In Boys Dorms, Video Games Provide Inactive Activity

When it comes to Phillips Academy and Halo, Zach Dixon ’08 is the resident Master Chief. Halo, now in its third incarnation, is a “first-person shooter” video game, featuring combat between alien invaders and a souped-up modern soldier named Master Chief. Several students placed Dixon at the top of the list of best Halo players on campus, demonstrating his well-known and uncontested skill. When the topic of his Halo expertise arose, Dixon accepted the compliment modestly, but did not deny his standing. Video gaming — or “gaming,” as it is more commonly known — is a popular pastime on the Andover campus. The phenomenon has swept boys’ dorms across campus in recent years. “Most of the people in my dorm game to at least some extent,” said Alex Lee ’08, a resident of Fuess House. Dixon does not take his position lightly. He is trying, for instance, to organize a large Halo tournament, to take place this weekend in Kemper. The allure of a large screen and good competition will attract a large crowd, he predicts. Dixon estimates that at least 20, and possibly up to 100, students will attend. Dixon, like Lee, lives in Fuess, where Halo is the game of choice. As Dixon put it, there is “a lot of skill involved” in a first-person shooter game, because “you have to be able to do a lot of things at one time.” Said Lou Tejada ’08, “Halo is one of two games played “consistent[ly] throughout the entire campus.” Another popular game is Super Smash Bros. But “kids also play games on their computers,” according to Tejada. He said that they are “a way to relieve stress,” so “guys would play on weekends.” He continued that they are “definitely” a way to bond, because the games “can go on for hours.” Tejada described gaming as being “sort of like the way sports are, but not active.” Lee agrees with Tejada’s assessment of the role of video games. “With something like Halo,” he said, “there’s a sort of sense of ‘community bonding’…everyone can get involved.” Sometimes, he explained, Fuess invites boys from other dorms to participate in 16-person “Halo parties.” Dixon described the Halo party scene as “dudes packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a room.” Dixon also elaborated on the social aspect of video games. Residents of Fuess, he said, play every night for about one hour, “when it’s rainy out,” and every Saturday night after the dance. “On someone’s birthday, a lot of kids will come to Fuess. . . [and] we’ll play until about 5 a.m.” He explained why video games have taken hold as a student pastime. Dixon said, “You can be really competitive” off the sports field, “talk a lot of trash. . . humiliate friends in front of other friends, all in a joking manner, of course.” Paul McCarthy ’08 said video games are “mostly a stress-reliever.” And “some that actually have plots. . . are almost as good as if you’re watching a movie or reading a book.” Those who game intensely and frequently “kind of miss the point. Honestly, it’s more amusing to fool around,” he said, than to take video games seriously. Lee said that many of his friends play strategy games, such as Starcraft and Warcraft. In addition, Tejada said that Guitar Hero “has been really popular.” Contrary to the more violent Halo, in Guitar Hero, the player simulates playing the guitar to a rock song on a guitar-shaped game controller. There are, Tejada said, “differences in skill levels. . . I got beaten by a girl once [at Guitar Hero], and it was so embarrassing.” “The gaming phenomenon is largely concentrated amongst PA’s male population, but some girls game, too. Salena Casha ’09 said that she plays video games over vacation. Her motives for gaming differ from most gamers on campus. “I play them for fun, obviously,” Casha said, but “mainly I play video games for sports training.” Casha swims competitively all year, and video games, she has found, “help with focus and concentration.” As an athlete, she explained, “you have to be able to focus and put everything else out of your mind…and a video game helps you simulate that.” Casha sticks mainly to Guitar Hero and car-racing games. But “my friend … brings video games to my house because we have PlayStation 3, and I play shooter games against him.” She has found, however, that “they get boring after a while, because all you’re doing is shooting people.” She prefers games with plotlines. Gamers’ intensities vary across campus. Tejada said that the majority of gaming “happens on the weekends. . . and then there are people who take it to extreme levels.” Lee mentioned the gaming habits of one anonymous member of his dorm. “I have yet to enter his room and not see him playing a game,” he said. Dixon said that some kids have cut sports, and that “grades have suffered” because of gaming. Lisa Joel, Dean of Abbot Cluster, said that the school does not intervene to limit students’ gaming. The school is not “trying to police it in a Big Brother-ish way,” and “we’re not going to say, ‘We’re more upset with you for gaming,’” she said. Dixon said, “We’ve been yelled at” in the past for being too loud. He explained that if they leave the Fuess windows open, Aya Murata, Dean of Pine Knoll Cluster, can hear loud cheers and curses. Asserted Dixon, he is “absolutely” going to continue to game in college. “We can play over the internet. It’s a way for everybody to keep in touch.”