Smashing friendships

When I was growing up in the quaint little town of Ithaca, N.Y., video games were a forbidden fruit. My parents did not want me wasting hours every day in front of a screen, whether I was mindlessly watching a TV show or stimulating my brain with an interactive game. However, even though games in my house were as rare as Amherst sports championships, I still played games whenever I visited my friends’ houses.

Now I’m in college and after 18 years of my life spent finding ways to procrastinate other than video games, I’m now wondering how I ever avoided doing work before. Being grouped up with 20 other random first-years practically ensures that at least one freshman has a GameCube, Xbox or a Wii. At first, I wasn’t thrilled about this. Sure, video games helped me to procrastinate, but did I really need the help? And is procrastination really a good thing? I found the answer to both questions to be a resounding yes.

Video games play an important role in an environment where people don’t know each other. They bring people together. Although I’m not the best Super Smash Bros. player, playing the game has allowed me to get to know people I might otherwise never have talked to. Singlehandedly, the geniuses that designed Super Smash Bros. Melee not only succeeded in wasting days of my life, but also succeeded in helping me to build friendships.

Video games aren’t just good for building relationships. Depending on the game, a surprising amount of thought, skill and strategy can go into them. For example, an entrymate of mine (we’ll call him “Sean”) has spent hours practicing our game of choice in order to improve his skill at it. Although “Sean” is still definitively the worst player in our entry, his commitment and dedication to this game have brought a fulfillment to his life that very few other things could.

Even for the rest of us who play Super Smash Bros. to a slightly less obsessive extent, this game has provided us with intellectually stimulating topics for conversation. For example, what is the fairest and most accurate way to rank players? How often should we reevaluate these rankings? Is it really worth spending an hour to create a spreadsheet with a formula for ranking various players?

As sarcastic as this may sound, the conversations that arise centered on Super Smash Bros. are surprisingly fascinating. There are a number of variable strategies that arise in the game and the skill cap is essentially limitless. There is always room for improvement and unique strategies.

Of course, games like Super Smash Bros. do come with a downside. Although many people see the divide on the College’s campus as one between “athletes” and “nonners,” the real divide is between gamers and non-gamers (namers). As someone who lives life on the edge by straddling this line, I understand both perspectives. Although playing on a GameCube or Wii is a great way to relax and hang out with friends, video games have a drastic effect on the atmosphere of a room. Bright TV screens are distracting, and when your entrymates are constantly playing a game, it can get old very fast.

The obvious solution to this is to have one student buy a large TV for his or her room, rename their room, “The Theater,” and invite other students to come in and play games. However, if for some odd reason this is not possible, it is still important to ensure that common rooms are spaces welcoming to everyone. While casual video games are a great way to get to know people, and competitive video games are a great way to think creatively, obsessive video games are a great way to anger a lot of people.

The lesson here is that despite common societal perceptions, video games can be a powerful tool for good, especially in situations where people are meeting one another for the first time. I’m not saying Williams should buy video games for every student (although they should consider it), but I am saying that students should look at games through a more positive light. At the same time, people playing games need to be aware of the effect that games have in a common space and ensure that they are respectful of other people. If we were Amherst students, I’d fear that gamers and namers could never get along, but as proud Ephs, I know that we can.

Ned Lauber ’18 is from Ithaca, N.Y. He lives in Armstrong.