Grad student Peter Shultz talks about music and video games at last Tuesday’s game night. (Photo by Mitchell Kohles, AB’12)

Serious about play

The cofounders of a new RSO sit down to discuss controllers and consoles.

Don’t confuse game theory with game studies. They both belong in the classroom, but the latter is less interested in the prisoner’s dilemma and stochastic outcomes than in computer graphics and bonus levels. And while you probably haven’t studied Counter-Strike as closely as you read Chaucer, chances are you’ve spent some time jamming buttons on a controller, keyboard, or touchscreen. Even at UChicago, gamers almost certainly outnumber econ majors.

Last fall, Nick Cassleman, ’13, and Lyndsey Moulds, ’12, decided to get serious about games. They formed an RSO devoted to video game design, and now the group hosts weekly meetings and game nights where members come to both discuss and enjoy video games.

What is this gaming club called?

Nick Cassleman: It’s a funny name. It’s LUIGI.

Lyndsey Moulds: Which is an acronym for the Ludic Union for the Investigation of Gaming Interfaces.

NC: Ludic is just play, from the Latin ludus. [In game studies,] ludologists study the mechanics of games, versus the narratologists, who study games as a form of narrative.

The RSO is still very new. When did you get the idea to start it, and why?

NC: Actually Pavel Krajcevski, SB’09, was one of the monumental people in inspiring me to do games. I met him at an event by Chicago Careers in Science and Technology and talked to him about starting the game design club.

LM: In March I started wondering why there wasn’t any RSO devoted to academic or otherwise consideration for video games. There is the StarCraft club, the Halo club, there are a bunch of social clubs centered around specific games. But I was in an art class with a couple of other people who were interested in games, and I sort of just said to myself, “Why isn’t there an RSO for this?”

NC: So Lyndsey and I started the game design club, and we had submitted the [RSO] application at the beginning of this year, but then ORCSA contacted us and let us know that there was this other games organization, LUIGI, that was created by grad students who were interested more in game study and game criticism and less with the development side. So we merged and adopted their name. But we weren’t approved until eighth week of fall quarter.

For a lot of people, video games are still just for fun. Is it difficult to study games here?

LM: I sort of briefly had this moment in HS where I said, you know, I really invest a lot of time in video games and it’s something I think is really interesting. Maybe that’s something I could do as a career. And when I expressed this to my best friend, she said “Do your parents know about this?” And I guess that really put me off because I did start thinking it’s one of these really risky career avenues, like theater or people who want to work on Broadway.

NC: It’s definitely something that you really have to invest yourself in if you want to go anywhere because the industry is really hard to get into and everyone wants to do games. Since there aren’t a lot of opportunities here, I have to sort of make them for myself.

So what are LUIGI meetings like?

NC: We have weekly meetings where we devote an hour to some kind of group project that we’re working on, and then an hour to a different topic. Last week we talked about bad games, what makes a game not enjoyable, and what’s a broken system. And the other part is game night, which we open up to the wider University community.

How has turnout been? Are you publicizing game night?

NC: The grad students are in charge of that… [laughs]

LM: I put flyer money in our budget for tomorrow, so that will happen soon.

NC: We want to put a big display up for the next gaming night. We want to do something like the portal Christmas tree in Reynolds.

What else is in the works?

NC: We also have this forum that we are trying to get people to use. Another big reason that we wanted to start the club was to create a community of gamers. We wanted to create a place were people could meet each other and do their own projects, where designers could meet developers, where programmers could meet artists and musicians.

So will LUIGI be making any games of its own?

LM: That’s the most difficult part of it, getting five people together and saying, OK, you’re going to make these graphics, I’m going make this music, this person is going to do this programming, and we’re going to have it all done in two weeks. All while you’re at UChicago. That is one of our goals, though, to bring people together to make games.

Do you have a favorite game?

NC: It’s really tough, but I think my go-to favorite is Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation. Modern games, I might say Bioshock.

LM: I think my favorite game is definitely the Sims 2, because when you start pushing it beyond the way it was intended to be played, it becomes this really interesting sandbox. It gets weird in a good way. It’s basically just like a giant level editor, and I guess that was what drew me too it and that’s why I still play it all these years after it has come out, because there is that aspect of design that I really enjoy that’s built into the game.