Bouts of laughter and cheers of victory pour into the halls from room 523 on Tuesday afternoons in Emmaus High School.
Every week gaming enthusiasts pack around each table in the room to switch their books and backpacks for decks of cards and computers, all in order to escape to Game Club. Students pack the vibrant room, immersing themselves into the worlds of some of their favorite strategic games such as Magic the Gathering, Settlers of Catan, and Dungeons and Dragons — which is played separately in a dedicated adjoining room.
The longstanding club at the high school draws in players of countless different games, ranging from predominantly online multiplayer games to tabletop card and board games. These provide a source of camaraderie for members of Game Club, uniting them with a strongly shared interest and outlet from the typical school day.
Freshmen Sabena Van Linde, Grayson Killingsworth, and Andrew Lichty use Game Club as a way to spend time together, carrying on a hobby of playing Dungeons and Dragons that originated in middle school and continued through last summer.
As they taught themselves the game, they started to adapt it to their own liking, using their imagination to concoct a new version and make it their own.
The posters adorning the walls of the school first attracted Killingsworth, leading him to invite his friends to a meeting one day. They have shown up almost every week since to reconnect.
“A lot of us don’t have the same classes anymore,” Van Linde says. “So, we just sort of come here [Game Club] and then scream at the top of our lungs together; it’s fun.”
Art teacher Lexi Soboleski advises the club because of her lifelong love of strategic games, specifically Cards of Valeria, Seven Wonders, and Ticket to Ride.
This love led Soboleski to run an international strategy board game league because of the distance between her and other players. Through the league, participants play in tournaments of different board games, with games spread across the country and even in Europe and Africa. The players’ points are digitally tracked and shared with the league, and at the end of the year there is a proven winner.
Soboleski has entertained the idea of creating a gaming league between schools in the area.
“The biggest issue against that [a gaming league] would be the lack of interest in board games. Our Game Club specifically is made up of mostly of video gamers… there’s tabletop happening, but not so much board games,” she says. “I’m hoping to introduce some board games to the kids as the years go, and then it would be really fun to turn it into a league between high schools.”
Sophomores Logan Oleksa and Alex Lease found themselves engulfed in a game of Magic the Gathering at a recent meeting, first drawing in Oleksa because of its social aspect.
“It’s [Magic the Gathering] not just a game where you sit down and not talk. It’s a conversational game, and it makes a good community around the game itself,” Oleksa says. “Earlier in my life I hadn’t had the kind of friends to go and do things with outside of school. So I got into games like this so that the friends I did have, I’d have something to do with them. Ever since then, I feel like I fit in a bit more because I have something in common with some people.”
Both Oleksa and Lease enjoy the club because of its leisurely nature, as they searched for a way to connect with other students over the games they already loved. Outside of school, Lease plays in tournaments with friends and through opportunities like Boy Scouts.
In the club, however, one of his fondest memories is from a day when ten to 15 people brought their own Nintendo Switches. The members then engaged in a large Super Smash Bros. tournament together, creating an unforgettable moment for Lease and revealed that there were more people like him.
“I think the thing is that everybody can come together and there’s more people in the school than you’d think that have the same interests as you,” he says. “It shows that there’s people out there that have interests that are more strategy-based games and these types of video games — it’s a great experience to have I think.”
The communities that players like Oleksa and Lease have discovered contribute to the reason why Soboleski devotes her time to running Game Club.