On a bitter cold Friday night in February a small crowd slowly begins to form at the STC Roundhouse. Arm loads of boxes and crates filled with cords, discs, board games and batteries make their way through the halls of the high school and into the gym. Large, banner-like screens are raised as little plastic boxes begin to flicker and whir in quiet anticipation. It is the beginning of another game night for the students at STC High School. One may not expect to see high school students hanging out at a gym, playing video games but on Game Squad nights you can see just that.
On average 35-40 students come to the monthly gathering and it's not just to play video games. South Tama students can be found playing anything from video games such as Dance, Dance Revolution, Need for Speed racing and XBox Kinect Bowling to card games like Magic the Gathering and Ooga Booga. It was also surprising to find a dedicated contingent of students kicking around a hacky sack. Yes, high schoolers still play hacky sack.
Game Squad was formed in 2008 by students Cody Gardner, Kyle Gitautis and band teacher Mike Carnahan. The group started small and held their gatherings in the band and choir rooms. They have since branched out to the high school gym. Generally there are six large projector screens set up around the gym so students can experience playing different games on different systems. The Game Squad club owns an XBox 360, Playstation 3 and a Nintendo Wii. "The newly released Playstation 4 is the most recent attraction added to the Game Nights. Game Squad meets once a month if the school calendar allows for the use of the gym.
Video games have a long standing negative connotation due to the correlation that has been made between school shootings and violent video games. There is research both favoring and disproving that parallel. There is also concern that today's youth are spending too much time inside playing video games versus being outside and socializing with peers. However, the students attending Game Squad are there to not only enjoy the games but also to socialize with other students and play games together. Senior Emily Jantzen who has attended game squad for all of her high school career says that, "(Game Squad) is something different. It's not like our normal clubs we have in school."
For those who may be concerned with what the students are playing, there is a standard set at Game Squad that no games above a "T" rating will be played. The video game rating system set in place by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) offers ratings that range from C (Early Childhood; content intended for young children) up to A. (Adults Only; content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.) The T (Teen) rating includes games that are generally suitable for ages 13 and up. The game content may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language. For a complete list of ratings you can visit www.esrb.org.
Rodney Keraghan (left) watches on as other students play Madden (a football game) on the XBox.
News-Herald Photos/Allison Graham
Just like the movie rating system the ESRB ratings are subjective. While there are games that are violent simply for the sake of being violent Carnahan feels that most video games regardless of their ratings can teach students important skills such as cooperation, strategizing and how to work together.
Jantzen states, "It's not as bad as people think it is, you get to know different people." Jantzen also said that had it not been for Game Squad she wouldn't have gotten to know some of the people she has been introduced to.
Carnahan believes that Game Squad can be something very positive. "He believes in promoting good sportsmanship and states that students are encouraged to tell their peers "good game" and to not be "sore losers.
Gustavo Chavarria, a sophomore at STC high school, is a frequent attender of Game Squad. "I love playing video games, said Chavarria." At home he has a Playstation 2, Nintendo Game Cube, Nintendo 64 and he also plays Angry Birds. He does not have a preference as to what system he plays and for him it depends on the game he is playing. Various systems have distinctive features as to how they operate. Chavarria states that (playing video games) is "fun and challenging." Another hobby of Chararria's is to draw the characters from the video games he plays. He enjoys drawing comic book strips, short pictures and location pictures and he draws all of his pictures free handed.
Game Squad has also put on gaming tournaments during their monthly game nights. The students pay an entry fee and the winner gets a prize. The money raised goes back into the club's funds to purchase new gaming systems, games batteries, extension cords, and other supplies. The STC Music Boosters also sell concessions during the game nights for many a weary gamer to slake their thirst or to fortify their constitution.
STC Game Squad is not alone as there are other schools throughout the country that have forged their own video game clubs. In fact the STC gamer's club was modeled after the club at the Belle Plaine High School. When researching during his preliminary planning phase Carnahan spoke with game clubs in Kentucky and Canada.
Game Squad has a few goals for themselves. One being a "hire-out" gaming service. The idea would be that the club would be hired to set up gaming systems for birthday parties or special events. Another goal is to someday form an online league. By doing this they could play with other schools across the country, even across the world.
On Friday March 14 the high school students will be putting on a Game Squad night for the middle school students at the Roundhouse. The middle school students will pay an entry fee and that money will go towards new games and possibly the new Xbox One or Playstation 4. The high school students will meet for their regular monthly gathering on Friday March 21 at the high school gym.
For anyone who is interested in learning more about Game Squad you can contact Mike Carnahan at the STC High School.
A look into Game Squad: