More Than a Game

Ben von Mehren & Kai Oakley

Four Arcadians huddle around the large round table in the community yurt. One of them stands, two dice in hand, and rolls; the rhythmic clatter of dice on wood has become a familiar sound in recent weeks. The dice roller holds their breath as chance decides their fate. Will they pass “Go” safely, or land on Boardwalk with a hotel and owe thousands to the owner? A six is rolled, and one Arcadian yips with delight while another makes noises akin to a gunshot victim. The tension is palpable as Monopoly dollars are begrudgingly handed across the table. But this is just the way the game goes…

As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, the Arcadians have transitioned from their usual outdoor adventures in the sun to playing indoor games near warm woodstoves. The gentle pitter-patter of shuffled cards, gasps of excitement or yells of (mostly hyperbolic) anger, and as we said, the noise of dice on wood have all become commonplace in the yurt village. In a few short months, we have gone from strangers to a tight-knit Arcadian family, and tabletop games have become the newest way to continue our bonding. John Bernhardt, recently declared Environmental Studies major, says, “As the weather gets colder, board games are a good indoor activity that has continued our community building by bringing us together over a common interest.” In more ways than one, these games have mimicked our values as a community.

Another popular game among Arcadians is Secret Hitler, a game in which two teams use lying and logic to push their own agendas. Tensions rise and accusations are thrown across the room like baseballs as one team tries to find the “Secret Hitler” and the other attempts to keep their identity hidden. Two nights ago, we watched as two Arcadians got in a screaming match as an intense game of Secret Hitler came down to the wire. “You’re lying,” one spat bitterly. “Look at them, their face is bright red!” The accused shot back: “My face is only red because it’s hot in here. I’m telling the truth!” These words echoed throughout the village, across the lake, and all the way to Canton, as evident when our professor the next day asked us what all the commotion was about. It’s only a game, as they say, but these moments embody a persistent truth present in all communities: conflict always arises.

During our canoe trip back in August, which now feels like years ago, we laid down a foundational set of rules and values for how we wanted our community to run; the list was topped with fair and equal conflict resolution. Each week during our community meeting, we have dedicated time for Arcadians to present issues, comments, or concerns that involve the whole community. Whether it’s a reminder to clean your dishes or keep the water purifier running, everyone is heard and treated with respect. Bri Duggan, experienced small community member and Sustainability Program alumna, says, “Community meeting is an awesome, safe, and healthy place to bring up conflict with fellow Arcadians and acknowledge positive moments as well.” Through dedicated time in community meetings and personal interactions, Arcadians have found ways to curate a happy, healthy, and inclusive environment for everyone. When asked how our group has handled community issues over the past ten weeks, Adirondack Semester assistant director and salamander advocate Amanda Colley says simply, “Arcadians have handled conflict maturely.”

Now picture this: You walk into Arcadia at 8 p.m. to find students crowded into the kitchen. Intense looks bounce around the room as one player prepares to flip a card that will decide the result of the game. The sounds of mice scuttling about can be made out over the dead silence of the village.

Strange as it seems, board games have become a staple activity of daily life in Arcadia. Many Arcadians have set the goal of establishing a healthy work-life-community balance this semester. Although the motivation to dive deeply into the strategies and philosophies of these games likely originated as a mechanism to fill the void of technology in our lives, these games have cultivated much deeper bonds and connections than technology ever could. Life moves pretty slowly at Arcadia, but the dice roll fast, the deals are cutthroat, and the friendships are forever.