Though the campus is otherwise hushed on Saturday evenings, laughter rings out from room 501 of the TWU Administrative Conference Tower as students watch their on-screen counterparts clash in a frenzy of action.
TWU’s Smash Brothers Alliance, an organization created for and by Super Smash Bros. enthusiasts, hosted their second Smash Social from 6-8 p.m., inviting members and guests to gather for Wii U battles and board games in a laid-back atmosphere. Sounds of simulated combat echoed through the repurposed meeting room, which also featured two televisions and a surround-sound system, offering gamers an immersive experience. Attendees played “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” on a projector screen, sharing two controllers and enthusiasm for Nintendo classics.
Formed in late April, the alliance is still in its infancy, but officers say they are hoping to make a name for themselves as an accepting community that values fun over hyper-competitiveness. Promoting sportsmanship and teamwork, members of the organization aim to serve as an example of what they say are positive aspects of gaming.
“It’s important that other people know games don’t have to just be for playing,” Tiara Welch, moderator and organizer of the Smash Socials, said. “You can build relationships and so many good things can happen from meeting someone online. I’ve built so many great relationships and it’s not like people say it is, it’s not horrible.”
Alliance co-founder and president Joshua Martin said he and his fiancé Gwendolyn Gardner, social work sophomore and the organization’s treasurer, are longtime fans of Smash Bros. and wanted to create a space for other gamers at TWU to come together. Shortly after forming, Martin and other officers sought to create a way to share their enthusiasm with those outside the organization, so the Smash Social was born.
The socials are just one way the alliance seeks to combat the aggressiveness and bad behavior that is often associated with the wider gaming community.
“If you were to put the same two people that were badmouthing each other online right in front of each other, the tone completely changes and they wouldn’t be as aggressive because suddenly you’re face-to-face,” Martin said. “What we’re trying to do is create more face-to-face interactions, which is where a lot of that community grows [as] people grow to like each other more.”
Officers said an important part of their mission to bring more cooperation to gaming is creating an atmosphere where women feel accepted and confident they would not be subject to the misogyny that some would say has come to define gaming culture.
“We have a college that’s over 88 percent women and over 50 percent of our organization is currently men,” Martin said. “It’s kind of silly, and it shouldn’t be that way. The representation needs to be there.”
They’re not alone in their efforts. Although gaming has traditionally been viewed as a “boys club,” 45 percent of women in the United States are gamers, and the gaming industry is changing. Female characters in video games are becoming less sexualized amid criticism and more women are becoming developers, seeking to reinvent the industry from within.
Welch said the organization’s focus on inclusivity is important to her because she has experienced the sexism in online gaming firsthand.
“I’ve gotten rage mail because I’m a girl playing games,” Welch said. “At first it used to get to me a lot, especially being little and playing it. I kind of thickened my skin to online haters like that [now]. You get used to it if you stick with it, but it shouldn’t be something you have to get used to.”
Moderators like Welch work to ensure that interactions between gamers do not become hostile, monitoring both live events and the organization’s Discord channel and acting as de-escalators when tensions run high during gameplay. Members and guests alike expressed hope that as the presence of accepting spaces like the alliance grows, so too does interest among women at TWU.
“I don’t know how much of a gamer appeal there is with the female population here [at TWU], but there’s some great examples in this room,” Andrew Sheffield, UNT biology and ecology sophomore said.
Although members say turnout to the socials has been low, they hope that word about the organization will continue to grow as they plan more events and the fall semester approaches. They plan to host a Smash tournament before summer ends, though they are not sure exactly when that will be yet.
In the meantime, members say they are content to game the days away.
“We’re all having fun and, honestly, that’s our biggest goal,” Samantha Oliver, media specialist and speech pathology junior, said.
Although entertainment is at the center of everything the alliance does, members say they will continue to focus on their shared values to ensure that gaming remains a fun outlet for all participants.
“Gaming is not for one set of people,” Welch said. “It’s not for one gender or ethnicity. Games were created for everyone to play together, whether they know each other or not.”
Featured image: Attendees [from left] Andrew Sheffield, Samantha Oliver and Tiara Welch laugh together as Welch plays “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” at the Smash Social at the Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas on June 22, 2019. Photo by Amber Gaudet.