By Ariel Liu
Low Battery is an umbrella gaming society for students to explore their interests in video games through several sub-programs. The society hosts events such as LAN parties, in which students set up a local area network to play video games. It leads corporate outreach field trips, in which members visit game developing companies such as Zynga and Pocket Gems to learn about working in the industry. The society is also available to sponsor gaming teams to attend tournaments if they request funding, according to financial officer Ross Johnson ’18.
“A lot of [Stanford gaming] seems to be independent people doing their own things, and [Low Battery] wanted to unify it and form a community,” Johnson said.
Its newest initiative, Full Power, invites Stanford students to mentor at Hoover Community School’s (HCS) after-school program every Friday. Full Power mentors teach low-income, middle school-age students about video games and thematic ideas that go along with playing these games on a 6-week schedule.
“We approach it centering around a particular theme or take-away we want the kids to have,” mentor Rachelle Pabalan ’19 said. “[One lesson] was focused on the theme of competition and civility in situations where competitiveness is encouraged. For that, we played Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.”
The mentorship program brought to light differences between the kids’ gaming experiences and that of the mentors. Unlike the mentors, HCS students grew up during the prevalence of smartphones and iPads. Online communication is a much bigger component compared to the interactive group gaming of the past, according to Pabalan.
“There’s always some online connectivity element to [today’s games] that helps the kids connect with other people who don’t necessarily have to physically be there, which is very different from things we had five to 10 years ago,” Pabalan said. “You have kids who communicate a certain way when they have on a speaker than with a friend who is at their own house.”
Through the mentorship program, Low Battery also addresses issues of gender representation in the gaming industry. The Pew Research Center revealed a survey that showed a nearly identical number of men and women report playing video games (50 percent of men and 48 percent of women), but 60 percent of the population believes that men are the ones who typically play video games. Having female mentors allow the HCS girls to feel more comfortable when playing games, according to Pabalan.
“The girls in the program were really, really happy about [having a female mentor],” Pabalan said, “because in the weeks leading up to me joining, we had three male mentors and no female mentors. Representation is so important. And if you can make even one person feel more comfortable in a space because they can identify with you, that means the world to me.”
In addition to Full Power, Low Battery also hopes to start a program next year to provide a space for students interested in game development, according to interim president Matthew O’Connell ’19.
“If you want to work for Milton Bradley or make ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ there’s nothing for you [at Stanford],” O’Connell said. “It’s all about this tangential process. Stanford doesn’t support game design, but they support a lot of things similar to video games.”
Though Stanford does not provide a major for it, students can approach game development through scattered avenues including the Virtual Reality Lab, graphics courses such as CS148 and CS248 and occasional d.school courses. Stanford MediaX also offers BIOE 196, an interactive media and games seminar that invites speakers to give weekly lectures.
“Video games are the ultimate medium of storytelling,” O’Connell said. “You’ve got the book which tells you the story, you’ve got the movie that shows you the story, but nothing like a video game where you’re in the story and making the decisions.”
Contact Ariel Liu at aliu15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.