By Robert Johnson Jr., Arts and Features Editor
Before March, Discord was just another application in the sea of apps one could install on their phone, tablet, or computer. It was a way for gamers to come together and organize events and game sessions, watch parties, and other activities.
However, late March saw the rise of a new threat – COVID-19.
As days grew into weeks, with those weeks extending to months, and restrictions increasing on in-person gatherings, the situation began to look dire for LAN parties, “Dungeons & Dragons” groups, and the hustle and bustle of competitive tournaments that host large crowds.
The same can be said for major events, such as Frosty Faustings and Combo Breaker. Organizers had to cancel their meticulously-planned events, or move them to a remote setting.
In short, COVID-19 put a beating on the gaming community at large.
However, Johan Perez, a junior English major, was prepared for this historic moment, as his Discord server for Framingham State University students, the FSU Goons, was already well on its way when lockdowns began to roll out across the world.
The FSU Goons server originally served as a way for Perez and the other inhabitants of the Game Room in the McCarthy Center to have everyone reachable in a centralized place when they’re not all in the Game Room.
“Basically, what happened is that we were kind of a little community of mostly [“Super Smash Bros.”] ‘Melee’ players at the time,” Perez said. “It was a bunch of us coming in the Game Room saying, ‘Oh, yo, come here!’ I know a couple of people had phone numbers together, but there was no clear communication of what was going on.
“I know I didn’t have anybody’s number – I would just show up to the Game Room and, if people were there, I’d play. If people weren’t there, I’d wait a little and sometimes, there would be people there,” he added.
“But one day, I think we had a dozen people or something like that. Suddenly, I thought, ‘Hey, we need something to actually keep ourselves together. Like, keep ourselves in communication if we [want to] have any events, [if] we want to run any tournaments, do anything specific,’” he said.
Perez said, “I know at the time, I was thinking of making a club or something like that, so I thought it would be kind of a base of operations. And, so, FSU Goons was born!”
As far as the name goes, Perez recalled why he came up with it.
“I think I just liked the name – like a goon squad,” Perez said. “We were all goons. That’s what we are – huddled around a CRT, playing ‘Melee.’ It was the prime time for that.”
In the almost two years since the server’s inception, many game-centric scenes have spawned – both in the confines of the Game Room and beyond the double doors that lead to it.
“What’s nice about the group, at the very least … [is that it was] very ‘Smash’-based. We all came together mostly because of ‘Smash’ and things like that,” Perez said.
However, he wanted the group to be “more of a general thing,” going beyond the group’s fascination for the “Super Smash Bros.” games.
“Now, obviously, I played a lot of ‘Melee’ and I played a lot of ‘Smash’ – I still like ‘Smash,’ [because] ‘Smash’ is sick. It’s a lot of people’s main game in that server,” Perez said. “But, I took my chance to be like, ‘Hey, would you like to play some other games, too?’ … I made it so it was less ‘Smash’ and, more, ‘Hey, we’re just also a bunch of friends together at Framingham State.’
“It became a way for us [to say] that we are not just a ‘Smash’ server and we play ‘Smash’ together – we’re a bunch of friends … and we also play ‘Smash,’” Perez said.
Featuring other games than just those in the “Super Smash Bros.” series “opened the doors” for others to participate.
“I know when [Junior Sophie Fitzgerald] got [a copy of] ‘Soul Calibur II,’ we were like, ‘Let’s show you guys this game – this game is cool! This game’s got Link in it! Hey, look, there’s this guy named Voldo and he crawls on the floor all the time,’” said Perez.
He added, “When [Naruto] Clash of Ninja was brought onto campus, [Junior Eddy Olu] got interested, and we just said, ‘Look at this old jank game we can break!’ It became a way for all of us to come together, regardless of what we were playing. I think that’s the strongest thing about this server – it’s not just one thing.’”
In the months since Framingham State originally closed its campus back in late March, Perez has organized tournaments on the server for multiple games such as “The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match,” “FOOTSIES,” “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” and “Street Fighter V,” to name a few.
On top of that, he has since allowed people from outside FSU to enter the server, granting them a special “Visitor” role to identify them among the students.
Speaking on the evolution of the server, Perez said the messages evolved from, “‘Hey, who’s in the Game Room to play?’” to “us having full-blown conversations.
“The server will be the new Game Room,” Perez said of his intentions to expand it, to make it a community “all of its own.”
He added, “You know what it started with? It started with that ‘Killer Bean [Forever]’ watch party, because, at that point, I made an extra role called ‘Visitor,’ where I kind of connected people who weren’t from FSU. … I don’t ever intend to do anything with that role – I don’t plan on kicking people out, because I want people to come together. Almost like cross-pollination, I say.”
Jeff Lew’s “Killer Bean Forever” was a 2009 animated action movie that gained a cult following in 2019 thanks to many memes depicting off-the-wall action sequences and the now iconic opening scene with breakdancing coffee beans.
While Perez’s group is an unofficial outfit of gamers who yearn to enter the Game Room again, other more official groups on campus have since started Discord servers of their own, namely for clubs and organizations.
Madison “Mady” Bruno, senior English major and president of FSU’s Pride Alliance, played a role in helping the Pride Alliance create a server of their own.
“The Pride Discord server was made [in] just about a month, I would say, after FSU went into quarantine [this past] spring,” Bruno said. “Something we know about the LGBTQ+ community is that not everyone has the privilege of having a home, of having a place that loves and accepts you to go back to.
“My fear was – and still is – that when campus, a space that was safer than home for many LGBTQ+ folx, was physically taken from us, many in our community – especially those of us who are trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming – would be put in really harmful, violent, and lonely situations,” she said.
Sarah Sagan, a junior English major, created a server for the English Club during the summer, citing the “bothersome experience” of using Zoom.
“I created the English Club Discord because I felt that Zoom was a new platform that not many of my peers were familiar with when it first became the big platform for classes,” Sagan said.
She added, “The thing about clubs, nowadays, is that they’re all being hosted in one Zoom group, which, it might be convenient, but I also feel like more students at FSU are using Discord, rather than Zoom, maybe on a more casual level, and that’s what I wanted to do with the English Club.
“I wanted it to be a more ‘casual’ club that people could just drop by, say ‘hi,’ and still have some sort of interaction that deviates from the ‘formalness’ of Zoom,” Sagan said.
Since the server’s creation, the English Club has hosted a “Spooky Reading Night,” with hopes to run future events such as their Fall Poetry Contest.
Sagan took organizational inspiration from another Discord-based, FSU-oriented server, the “FSU Holy Trinity” – a server that housed the executive boards, members, and events pertaining to the Comic Book, Gaming, and Anime clubs.
“I definitely looked at that [the FSU Holy Trinity Discord server] and I looked at other Discord servers that I made in the past. I wanted to see what channels worked. … But by looking at other FSU Discords on campus, I was able to get inspiration from that,” she said.
However, just as Sagan took inspiration from the FSU Holy Trinity, the Holy Trinity took partial inspiration from somewhere else – Perez’s FSU Goons.
Gustavo “Gus” Pazzi, an undeclared freshman and creator of the FSU Holy Trinity Discord server, said the three clubs “needed a new way to get everyone together while still being stuck at home.
“[I] figured a Discord server with everyone in it would at least help in reeling in [more] people for whatever event we would have at that time,” Pazzi said. “But, seeing how idk [Perez’s other, more personal server] and FSU Goons were faring, [I] figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.”
As far as what other clubs and organizations on campus can learn from gamers like Perez, he offers some advice.
“The grassroots nature of our community is the most important part of it. Without the grassroots, there would be no bigger community. All you have to do is put your foot in the ‘door,’ so to speak, and get people to come together,” he said.
With this in mind, Perez has no plans to end the reign of the Goons anytime soon.
[Editor’s Note: Johan Perez is a Staff Writer for The Gatepost.]