Digital Bond: Students reveal worlds filled with intergalactic wars and heroic journeys
Screen shot provided by Jason Molinaro
Freshmen Clay Martin and Jake Siebenlist crept through a seemingly abandoned warehouse Tuesday afternoon. Wind faintly whistled through the trees as the sounds of explosions neared. Clouds stood still in a dusty red sky. And then everything went black.
This is the reality of video game culture at Linfield, where digital simulations may sometimes take the place of real-world thrills.
Gamers here widely recognize multiplayer games, including Halo 3 and World of Warcraft, as fully functional environments providing worthwhile social interactions.
Students host local area network parties where small groups of friends gather to link their games on the same server.
To many, video games are a social environment despite the stigma that coins them as anti-social.
“I think it really depends, but video games have gotten a lot more interactive,” Martin said.
He uses Xbox Live to play with friends and strangers anywhere, anytime over the Internet.
Sometimes this virtual reality leads to meeting in person, Martin said. He has friends who have met while playing games, and even found romance.
When Martin and Siebenlist logged on at 3:30 in the afternoon. They were among more than 320,000 gamers playing in dozens of countries.
A small map of the Earth was displayed on the screen showing where users were playing from. The east and west coasts of the United States shone brightly, but parts of Australia, Europe and Asia were active as well.
Siebenlist said the sweeping social interaction over Xbox Live can be freeing, but are often a little too much.
“Lots of times when you play online you run into little kids who say things they wouldn’t normally say to someone three times their size,” he said. “It’s easy to act differently: I’ll sing and joke around because there’s not really any consequence for being goofy.”
Gamers may feel an enhanced virtual freedom, but surrounding themselves with competition can unleash anger.
“We ended up getting into a fight over how we were playing one night,” Siebenlist said. “So, now we tend to avoid games that cause that among us.”
Martin said video games, like any activity, have a point at which they become unhealthy.
“When you get so competitive that it becomes more than just a game, that’s bad,” he said. “But that’s not the game itself. It’s the competitiveness.”
Facing the Stigma
Video games are widely viewed as a detriment to socialization, and senior Jeff Baker is well aware of the negative image.
He faces the judgment often because of his status as one of the top 7,500 gamers on World of Warcraft, an online game with more than 9 million active members.
“It’s a tough argument to overcome,” Baker said. “But, you have to realize you get all the personality of the people you’re talking to. You can really figure out who they are.”
Baker said chatting during the game is popular and relatively simple. Gamers can use chat options with text or voice programs to interact with guild members.
“We can talk about anything,” Baker said. He has interacted with players from all over the U.S. and elsewhere.
Baker said the negativity towards gamers is unfounded.
“It’s interactive entertainment rather than something stationary, like a TV,” he said. “It requires me to be able to process and make decisions on a second-by-second basis.”
To Baker, World of Warcraft is a fun activity when little else is planned. He feels students only have two options on the weekends: Go home or stay with friends and end up drinking.
Contrary to popular belief, being an avid gamer does not mean giving up your social life or your grades, Baker said.
“I have a nine-hour schedule,” he said. “I play three days a week for three hours each with my guild.”
Still, he often faces negative opinions when discussing video games with people.
“I think these games definitely have a negative connotation,” Baker said. “But that’s because people don’t understand it.”
Late on Tuesday nights, six members of the Linfield Role Playing Club meet in senior Keston Obendorf’s apartment to play a variety of video games.
They catch up with each other, talking and laughing while facing off in competition.
Sophomore Cem Kuleli argued video games at Linfield are just a hobby, no different from any other activity.
“People always gather for the group experience,” he said. “We’re just having a group experience too.”
The club is a reprieve from the stress of the day. It is not about an obsession with games, it is truly a social organization.
“It just creates another way for people to hang out,” freshman Caity Halvorson said. “Honestly, if we didn’t have this, I don’t know what we’d do.”
The club meets several times a week in Renshaw Hall and the Hewlett-Packard Park Apartments to play a variety of video games.
“A certain amount of interaction has to go on with the game,” Halvorson said, dispelling the notion video games are anti-social. “We want to work together to achieve a goal.”
Kuleli said the group doesn’t focus on the games, but rather the human aspect they are formed around.
“We create an environment where people can enjoy video games,” he said. “We get to know the people here. We can talk to each other, laugh, have fun, play.”