Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Student Life/ Gaming

Games Sagehens Play

NINTENDO CHARACTERS are beating the crap out of each other. Mario, Donkey Kong and Pikachu, all beating the crap out of each other. Well, that’s not quite right—they’re beating the gravity out of each other. Each time one gets punched, or kicked, or thrown, he flies a little farther across the screen than before. Damage incurred causes characters to grow lighter, ignore the Earth’s pull a little more—and hurtle closer to the screen’s edges, until he exits the screen altogether and the background is bathed in blue-white, split-atomic light.

Erin Noble ’07, Jason Cincotta ’08 and Elliot Shields ’08 sit on the floor of the Smith Campus Center’s TV lounge, each with a Nintendo 64 controller in hand, playing Super Smash Brothers. They have checked the Nintendo 64, the controllers and the game out of the COOP store for the explicit purpose of this match—Noble against Shields and Cincotta. Last year, the Winslow Recreation Room (known to students as the game room) hosted a Super Smash Brothers tournament; Noble competed against 50 other students to claim victory. He plays as Ness, a cartoon boy from the Earthbound series who spends most of the fight in the air, floating from Shields to Cincotta and smashing them to the ground repeatedly. “We call this juggling,” Noble explains. “Basically, Ness hits the guy straight down, and you can combo with this move so you can just keep them going, hitting them over and over again. It’s hard to get out of if you do it well.”

Noble does it well, and he knows it. When he spotted Cincotta and Shields in the COOP and asked if they wanted to go to the TV lounge to play, he didn’t skimp on the bravado. “They’re kind of up-and-coming—they’re getting there,” he said. “Playing them can be fun, but it’s not as intense as playing with ‘the guys.’” After a few every-man-for-himself warm-up rounds, Noble half-cocks a grin and proposes to make the match a little more “intense”: Shields and Cincotta versus Noble.

These kinds of playful grudge matches aren’t at all uncommon at Pomona College, where gaming culture has become a prevalent component of campus life. In the 2004–05 academic year, the game room—its home above the COOP—hosted five video game tournaments, with an average attendance of about 25 students. Smash Brothers raked in the most, with 50 students attending. In fall 2005, the game room hosted a Dance Dance Revolution and an Old School Gaming tournament, with more tournaments on deck each semester.

Aside from formal contests, students unwind by playing multiplayer games together daily. A walk through any dorm hall reveals open doors and students crowded around a television and an X-Box playing Timesplitters or Halo. Between classes, one may be asked to “play a little GameCube,” and before Snack, one hears students’ proposing “one quick round of Mario Kart.” In Frank Dining Hall, a girl insists, as each of her friends offers a suggestion for what to do that night, that they “play videogames!” after the movie. Students walk through the Quad holding copies of Grand Theft Auto, Shadow of the Colossus or Final Fantasy X to their sides.

Noble’s experience with gaming at Pomona began his freshman year with Mario Kart and three friends from his hall. “We all became really good friends because we realized we all loved to play Mario Kart. We’d get together every night and play for hours.” Eventually they transitioned from Mario Kart, a racing game, to Smash Brothers, a fighting game, and have been playing for a while. Last year, they played together about once a day, laughing and screaming at each other. “The people over in Harwood—we were in Lyon, but the people in Harwood—they knew when we were playing,” he laughs. “We were so damn loud.” After winning the tournament, Noble decided to cut back. “I decided I would never get better, nor would I ever want to get better, and winning that tournament would probably be the pinnacle of my career.”

Shields, Cincotta and their friends didn’t compete in the tournament, though they’ve challenged Noble before. “They’re young kids,” said Ryan Knight ’07, director of the game room and one of three fellow juniors who play with Noble. “They don’t know the ropes yet. They’re coming; they’ve got potential. They’re looking good. But they aren’t quite able to hang with the veterans.”

They’ve been practicing. When they take on Noble in the TV lounge, they boast that they’ve been playing a lot and have gotten better. They jump at the offer to play Noble two-on-one and begin trash talking early into the match. Still, there’s a note of reverence. Even as Cincotta throws Noble’s character across the stage, he smiles and sappily announces, “Erin, you’re my Smash Brothers idol. My hero.” Noble doesn’t respond to the compliment, busy trying not to fly off the screen.

The match is a close one. There is some impressive juggling from Noble, and a few comebacks from sure defeat, but Ness is finally kick-flipped across the screen by Shield’s character: Starfox, a fox who is also an astronaut. The background is bathed in split-atomic light, and the announcer booms, “PLAYER ONE DEFEATED.” There’s loud laughter and not a little knee-slapping. By this point, a few more people have wandered into the lounge to watch, and, after congratulating each other on the good game, Shields, Cincotta and Noble offer their controllers to the new players, change teams, characters, levels and keep playing.
—Frank “Bennett” Sims ’08
©Copyright 2006
by Pomona College
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