By Alec Deyong, Contributing Writer
Between McKendree’s impressive array of athletics and its numerous opportunities to get involved in the community, many students’ schedules are nearly bursting at the seams. There are those such as myself, however, who fall into the slim minority of students who do not count themselves among the ranks of a campus team or organization.
When I first made landfall on McKendree’s campus, I knew almost no one. I was not involved in a sport, I was not dedicated to a major and I had only three high school classmates here with me—all of whom were quickly finding their footing in their new environments while I plummeted into seclusion. Not knowing where to turn to find allies in my struggle against isolation, I turned to Yammer. For those of you who remember McKendree’s ill-fated venture into social media, I’m sure you can predict how well it went for me. For those of you who have no clue what a Yammer is, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much.
After spending some time on Yammer, I found that McKendree had a Games Club. Well, I quite like games, so I reached out to them. When I was met with radio silence, I tried again. And again. And again. I thought that perhaps there was a problem on my end or maybe they just didn’t want any more members. Well, little did I know that Games Club, like many others, was inactive and that the club had been through this cycle before. I was also unaware at the time that this fate had befallen more than just Games Club.
“A few groups on campus are geared specifically for a certain discipline, idea, or interest. Many of these serve as a platform to introduce and promote new ideas to students such as fitness, health, and the green initiative. Students often find themselves through these special interest groups while also gaining insight into new aspects of the ever expanding world we live in.”
This is the description for the “Special Interest Groups” section on the McKendree website. Basically if a student organization doesn’t have a Greek name, isn’t service or faith-based, and isn’t directly associated with a department, it falls under this section. It includes groups like Games Club, Film Club, and Chess Club.
What is morbidly interesting about the page is that many of the groups currently and formerly inhabiting it have since gone into hiatus or become defunct entirely. Someone was passionate enough to go through the trouble and paperwork to start and recruit members into these groups, but many of them simply faded into obscurity. These are groups that, in some cases, have existed for decades.
A great example of this seemingly inevitable cycle is Games Club itself, which is advised by Dr. Stephen Hagan. “Games Club existed back in the mid-90s when I was a student here. When I came back as a faculty, I was speaking to some students who [were] seeking a place to play D&D or board games and we discussed reviving the club.” At its peak about four years ago, Dr. Hagan said that Games Club “had about 20 people playing games on any given Wednesday/Thursday night.”
What was really special about this club is that it wasn’t exclusive in the slightest. There were no membership requirements, no barriers to entry, no judgment. As Dr. Hagan put it, “You didn’t have to be a member to play, you just stopped by.” They provided a place for those who enjoyed games, both casuals and hardcore fans, to do just that: enjoy games. “We typically had 2-3 board/card games going, a little bit of Magic the Gathering and some form of video games (Smash, etc.).”
I asked Dr. Hagan if he had any thoughts about why Games Club’s activity ebbs and flows so much and if the stereotypical stigma that surrounds gaming culture has anything to do with it.“There was minor stigma back in the 1990s but gamers were used to it,” he recalls. “Now there is still [a] small stigma about some games but it’s pretty understated and nothing too serious. The stigma will always be there…some games are less socially acceptable, but it’s nowhere near what it was when I was in grade school or high school.”
My first thought was that this fading stigma would mean that groups like Games Club would see their membership bolstered, but the opposite is the case. So now that gamer culture has broken into the mainstream, where is Games Club? Dr. Hagan thinks that “a lot of the reason it fell off is we had a good core group who brought in a lot of folks and they all got busy or graduated and there just hasn’t been as much interest.” Dr. Hagan does have some ideas about why Games Club and other similar clubs have ended up in this limbo, one of which is simply changing times.
Talking about other clubs in a similar position as Games Club, such as Anime Club or Film Club, Dr. Hagan elaborated that many of these clubs “are often based around a strong personality, but have no real agenda beyond the fandom,” and that “once the core gets busy or graduates there is nothing to carry it on.” Dr. Kevin Zanelotti, who has advised groups like Anime Club, Bad Movie Club, and Students for a Democratic Society, had a similar take, stating that “the reason for [the Bad Movie Club’s] present state of non-existence is that the core group of students who founded the club graduated and folks slowly lost interest.” He believed that Anime Club and Students for a Democratic Society had a similar fate.
Dr. Hagan, however, also had a more positive idea of why some of these clubs have faded into obscurity. “Most people don’t need a club to watch anime, they just watch it, and now that anime is socially acceptable it’s not difficult to find like-minded people to discuss.”
So, where have these clubs gone now that so many of their foci have found their way into the mainstream? Well, an optimistic possibility is that their presence in popular culture now means that clubs are no longer necessary. Whereas once it took something like a club to find students who had the same niche interests as you, now, as Dr. Hagan put it. He further commented on how the internet and scheduling play a part in it, stating “Why do I need a club? I’ve got dozens of ‘clubs’ online…students are busier and busier so finding mutual common time is super hard…it’s easier to just do it in dorm rooms after 10 etc.”
There will surely always be a place on campus for new clubs to form, and likely disband someday. This seems to be the natural life cycle of clubs on campus. Some fade away after its core membership graduates and some fluctuate over the years. Dr. Hagan rather hopefully asserts that Games Club falls into the latter category and believes that “it is the type of group [that] with a new spark…could take off at any point. If it got a new adviser who had more time or got a new president who was able to spark love in folks, boom, Games Club is back. Games Club exists wherever gamers exist.”