High noon in the new game room in the Stratton Student Center sounds like a traffic jam in a 20-way intersection - blaring horns, pounding music and booming street-fighting rock compete for ear space, and almost no one moves.
For fans of foosball, pool, driving games and even disco dancing, the new room isn't gridlock. It's a chance to relax and play, to take a sociable break during the pressurized and often solitary MIT day.
"It's great to have it right here. The arcade is a social experience. It's got current games, competitive games, and it's a chance to get together," said Chad M. Polycarpe, a senior in biology who gathers with friends to play games and "take the stress off - especially during exam week."
That chance to get together was exactly what Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and Phillip J. Walsh, director of the Campus Activities Complex (CAC), had in mind for the MIT community when they made the decision to move the game room from its former basement location up to its more inviting spot at the main entrance to the Stratton Student Center.
"The move was predicated on the findings of the Strategic Planning Report for the Stratton Student Center and Walker Memorial published in January 2002 that called for an expanded and more accessible recreation room," explained Peter D. Cummings, assistant director for business and financial services for the CAC. "Additionally, space for a new Latino cultural center needed to be found in a student-centric location, and the basement site of the former game room has been allocated for this purpose.
"Once the decision was made, we worked through the summer in laying out the room, deciding on the game mix and preparing the application to change the City of Cambridge annual entertainment license so we could increase the number of electronic games from 14 to 18 and add the billiard tables. We're extremely grateful for all the assistance the commission provided us in granting the new license," Cummings said.
Another innovation near the Student Center entrance, the inviting lounge area furnished with cozy upholstered chairs and small tables, offers a different type of relaxation. It's full of people reading or chatting quietly, providing a counterpoint to the nearby game room's noise and activity.
THE GAME BUSINESS
Games run on tokens which users buy from machines in the room. Proceeds are split between J&J Amusements, an Andover-based company, and MIT. The MIT portion is used to pay rent and minor expenses for the room. Game selection is handled by J&J.
"Our approach is to offer a variety of nonelectronic games - billiards, air hockey, Super Chexx hockey and foosball - with the best electronic games on the market today. Time will tell if this approach meets with the student's approval," he said.
"Over the summer, we spent a lot of time developing the current mix. Now that the room is up and running, they'll rotate popular and available games that they think will work at MIT. J&J tries to satisfy specific requests from students for new games or the latest versions, or to adjust game settings to their particular skill levels. Since the move upstairs, we've received a lot of input and helpful suggestions; we hope that they will keep coming," said Cummings.
DANCE DANCE DANCE
As driving machines crashed cars, pool balls knocked into pockets and air hockey pucks occasionally flew onto the carpet,
Polycarpe kept his eyes trained on "Capcom vs. SNK2: Mark of the Millenium2001," a machine that advertises "life-like violence." This is committed by very un-life-like animated characters, which, Polycarpe explained, are famous in their own right among street-fighting games.
As his fingers dealt one death-blow after another to Bison, "the most evil guy in street-fighting history," Polycarpe took note of details of character and setting that were more or less artistic. One of his own hobbies is drawing, he said.
Across the room, sophomore Aaron M. Sokoloski was trying out Dance Dance Revolution, the newest addition to the game room. It's a dance-till-you-drop machine that features well-known and obscure disco dance hits with footprint patterns to follow at increasing speed and complexity.
A former member of the MIT Dance Troupe and an experienced ballet and tap dancer, Sokoloski started with the Weather Girls hit "It's Raining Men." Moments later, he was sweating and elated. "This is so cool! I wish I had thought of it!" he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 11, 2002.