The pale, golden glow of soft overhead lamp light illuminates the cubes of dice as they tumble across the table top on a cold Friday evening. The feeling of intensity rises throughout the group of students, as this roll may change the events of the rest of the night. The table is silent as the dice stop. A four has been rolled. Sighs of both disappointment and relief fill the space. It is game night in The Huddle, and the game will go on.
Three years ago, on a night like tonight, John White walked into the Augie Commons building. He was a freshman who enjoyed computer games, anime cartoons, comic books and all things alike. He had not made many friends and felt alone on campus. As he was on his way to eat dinner by himself, he heard laughter coming from The Huddle.
Through the large, square windows, he saw a group of students huddled around a table, rolling dice, sweeping up cards and reading aloud to one another. “Nerds,” he thought. He could see a spectrum of emotions on their faces, but mostly joy and amusement. Next to the group, a mountain of board games sat on a table. Half of them he had never seen before. When he nervously approached the group and inquired what they were doing, Sarah Kocher ‘16 shouted, “It’s game night!”
Now, four years later, a content smile runs across White’s face as he looks around The Huddle.
It is a cold and rainy Friday evening in March. The group is playing “Epic Spell Wars of Battle Wizards Melee at Murdershroom Marsh,” a card game with a dirty joke twist. As the students laugh and shout strange spells to attack each other’s characters, he thinks about how far the group has come, increasing in membership from around 5 people to a regular 10 or 15. The increased numbers allow these students to meet more people like themselves who enjoy their weekend evening together by playing the games they love.
“The purpose of the club is just to get together, have fun and play games,” White said. “I’m usually playing games, and this is a great change of scenery and opportunity to get out and meet people with similar interests.”
Curtis Bean and Thomas Norland started the group and made it an official Augie club in 2016. White took over after they graduated and has been saving the funds from the university ever since. Due to the plethora of his own games and the ability to rent games from the Mikkelsen library, the club’s funds are stored away to buy more games when White leaves Augie and takes his collection with him.
On this night, the group has been laughing at the strange characters and their powers the entire game. It requires focus. As the students must concentrate on the attacks, defenses and order of operations.
People are playing “Pandemic” at the next table. A tower of games including Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Cards Against Humanity and more is piled high for everyone walking by to see.
The typical game night takes place every Friday from 7 to 9 p.m., give or take. It starts with simple games that most people know, like Candy Land or Apples to Apples, and progresses into longer, more intense games that take focus and concentration. The environment contains no competition. It is not an exclusive group of friends merely hanging out, either. This is a place for people to come together and make friends, have a good time with people like themselves and not feel alone.
“I think it’s important [to have this club] because a lot of the ‘nerdy’ or introverted kids on campus are alone a lot, but there are enough like-minded people to come together and have fun, taking the social group at our own pace,” said junior Ryan Schmitz.
The groups of students exhibit a lifestyle. They are not the type of student who needs to drink or go to parties. They would much rather spend weekend evenings doing something they enjoy.
“This isn’t a place to go out and party and get ‘krunk,’ but a place to stay sober while enjoying the weekend,” White said.
Vice president of the club, junior Donovan Waltjer, has used his experience to grow at Augie as well.
“I didn’t really go all that often at first,” Waltjer said. “My sophomore year, however, when my freshman friends started to go, I figured that I could be a contributing member. And the rest is history.”
From the table across the room, sophomore Taber Lee throws a piece of balled up paper at White’s head. White turns around slowly, makes a fist, mimes cracking his knuckles and sarcastically stares him up and down. He approaches Lee slowly with a big smile on his face and pulls Taber’s chair away from the table by the legs. The students laugh at White’s antics.
“Look over there. They’re having fun right now and it’s amazing,” Waltjer said. “For some of them, it’s a lifestyle. For others, it’s a hobby or fun past time. If this is what you love to do, more power to you. Please come and join.”
Waltjer admires White’s passion.
“John is definitely the heart and soul of game night,” Waltjer said. “He’s a great figurehead for the club. He’s great at including people and making them feel welcome, explaining rules, resolving conflict, etc. He’s a very intricate part of this club. It’s gonna be sad to see him go, but the club will be okay. I’ve learned a lot from him. The only issue for leadership next year is that it’s difficult to pick up the slack because there is no slack. John will always be a good source to go to when we need him.”
Though White is graduating in May, his fellow group members see potential in the club’s future publicity, spending and opportunities.
Brianne Bertsch, a junior who wants to increase the presently low female involvement, has some ideas to expand the group.
“Everything has been personally funded this year since John has so many games of his own, so I’m planning on potentially doing volunteer work at after school programs and logging volunteer hours to get more money for our club for more games,” Bertsch said. “We may partner with The Game Chest downtown to demo games and boost popularity as well. I only have one more semester here, so I want to kickstart these guys as best as I can to keep it alive. We’re not going to have John forever, and our club needs its own games.”
Bertsch will use the current funding being saved by the club as well as these new opportunities to purchase a wide variety of games and increase the popularity of the club.
Bertsch believes that Game Club can also serve as a way to connect with a variety of groups, not just “nerds.”
“I’ve been a part of the club for a year, and I’ve been told that a person like me doesn’t necessarily belong here,” Bertsch said. “But that’s what’s great, because it’s pleasantly surprising. I want more people to be pleasantly surprised, because there is value here. There is more than going out and partying or sitting in their dorms. I want to make this into a community.”
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