High Score: 000366

Inspired by the growing video gaming community, this project examines the
video game culture at NKU. From game players to designers there is a multitude of involvement across NKU.

Written By: Emily Osterholz

April 12th, 2016

Players threw their arms in the air when feeling the frustrations of the game, some cheered on fellow teammates chanting their name in rhythm, while others sat motionless intensely staring at the screen, concentrating on what their next move should be.

Armed with Wii U’s and fierce gaming skills, NKU students flocked towards the Student Union Game Room to compete in a Super Smash Bros. tournament. The boisterous cries of players who claimed victory and the miserable sighs of the defeated, echoed along the hallways of the Student Union.

One of those players Chris Ortiz, a senior majoring in human services and philosophy, serves as the president of the Super Smash Bros. Club.

Throughout the year, the Game Room hosts a number of different video game tournaments that give competitive and friendly players an opportunity to win prizes and form new friendships.

Video games are becoming a more prominent force at NKU. From the Game Room to courses dedicated to the study of videos games, the number of diehard gamers is growing on campus.

“My freshman year I saw people who were really good at Super Smash Bros. and I thought I want to play this and made myself a little blacklist of who was better than me,” Ortiz said. “As I got better I slowly crossed names off the list. Eventually when I got to the top of the list I was like, ‘This isn’t satisfying anymore, I need to compete in actual tournaments now. I need to go and see how I do outside my little fish bowl. There’s a whole entire ocean out there.’”

Quick Poll!

What system do you game on?

Xbox One
Playstation 4
Wii U

  The NKU Game Room offers a multitude of different systems, games, and activities for students to use free of charge.

Ortiz has been playing competitively since 2012 and has traveled to Michigan, Chicago and other places to compete in Smash Bros. tournaments.

Ortiz has won tournaments such as the Cincinnati Smash Revival and Bourbon State Smash. He hasn’t lost a Cincinnati Weekly tournament hosted at Arcade Legacy.

Through the silence of the abandoned Forest Fair Mall, beeps, rings and quiet chatter can be heard, coming from the first floor. Pac-Man and Frogger are among the 70 arcade and pinball cabinets at Arcade Legacy.

  Super Smash Brothers: Melee, a very popular competitive game, is played with controllers seen below.

  Competitors play the game "Super Smash Brothers: Melee" on old, CRT TV screens, which helps reduce the time it takes for the inputs on the controller to reach the television, as opposed to newer, LCD/Plasma screens which take a longer time for the input to reach the television.

Along with a console area with 20 stations and two high-definition projection screens, Arcade Legacy is a place to buy, sell or trade your used CDs, DVDs, toys, manga and videogames.

Jay Goines, a junior graphic design major, is a big fan of the “godlike” arcade. Some days she spends six to eight hours there and when there is a tournament, Goines is one of the first names on the sign-up sheet.

“My sister was the one who showed me Arcade Legacy,” Goines said. “The first time I went there was with her. I didn't know what to expect but by the time we left, I thought I am definitely coming back here. We played literally almost every game there. It was like heaven for me.”

When Goines is not in class or at Arcade Legacy, she practices her gamer skills at the Game Room.

“We have a full on Game Room,” Goines said. “I know a lot of universities that don’t have that. You can play just about any game, hang out with friends, eat and watch TV. NKU also has some video game making classes.”

These four gaming fanatics have taken their passion for video games and turned it into a career that they enjoy. Alexis Pulos, Jay Goines, AJ Ryan and Nicholas Zeman share how they’ve grown into the gamers they are today, as well as the experiences that have shaped their gaming life.

Click on the profiles below to read.

AJ Ryan

Gamertag: playing with feet

Preferred System: PC (PS4)

Favorite Video Game: Metroid, Castlevania

Favorite Video Game Character: Samus Aran (Metroid)

AJ Ryan can remember buying his first Nintendo at that age 2 or 3 and spending hours trying to figure the best games to buy for it.

He has pursued a career he loves – designing video games.

Being the founder of Inclusive Games, Ryan hopes to increase the options of video games and the features in video games for disabled gamers.

“I’m the first company I know of that’s really centered on gamers with disabilities,” Ryan said. “I still want to make full games, I don’t want to make different or specific games for specific types of disabilities, and I just want to make fun games that happen to have all the options people with disabilities look for. Nobody has that ideology in the game industry right now.”

  Ryan uses his feet as his hands, and does so remarkably well.

A few weeks ago, Ryan attended a panel of AbleGamers in a gaming convention where six companies pitched to members of Greater Cincinnati’s business community. NKU’s Inkubator program worked for the last few months to nurture young companies and their founders with big dreams.

“I was there because of Inclusive Games and I just help people with their games and how to make them more accessible,” Ryan said. “That whole experience was really cool.”

Jay Goines

Gamertag: LinaOkamiHime

Preferred System: All

Favorite Video Game: Final Fantasy

Favorite Video Game Character: Alphinaud Leveilleur (Final Fantasy)

Despite losing, Jay Goines, had an amazing time competing in her first Mario Party tournament at Arcade Legacy.

At the age of 7, Goines began playing Nintendo’s with her sister.

“It was kind of like this weird tradition that we started,” Goines said. “My sister and I, after getting home from school and finishing our homework, we would spend hours linking our Game Boys and playing.”

Goines is into vintage video games so Arcade Legacy is one of her favorite places in Cincinnati.

“I usually go, probably four to five times a week when I’m not busy,” Goines said. “When I have a lot of stuff going on, I try to go at least once or twice a week.”

Goines says that continuing to play there and compete in the tournaments is not about the prizes or winning, but about socializing and forming new friendships.

“I’ve had the best time with my friends there,” Goines said. “There are other frequent people that go, that I also like to touch base with. And the employees are so nice. It’s just one of the best places.”

Nicholas Zeman

Preferred System: Xbox

Favorite Video Game: Halo

Favorite Video Game Character: Solid Snake (Metal Gear)

Nicholas Zeman played games religiously when he was a kid for hours at a time. When he was in college, Zeman became interested in 3D features.

“3D games were just starting to become known,” Zeman said. “It was so cool, I’d never seen, never been able to manipulate anything like that. So I said that’s what I want to do with my life. I moved to California and got a job, working with Sony doing 3D game development. I started from there and became hooked.”

Now he makes video games and teaches students about animation and gaming.

“People want to make apps and games, and talk about the ways they are going to do it but when it really get to the guts of development, I’d say about 5 percent of people who are enthusiastic about it can actual do it,” Zeman said. “Making games and playing games are not the same thing.”

  Professor Zeman uses his years of experience in the video game industry, to teach students the fundamentals of game design and devolopment.

Zeman guides new students who don’t know how to get started but know that they are interested in video games.

“I feel like there’s a network of students,” Zeman said. “People come in all the time and talk to me about stuff. Someone says, ‘Oh, you should talk to Professor Zeman about this, he’s done that or is doing this.’ You know, students are always playing games, then they want to learn to make them. That’s where I come in.”

Alexis Pulos

Gamertag: Iflex26

Preferred System: Playstation 4 (PS4)

Favorite Video Game: Fallout 4

Favorite Video Game Character: Master Chief John-117 (Halo)

When Alexis Pulos was in college he played video games a lot, especially Halo. It was those late nights, trying to complete a new mission, where he figured out what he wanted to do the rest of his life.

“But it’s, you know, fundamental to being a college student,” Pulos said.

Pulos, now teaches a Games and Culture class at NKU, and plays video games occasionally.

“Games function as a cultural ratchet,” Pulos said. “The games that we play reflect society and society is reflected in the games that we play. Those are a tool to help move us forward. They are even often seen as pre linguistic; we play games according to rules, structures and actions in a focused attention.”

Zynga, one of the scholars the class discusses, introduces a magic circle where people can participate in games and are freed from other contexts.

“It’s that active playing in a game, Zynga is like a magic circle where we can focus solely on gaming,” Pulos said. “Games in that sense are a way to play out culture. They’re fundamental to the structuring of society.”

Players, using Microsoft’s motion controller Kinect, wielded hammers and swords to fight an ambush of alien invaders with medieval weapons in the game Medieval Martian Massacre, an elaborate, interactive video game developed by a media informatics class.

“Integrating graphics and virtual elements into the physical world is the future of interactive development so I’m trying to build stuff for that,” Zeman said.

Eight students spent 10 weeks getting the game ready. Zeman said his favorite moment was when they were finally able to run it for the first time.

“You have an idea and you start running demos and putting all these pieces of that idea into one single package,” Zeman said. “Then you run it for the first time. Anyone who hasn’t seen your vision yet, sees where it’s going and the light bulbs turn on in their heads. I love that moment.”

  Professor Zeman teaches a multitude of diffrent classes, ranging from web design to 3D modeling.

When Griffin Hall and the programs within it first opened, people were more excited about the growth of video games according to Zeman.

He believes the enthusiasm has waned but thinks that NKU does a pretty good job keeping up to date with the new technology and video games. However, he strives for more business applications, pushing for game technology versus entertainment. He fears that the community is not big enough to develop Triple A titles, high quality games with large budgets.

“With all the investments and new stuff, plus with places surrounding the community, I think the program has grown a lot and we’re pushing for game development skills and the use of game theory,” Zeman said.

Professor of Games and Culture Alexis Pulos agrees that NKU integrates games on campus. With the Game Room, clubs, and specific courses, students are playing more games on campus.

“That’s part of the college experience though,” Pulos said. “When I was in college I was playing Halo and others. NKU is recognizing that and allowing students to play. NKU has begun to provide support for gamers. I think that’s an initial stage, considering we’ve had 35 years of popular video games. We’re now just starting to say gamers are people and nerds are cool.”

When Griffin Hall’s Digitorium initially opened many were excited for the potential gaming opportunities. Attendees brought their computers, controllers, consoles and board games to battle alongside their friends and enemies. All the proceeds went to AbleGamers Charity.

  Board & card games help teach the fundamentals of all game creation.

AJ Ryan, a senior media informatics major, is the vice president of MINjas and was very happy about the turnout.

The 21-year-old has arthrogryposis, a condition where joint contractures have limited the use of his limbs since birth. Ryan moves in a power wheelchair that is operated by his feet with a joystick.

“MINjas was the coolest organizations I found on campus when I first got to NKU,” Ryan said. “We do the charity event which is awesome, especially since I’m very passionate about AbleGamers and loved seeing all the people come out and support them.”

Ryan started a video game development studio called Inclusive Games that focuses on keeping accessibility to disabled gamers at the forefront of its design philosophy.

“I started Inclusive Games personally with playing video games,” Ryan said. “I can play them okay with my feet but I have friends who are in wheel chairs. As the games get more advanced, they are getting more difficult to play and the options in them aren’t scaling up at all. Also virtual reality is not accessible at all.”

Between programming experience at NKU and gaming experience throughout his life, Ryan believes they can make a positive change in the gaming industry and is excited to begin making games anyone can enjoy.

Ryan is happy with how much NKU is involved with gaming and wants to continue to see advancements in technology and equipment.

“It’s just cool that NKU has so many different things you can do with video games and that this area has arcades still,” Ryan said.