges have an established game design and development club,” said club’s president Turchik. “I’m glad we are that club for Cal Poly.”

The club has been doing especially well this fall with booming membership numbers.

This year, Turchik wants to encourage a networking aspect to the club by pushing for people to present their game ideas.

“We want to also really make people socialize and find other people who are interested [in working together] and network with each other,” he said.

For those interested in board gaming, board games are very much alive through the tabletop gaming club, Gamers Union, founded in 2008.

Moses, the club’s president, also considers the club to be a social club. They meet weekly on early Friday evenings to play board games with each other, and attendance usually ranges from 25 to 40 members a meeting.

This year he also started a community group for the club on Steam, a game distribution platform, so that in addition to club meetings, members could also enjoy playing simulated board games together online as well.

“The virtual ones are kind of a pale imitation of sitting there across a table with someone, but it’s great because we get to [play games] more often,” Moses said.

He agrees that, in recent times, a bridge between modern technology and traditional board gaming is evident.

Moses understands that although club membership probably won’t be as explosive as that of other gaming clubs on campus, he is comfortable with the current state of the club and will work to expand its presence by reaching out to other organizations on campus.

Though these two clubs may represent types of gaming on different parts of the spectrum, the presidents share a commonality that they both strongly encourage students of all skill levels to join.

Gaming culture places emphasis on community, and these clubs do just that.

“It’s not just a game anymore,” said Wood.

FragNite a large gaming event held every quarter featuring tournaments, free food and giveaways

Courtesy of Kyle Turchik

FragNite a large gaming event held every quarter featuring tournaments, free food and giveaways

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