Each day, a small lounge on the lower level of the Student Union is filled with many students gathered around tables and televisions.
A group of three college students buzz around their laptops, clicking on an “Overwatch” game they’ve just queued up. A more rowdy crowd can be seen cheering on people battling it out in “Super Smash Bros,” their fingers flying over their controllers. There are people sitting nearby with headphones in their ears, hunched over with math homework. This microcosm is the playroom, teeming with noisy life, and an important place for many students who see it as their second home.
Joseph Gibbs, a criminology senior, first came to the rec room in 2016 with a friend after transferring from another college. He said they immediately hit it off with students playing card games, and he hasn’t stopped coming since.
“We jumped in and played the game and before you know it you know who these people are who (become) friends come in the next day like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? I’ve a game, do you know how to play?’ or something like that,” Gibbs said. “It was pretty open, inviting, fun, and crazy.”
The concept of a game room at UTD is not new, and UTD students have been playing since the Student Union was established in 1981. Student Union Deputy Director Andrew Helgeson , said he had worked at SU for 16 years, and when he became deputy director in 2008, the room was called the TV lounge and was filled with beanbags, a six-foot-tall TV and eight tables round.
“Once in a while we would give out board games and people might (have) played them, but that was it. And it was getting a little stuffy because the doors would always be closed. It was an enclosed space. It was just a bunch of kids playing cards nonstop,” Helgeson said. “After a few years it would get really messy in there. There was kind of a funky smell. So, we were talking about it, it would be a good idea to open up that wall and make it more inclusive of the whole union environment on the first floor.
Helgeson said that in 2015-2016, after receiving feedback from students about the opening of the playroom, the room was upgraded to include new furniture, flat-screen TVs on the wall, and seating areas. lounges. Students were able to bring their own consoles and plug them in. Now about 2,000 people pass through the venue per month, or up to 40 people at any time every day, Helgeson said.
“People are there all the time and it’s become like a little self-contained community of people who are there. We see regulars every day between classes. They’re probably even skipping class. You never know,” Helgeson said. “But it’s pretty cool. They are their own little community. I don’t know any of them by name, but you know, we see them all the time.
Gibbs said he came to the playroom whenever he wasn’t in class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and spent his time meeting friends, playing games or catching up on school. He said the variety of activities and types of people in the room creates a more open and welcoming environment.
“It’s the variety. It’s a different variety. I mean you can look around you have different people playing games. You know, it’s open to everyone. It’s not exclusive. It’s not just for men or girls or only young people play this. I’m the oldest in this room and yet I play ‘Overwatch’ with these guys from time to time,” Gibbs said. “And I was playing here one time and someone was like, ‘Oh hey, do you play ‘Overwatch?’ What are you playing at?’ You disconnect.
IT senior Walter Han spends his time in the game room playing games with friends or studying, as he prefers to work in a noisy environment. A person usually brings new games from time to time for people in the room to try, such as animated fighting games and golf simulators, and a game is rarely judged harshly, Han said.
“We are damn open about games. I mean, most of the time, we don’t judge anyone for their choice of games. As long as it’s within reason,” Han said. “I mean, we really don’t care, and frankly, most of the time we’re pretty willing to strike up a conversation with anyone.”
In addition to playing games, people in the game room gather to watch game talks, game reveals, and talk about the latest game releases. ATEC Junior Jacqueline Thorpe said that although the room is quite loud most of the time, it does get really loud and excitable once in a while during more intense card games or fighting games, and the existence of so many people with common interests in gaming and anime. makes it a welcoming environment.
“I think we’re a lot friendlier to gamers and geek culture in general. We are also much more laid back about it. Like you can see a bunch of people just on campus who have like games or anime or shows. And then when you get here, it’s like boom, there’s a whole group of people who share the same interests as me.
The room has a group of five friends who frequently play games like “Overwatch” and “League of Legends”, but don’t consider themselves great at games. Gibbs, who is part of the group, said they were called “The Benchwarmers” as a joke and tribute to UTD esports teams.
“We have our leaders here, but we play our games. We’ll get good once in a while, but sometimes we bomb it, but we have fun and we’re like ‘UTD Benchwarmers!’ “Said Gibbs. “Because if we were to be on an official team it would most likely be the bench warmers.”
As UTD expands to accommodate more students interested in games, additional areas for games have been added, such as the SSA Game Wall and televisions added to the pub. In the meantime, the Game Room continues to be an open space for all UTD players to meet and play their favorite games.
“Now all you need is a big neon sign that says ‘Open, everyone’s welcome here,'” Gibbs said.