Billy took his final breath just below the mountain summit.
The group left him behind, but soon, others stopped in their tracks as well. Hillary, exhausted, had to burrow in her tent to recover, while all that remained of William was his depleted oxygen tank lying in the snow, a grim reminder that he made it oh-so-close to Yeti Mountain’s fabled flag. The rest of us trekked on.
Finally, I summoned just enough energy to make one last reach for the mountaintop. Stabbing a climbing hook blindly into the ice above me, I connected with solid ground. I had made it. The flag was mine.
Of course, this all actually unfolded on a cool but not cold fall day in Chico, on the second floor of Meriam Library. I was quite cozy rolling dice and moving my game piece in a long-sleeved shirt, and Billy was braving the elements in flip-flops and board shorts. The game was a Kickstarter-funded indie tabletop production, Dicey Peaks, and beginner’s luck was strong with me at the library’s third Game Night.
Every third Thursday of the month, beginning this semester, Meriam hosts this fledgling event in the southwest corner of the second floor as a way for students to connect with each other. While the original intention was to do so with more tactile gaming forms—card and board games, such as Peaks or the wildly popular Settlers of Catan—there is also an Xbox One for digital gaming. The Wildcat Recreation Center gets in on the action, too, providing old Nintendo systems to play Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart on projection screens and monitors.
The recurring event stems from Wildcat Welcome Week, when 120 first-year students were treated to an inaugural activity by the same name. It was a smash. Enough inquired about the possibility of a regular occurrence that William Cuthbertson, Game Night’s founder and an assistant professor in research instruction, greenlit the event for monthly recurrence, right outside his office in Meriam 212. Cuthbertson had operated the same initiative at his previous institution, the University of Northern Colorado, to great response before he came to Chico State in the spring.
“The impetus was just a couple of librarian friends. We’d get together and play games, and we wanted to carry that over into something we could get away with doing at work,” Cuthbertson said with a laugh. “But at the same time, we really had this feeling that students were over digital—games, books, media in general. They wanted something tactile. They wanted to engage with each other. So we thought this would be a great way to get that organic back-and-forth with each other, make new connections, while also getting comfortable with the library space.”
Cuthbertson, who has a sleeve tattoo from Dragon Agevideo game lore and styles his syllabi in the image of comic books and graphic novels, lovingly refers to the embrace of “nerd culture” as another step toward student accessibility. His experience in library work, coupled with his background as first-generation faculty, gives him a distinct perspective in understanding the crossover points between what the library can provide and how oft-overwhelmed new students (particularly first-gen students and those who speak English as a second language) can digest it.
“It’s about making subject matter that’s impenetrable accessible,” said Cuthbertson, who started his career as a government documents librarian. “I’ve been there myself. You show up to college and everyone else seems to get it, and you don’t, and it’s challenging. So it’s neat to be on this side of it. Offering up gaming from the library is one way to help them decode the whole experience.”
Billy Buchhauser, our friend from earlier who ran out of oxygen on Yeti Mountain, is a senior from San Diego studying kinesiology and physical education. He’s been to every Game Night this semester and has found that it not only provides much-needed decompression from the rigors of the school year, but also helps him connect with a community he might not otherwise interact with or even meet.
“I’ve had fun every time at these. It’s pretty cool. We’ve played with some freshmen from the dorms who didn’t seem like they were very social at first, and you could tell they were getting more comfortable as it went on,” Buchhauser said. “And it was a good opportunity for me, too. It was really neat to meet them and hang out. And of course it’s always just fun to play games and take your mind off homework or finals for 20 minutes or so.”
Annual Game Night events will continue, Cuthbertson said, and if the monthly versions can mirror what he was able to do at Northern Colorado, the expectation is that Game Night’s popularity will continue to climb. When he left for Chico State, Cuthbertson said, the student attendance was up to 400, a figure he doesn’t rule out here.
“If there’s one thing we all want to do as faculty, it’s to make college accessible and a place where students can visualize their success. That’s why Chico State is so exciting,” Cuthbertson said. “We can offer things like this to populations that might have otherwise missed out on these types of connections.”
The next Game Night is scheduled for February 15. Students, faculty, and staff interested in going, or those who want more information on future activities, should contact Cuthbertson at 530-898-4990.
Story by Travis Souders