Just hours had passed since the deadline
for most students to pack up their belongings and leave campus when Nate Orluk
’22 took to the student group chat titled “the greatest food in the world,”
which then comprised more than 300 avowed salmon fans, and put forward a bold
“This might be controversial, but I
don’t even really like salmon,” he wrote. “However, I do like clash of clans,
and you should all join our clan, mauds marauders.”
Orluk was referring, of course, to
the app-based, multiplayer strategy game Clash of Clans, in which players can build
and lead medieval villages, forming coalitions known as “clans” with other
players and pillaging rival bases while defending and upgrading their own.
Along with a few other friends, Orluk was looking to recruit new members of one such team of players, which he and T Wynn ’20 dubbed “Maud’s Marauders” in homage to President Maud S. Mandel (the apostrophe is mistakenly excluded in the game, Orluk noted in another student group chat, “because our founder doesn’t kno [sic] how to spell”).
“Maud’s Marauders” was created by a group of students who have started playing Clash of Clans together in recent weeks. (Photo courtesy of Nate Orluk ’22.)
Though the clan accepts players of
any skill level, Wynn and Orluk said they were surprised by how many students
at the College are so proficient as to suggest a significant investment in the
game. “I don’t know when they have time for it,” Wynn said. “I hadn’t had it
downloaded on my phone since high school.”
Wynn and Orluk created Maud’s
Marauders as a way to stay in touch over a common virtual activity during a
period marked by social isolation, as students are not only scattered across
the country but may, depending on their location, be compelled to stay indoors.
Lance Ledet ’21 said he had similar
goals in mind when he created Winecraft Wednesday, a server on the multiplayer
sandbox game Minecraft. Servers allow multiple players to simultaneously occupy
a shared virtual world, and although Ledet admitted that interactions between
players in the game, which generally involve farming and mining, don’t much
resemble real life, talking over the phone or through a Discord server while
playing can help bridge the gap.
“It’s been a great time and a good
way to be social despite the fact that we can’t leave our homes,” Ledet said.
The purpose of the server is threefold, he explained: “To wind down, whine
about the situation and craft while drinking wine,” making the name of the
group a triple entendre.
As one of the Junior Advisors (JAs)
for Sage EF, Ledet has also faced the challenge of keeping his entry cohesive
from afar. One of his co-JAs, Peter Le ’21, is one of the co-presidents of the
Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) for the class of 2024. Though JAAB also
has to contend with time zone differences — Le, for instance, is currently
living in Vietnam — the task of working together remotely regardless of timing
can itself be a struggle.
“I think that the time difference
isn’t the biggest issue with JAAB working remotely across different locations,
even though being hyper-aware of time zones and looking at clocks is quite
challenging and anxiety-inducing,” he said. “In my opinion, the main challenge
is psychological, [like] how to get members engaged when we can’t meet in
person since we have a lot of work cut out for us looking ahead.”
Starting April 6, JAAB will
orchestrate a series of one-on-one calls between JAs in place of in-person JA
excursions, where JAs get to know each other before the co-ranking process that
determines their co-groups. Spring training, which usually takes place at the
end of the academic year, will have a similar video and discussion-based
In contrast to the 54 planned calls
each JA will take part in next month — most of which will likely be conducted
via FaceTime, Google Hangouts or voice call — some students have recently come
to favor mobile apps that allow for video chatting of a more spontaneous
Houseparty is one of many apps that
let users video chat with their friends, but unlike Facetime or Skype, users
are notified whenever people they know open the app, and anyone can see whom
their friends are talking to at any given time. Unless a conversation is
“locked” from the inside, any user who is friends with one of the members can
join it, making it possible for a single chat room to accommodate a freely
rotating group of users as friends come and go.
Eli Miller ’21 took advantage of
that feature not long after he returned home, celebrating his 21st birthday
“social-distancing style” over Houseparty. Instead of having visitors over in
person, Miller maintained a Houseparty “room” for much of the day, which
allowed him to connect with a broader range of friends than a standard party
might. “There were some fun moments when people from very different parts of my
life joined the ‘house’ at the same time,” he said.
Miller said he appreciates the
casual, often impromptu way Houseparty brings people together, which he
compared to the social conventions of the booths in Lee’s. “I think it’s mostly
socially acceptable, when you see a friend with a group of people, to join the
Lee’s booth and hang out with those people,” he said. “It feels like a similar
vibe, where you see four people hanging out and you can often join.”
When a group of friends don’t know
each other well enough for it to feel natural to call each other or video chat
individually, Houseparty can be an ideal medium for keeping in touch, as the app
is unusually well-suited to group interactions. In those cases, or for larger
groups — the maximum is eight people at any one time — Miller noted that the
in-app games, which range from trivia to Pictionary, can provide a common
activity when conversation falters.
Wynn and Orluk said their vision for
Maud’s Marauders has the video game occupying a similar niche. “I do think
things like Clash of Clans, where you aren’t asking for a ton of commitment but
are still maintaining a connection, help with those types of relationships,”
Orluk said. “It’s the people that you run into in Paresky, where your
ten-minute chat with them is a really important part of your day, but it would
feel strange to be like, ‘Hey, do you want to FaceTime for 10 minutes?’” Wynn
In those cases, the video chatting
app Marco Polo can be a happy medium. Like Snapchat, Marco Polo lets users
record and send short videos in one-on-one interactions, but unlike Snapchat, which
allows for both individual and group messaging, the clips don’t disappear after
sending, so users can go back at any time and view the messages they’ve sent
and received in order. Alex Pear ’22 said she has used the app to stay in touch
with other players on the women’s squash team, and values the fact that
conversations remain available indefinitely.
“Marco Polo is wonderful because I can open my phone and see all my friends’ faces individually, and pick up where the conversations left off,” she said.
Orluk said the fact that many people
are stuck inside with their phones has meant texting is easier than ever,
especially in larger group chats, but it can be a challenge to have meaningful
interactions without face-to-face contact. “There have been more hour-long
conversations going on in group chats than I’ve ever seen before,” he said. “I
think it’s pretty easy to stay in touch with friends by sending texts. It’s
harder to stay in touch in a way that actually furthers our friendships.”
For people who are less inclined in
the first place to text frequently, communication can be a real challenge. “I
think it’s been very mentally difficult for me to keep up with people virtually
since I’m not naturally a texting/calling kind of person,” Le said.
Wynn agreed, citing Instagram as a
favorite platform because they find it better suited to their communication
style. “All my GroupMe [chats] are muted because I’m just bad at that sort of
interaction, but I like Instagram because I can see what other people are doing
on my terms,” they said.
Over the last few weeks, the Instagram story feature, which lets users post an image that disappears after 24 hours, has seen a surge of “challenges,” where users complete a certain activity — drawing a fruit or vegetable, doing pushups in front of the camera or posting a song with a certain word in its title — and then publicly challenge a few friends to do the same.
The Instagram account maintained by
the Office of Alumni Relations, @ephalum, is behind one story template that has
been widely shared among current students at the College. Titled “The
Mountains, The Mountains,” the template invites users to list a favorite in
each of several categories and then tag their friends. All six templates on the
ephalum account, which has almost 4,300 followers, were created last week by
Kelan O’Brien, alumni fund development officer for communications and student engagement, who manages the
account along with Assistant Director of Alumni Relations and Director of
Digital Engagement Juan Baena ’06.
“I’ve wanted to create these for a while; in fact, I have a document from March 2019 with a list of ideas for the ‘This or That’ template,” O’Brien said. “Creating and posting them now was a way to try to do something lighthearted to connect members of the Williams community together and luckily, I think they did just that. I’ve seen people actually get into debates about MASS MoCA vs. The Clark after posting them.”
O’Brien said these story challenges have gained in popularity recently as community members try to connect with friends remotely. “While these are not made to take away from the seriousness of the situation, I think people are looking to find joy in different ways from wherever they are,” he said. “Social distancing also requires us to connect virtually with our friends and communities, which is why you’re encouraged to tag people in these templates.”
Tali Natter ’23 put up a story on her Instagram account
inviting her followers to send her their mailing addresses in exchange for a
postcard. In the last two weeks, she has mailed 53 cards to friends and
acquaintances across the country, and replies have been steadily flowing back. [Editor’s note: Natter serves as a podcast
editor on the Record but played no
part in the editing process for this article.]
Meanwhile, with almost 3,250 members, the “Williams Memes
for sun-dappled tweens” page on Facebook has been extremely active, with
several recent posts making light of the transition to remote learning or
contributing to debates on the College’s newly adopted pass/fail grading
Twitter, another major social media platform, has also
seen more lighthearted usage recently from students. “My use of other social media
platforms hasn’t really changed, but I’ve been finding that Twitter somehow
lends itself really well to being in self-isolation,” Polly Ellman ’22 said.
“Suddenly, everything is relatable because we’re all going through different
versions of the same thing, and 280 characters or less is the perfect amount of
space to express that relatability and find the humor in it without falling
into a pit of despair.”
Ellman said that Twitter allows users to both stay connected with people that they value and express themselves creatively. “I’ve definitely noticed people I follow sharing more OC [original content] as of late. That probably goes back to the relatability thing, but I think people are also a bit starved of conversation and looking for new ways to make their voices heard and engage with their friends in ways that at least resemble how they communicated back on campus,” she said. “I’ve also been noticing that a lot of people just seem to be really embracing their creative sides in self-isolation, and that could be a part of it too.”
Photo courtesy of Polly Ellman ’22.