College was good for debauchery, "experimenting," and surprisingly, video games. I guess I learned some things too, but, eh. Academics was the least interesting part of college for me.
I graduated from a small liberal arts college this spring, where video games made regular appearances—but so did things like alcohol, drugs, and parties. This was my experience.
This was how I played video games in college.
I was surprised to find that my school had special themed housing—stuff like vegetarian housing, kosher housing, and amazingly, video game housing. I lived in the "gamer hall" my first year. Everyone there was much more, uh, hardcore than I was—we're talking long haired weekly D&D type nerds who put up World of Warcraft posters and liked using foam swords. To them, my soccer-playing made me seem like a jock who occasionally dabbled in games. Few things were as horrifying as walking into the common room after a session of D&D—nerd stink is awfully potent. They didn't care though: they were having a good time!
Living with them was great for connecting with people with similar hobbies, and I ended up spending my next four years there. At times, it was difficult to not lose sight of life beyond games in an environment that enabled me to overindulge. Nobody is around to tell you what you have to do in college: it's all on you. I had friends who seemed to never do anything outside of partying. We all had to learn that just because we could spend all day playing Gears of War with a buddy, with energy drinks and chips toppled over everywhere didn't mean we should. It's no different with other things, like being able to eat junk food or sweets whenever we wanted. Learning moderation is important. We still liked to order delivery cookies after midnight, sometimes, though.
Once I had my living arrangements sorted out, the next big obstacle was deciding what to pack. A video game enthusiast's collection is no laughing matter. Given that I lived far away—I was a California native who went out all the way to Massachusetts for school—I had to be mercilessly efficient in what I brought with me. Everything had to fit into a few suitcases. Many of us changed our perspective on special editions of things, which now became more than we could afford and took up too much space—and all for what, silly pieces of plastic?
Other people were able to bring more with them because they lived closer or travelled via multiple cars, but packing for a small college dorm room really puts into perspective how much you own and what it means to you. Few people seemed to be completely happy with the things they managed to bring with them, much less being able to make a dorm room feel homey. Rooms might as well have been sponsored by Ikea.
I think I ended up halving my personal possessions at least a handful of times as I realized how little I actually needed with me. At the end of the year, when we were moving back home, the school was practically bursting with all the stuff people threw out—microwaves, televisions, books, expensive clothes, on and on. It felt extravagant and kind of disgusting to have such a blatant display of consumerism staring back at us.
I was excited to bring along my 360 and my handhelds, but imagine my shock when it turned out that people largely gravitated toward the Wii. The Wii! Something that I considered a glorified paperweight suddenly became the ultimate college system. It's a great, accessible party console that allowed us to play Super Smash Bros endlessly, along with a number of classic titles. Everyone knows and loves Nintendo. The number of Gamecube controllers we tore through is absurd—and Nintendo products are some of the sturdiest ones out there. Still, occasionally a shooter like Halo or the ever-popular Rock Band made appearances. Not my cup of tea, but they were there.
I don't think I know anyone that made much of a dent on their gaming backlog while at school. Priorities seemed to universally be to be social ones first, then academic ones. I brought dozen games with me, and that ended up being too many. And of these games, everyone favored multiplayer ones—it meant that we could share the experience and more importantly, not hog the common room TV.
I don't think I know anyone that made much of a dent on their gaming backlog while at school. Priorities seemed to universally be to be social ones first, then academic ones.
I made the mistake of thinking I should only bring newer systems—who cares about the older systems, right? So I lugged my fancy new consoles with me, only to have people largely ignore them in favor of older systems. You start talking about Mario and everyone seems to have shared experiences of playing classic consoles, and soon enough, someone is hooking up the NES and rushing down 1-1.
The added benefit of older systems was that they could be left outside in the common rooms without worrying too much about having them stolen. Neurotic folks would put their names on the systems and the cartridges with sharpies. Not that that's likely to stop anyone from taking something. I lost a few games while at college, though they always seemed to be titles I didn't really miss—like Fable.
Something that surprised me was the ubiquity of GameBoy bricks. I could walk around school and spot at least a couple of people playing their GameBoys out in the sun. It was like people tried to establish their savvy, kind of hipstery penchant for authentic retro experiences. But it also acted as a signal to other nerds. It said "hey, I'm of kin."
What I realize now that I'm finally out of school is that college is probably the last time in my life when I didn't have to make a particular effort to make friends. The wonderful thing about school is that it provides an environment where I was crammed together with a bunch of people who have similar interests and who are all looking for friends. Now that I'm back in my old city, it's like having to start over from scratch—only the city isn't as immediately amicable as school was.
Class-wise, laptops are good to have for taking notes in class, but I felt bewildered at the idea that they were allowed at all after a lifetime of not being able to take electronics to school. Probably for a good reason: I saw a good share of people who would play things like World of Warcraft in the middle of a lecture. Facebook and Twitter were more common than games though.
Even if I wanted to be a good student and pay attention, having that around me would sometimes make it hard to focus. Some professors are sticklers about what I did on my computer while in class, others figure that it would be on me if I decided to not pay attention—hey, I would be the one throwing a fortune down the trashcan, not them!
Roomate-wise, you'd do well to try to be as unobtrusive as possible. It was rare to find a perfect room where two people had utter respect for one another in terms of personal space, noise and habits. I think most people land at least one horrible roomate who will do things like eat all your food, dont respect your personal space, and are messy. At the very least, bring headphones.
A thing I would have brought if I had it: Rez. Rez has the ability to wow people who don't know about it, it can set the mood with a partner if you have the vibrator attachment, or it can be one of the games that gets played when people do drugs.
I think that at all times, I was one degree of separation away from someone who could acquire drugs, or someone who was doing drugs. Then again, I went to a very "free-spirited" school. So I saw a ton of weed—more than I thought was humanly possible to smoke—but other things too, like acid, pills intended to treat mental illnesses abused for their their stimulating or downer effects, and because I went to a rather 'rich' school, cocaine. But there was 'kiddy' stuff like cough medicine going around, too.
And given that whole hippie thing, I could walk across my quad and sit down in a circle of people strumming on their ukeleles. They didn't have to know who I was, but I'd be offered whatever people were having. It was like I was in the 70's, which is appropriate, because the architecture at my school was from then. Now that I've graduated from college, it strikes me: I was a really good kid growing up. Look at all the mind-altering substances I shied away from!
I ended up living with folks that were straightedge and very serious about it, but even so, drugs weren't something I could avoid. On the weekends people liked to roam the campus high off who knows what. In my last year, I could look outside my window in the middle of the night and see people in what seemed to be a fight club for hilariously drugged and drunk people. Yeah, I have no idea.
I also found that it wasn't uncommon for drug-ingesting nerds to pop out a game (Child of Eden, for example) to zone out to while on something. Likely weed, maybe acid or cough syrup. The thing about this was, while I was open to trying new things, diving into this scene required both knowing what I was doing and having people around me that I could trust while I was in an altered state.
One of the biggest things I learned while in this environment is that regardless of what people say, I should never feel pressured to do something. Still, there was never a shortage of people that would try their best to cram something down my throat. Those are the type of people I wish I learned to stay away from quicker, but it took me a couple of years to distance myself. It was particularly a problem around alcohol, which seemed to orbit me everywhere as people largely took as a necessary component to having a good time. Not actually true.
Eventually I wised up. I recall a particularly insane Halloween where there were too many people freaking out everywhere. Heck, my hall's bathroom was packed with screaming, naked kids who had gotten paint everywhere, and who somehow got the water on all the sinks, toilets and showers overflowing into the rest of the building. This was one of the more mild things happening around me. I opted to stay in and play the recently-released Fallout 3. I didn't regret it.
College shouldn't be about resigning yourself to being in front of a TV or within the pages of a book. We should all live a little.
I think I oriented my experience to focus around games a little too much my first couple of years. There were classes where I analyzed games (but no assigned games to play, unfortunately!) on top of learning game development, teaching game development, and running a video game club. And then I'd go home and decompress by playing a game. It was too much. It took me a while to learn how to be social outside of games-related things and to learn the value of well-rounded experiences. I may be a little too obsessed with the idea now, which may be evident on the broader focus my games-writing tends to take.
Something else that surprised me was that college was where the normal hierarchical social order was turned upside down. At my school, at least, everyone seemed to the be nerdy person that nobody paid attention to—only to come to college and become popular. But I also went to a pretty weird school. It's been voted the most hipster school in America in a couple of places.
Once I broke free of all video games, all the time, I learned a little bit about parties. Generally I saw a variety of cheap alcohol like PBR, or the most cheap vodka available. Quality is good, budget is better: almost everything at college will be defined by this axiom. Hence ramen! Gaming wise, it's not uncommon for people to break out either Rock Band or Dance Central. They're fun party games, sure, but being music-oriented doesn't hurt. Should either of these be absent, it's still likely that people would play games—just not digital ones.
I had no idea there were so many games around alcohol—like beer pong, sure, but also stuff like baseball. No, it's not that baseball. Sometimes, people would go on keg hunts—perhaps unsurprising, given that my school was in the middle of the woods. And if there was a type of card game that ruled all others, it was definitely poker. Going to a five-college consortium meant that I saw just how many variations a simple game could have that was school specific.
The reason these games are favored over others is partially because they're good at helping you get drunk, and partially because they require you to interact with other people more in a traditionally social way. That's what parties are for, after all.
Other useful skills I wish I learned while at college: knowing how to throw parties, particularly themed parties (because those are more fun) and how to make good party playlists. Music is important! I also wish I had taken the free dancing lessons my school offered. Now that I'm out I realize just how expensive so many of the things my school offered for free actually are.
Finally, the thing I regret above all. I was at college for four years, with people from all over the state/country/world. What I didn't fully grasp while at school is that I may never see a lot of these people again after I graduated. So if I could go back, I'd undo all those times someone would ask me to hang out or go play a game, and I'd decline because maybe there was too much snow out or I was too "tired" to walk across campus. I kick myself endlessly for this now.
Still, it's good to finally be out of college. It's kind of a bubble, and I'm ready for the 'real world.'
(Top image via Shutterstock, modified by Tina Amini)