With restrictions remaining tight in a mid-pandemic climate, students may find themselves in desperate need of social interaction. However, especially for first-year students who are unfamiliar with UMass Boston, finding a social circle while maintaining adequate safety is quite a challenge. As many clubs and organizations struggle to adjust to remote meetings, one group of students pushed forward.
For fans of the acclaimed competitive fighting series Super Smash Bros., the UMass Boston Smash Club existed as a means of challengers being able to meet and bond over their shared love of the game. With the start of the new school year, however, the group expanded to become the UMass Boston Gaming Club. Now, Super Smash Bros. shares the spotlight with other popular video games ranging from Esport juggernauts like League of Legends to tactical single-player experiences like Fire Emblem. According to the group’s new president, Justin Cardoso, “We decided to branch out to be more inclusive and welcoming to people”.
Cardoso is a junior here at UMass Boston and his experience with video games began back with the Nintendo 64. As such, he understands the need for students to bond over their shared interests. “I think it's important that everyone has a community they can be in. In my experience, not everyone has a group of friends” adding about the fact that “[sometimes] after you stop having a class with them, you eventually drift away from each other. The only place I didn't have that happen was in the UMass Boston game room.” With fewer and fewer opportunities to find this sense of community, video games remain a bastion for commonality.
As cases of COVID-19 continue to shake businesses around the world, the video game industry has experienced an opposite phenomenon. With so many people restricted to their homes, video games have proven to be the optimal past-time. This was seen as early as March when Animal Crossing: New Horizons released to unprecedented success. Sales reached over 10 million units in just three months . Nintendo, the developer, and publisher of Animal Crossing, recently earned its place as the single richest company in Japan, in part due to the pandemic’s surge in gaming sales .
More recently, online multiplayer games have taken center stage in the gaming world. Among Us, developed by the independent company InnerSloth, experienced seemingly exponential sales growth over the past few months. The game experienced limited success following its release in 2018. However, the game’s recent presence on YouTube and Twitch defined it as a viral hit. September 2020 downloads already exceed 40 million, more than doubling August’s figures of about 18 million downloads .
If these trends indicate anything, it is that multiplayer video games offer a reliable alternative to face-to-face interaction. Even the World Health Organization advocates for gaming as an effective social platform amid the pandemic, partnering with notable video game companies to tote a “#PlayApartTogether” campaign.
The UMass Boston Gaming Club now exists as a destination for gaming enthusiasts to meet new friends despite the need for social distancing. With online video games becoming the go-to supplement for social pastimes, it comes as no surprise that the group’s Discord server has already exceeded fifty members and counting. While the group is still in its infantile stages, it represents a success story of how students can forge ahead in the face of unexpected circumstances.
In the future, Cardoso hopes to expand the group even further as new students join each year. Based on the success of the club so far, the UMass Boston Gaming Club could very well become a place of belonging for incoming students years down the line. For now, the group is focused on finding an academic advisor to officiate its club status as well as hosting club tournaments in competitive fighting games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and Dragon Ball FighterZ.
For those interested in sharing their enthusiasm for video games with like-minded students, contact Justin Cardoso via email at email@example.com or through Discord at ScoopsMayCry#8593 for additional information.