Shanna Simpler and Amber Walters sit at desks with their eyes closed, quietly whispering to each other as they wait to find out who will be killed next. To their left and right are men, men, and men— most of whom seem anxious to get the waiting over with, as most have a Nintendo 3DS with the newest version of Pokemon waiting for them when they open their eyes.
After what seems like decades, the room is illuminated, and both Simpler and Walters are killed.
The room is filled with students playing a game called Mafia, in which players are assigned 'power roles' like mafia, cop, doctor, or psycho, and take turns killing 'civilians' until they are either discovered or killed. The game is hosted by Manly Gamedays, a social gaming group created and run by University of Central Florida students. Both Simpler and Walters, given the nickname Shamber because of how frequently they are found together, are regular attendees.
“It's really nice to have a big group of friends to go hang out with, cause I don't really know what else I'd do on Saturday nights,” said Walters, a sophomore business major. “They're like my big family now. My college family.”
Though the name may suggest otherwise, Manly Gamedays has nothing to do with gender. Started by Stanley Kuschick in the summer of 2012, as a way to find people to play video games with, the group's slogan is, 'It's not about gender; it's about fair play.'
“I knew that there were a lot of people here that I had already known, I didn't know too many of them who played video games like I did. And so I decided to start reaching out to people and inviting random strangers into my house,” Kuschick said. “Slowly people started to come in.”
As Kuschick began seeing the same faces every week, he decided to create a Facebook group called Manly Gamedays, named after his own nickname, Manly Stanley. Kuschick said he has no interest in changing the name.
“One, I'm too conceited to change it when it was named after me, and two, it's a much more clever ad campaign for someone to then raise objection and actually find out what it's about,” Kuschick said.
Simpler and Walters, two of the six girls present at the Mafia event, have no issue with the name.
“It's fun because we get a lot of attention for it. It just makes us feel so included, because if we're not there they'll notice us, because we're girls and it's a big group of guys,” said Simpler.
Since its creation, Manly Gamedays has seen exponential growth, with over 560 active members of a Facebook group that acts as a discussion board, event planner, and support system all in one. What started as a group to hang out and play video games with has evolved into an entire culture of students, with activities such as Manly GameTroupe, an improv group, or Manly AnimeDays, where members join together and watch anime.
“Video games is the glue that holds us together,” Kuschick said. “Everything else that we do is, if we have a handful of people who are interested in something and someone takes the initiative, then we add that to the group.”
Spencer Rubin, frequently referred to as Dogfish, is in charge of one large aspect of the group: Manhunt. Every Saturday, members meet up to play huge organized games of the popular, intense adaptation of Hide-and-Seek, and Rubin makes sure everyone is involved and happy. He thanked Manly Gamedays for giving him a true college experience.
“If it wasn't for Manly Gamedays, I would have four people to hangout with,” Rubin said.
Membership in Manly Gamedays only requires one thing: Participation. The group is not a Registered Student Organization, meaning members pay no dues, and any event expenses are typically covered by the person who organized them. Rubin referenced a trip to Daytona some members of the group made, and said that the student who organized it shelled out almost $80 just in feeding the members who attended.
“We're really just a big family of people, and it's like, if you can help out with payment of something, you do, it's not even a question,” Rubin said. “I've payed for people to eat more than once, and I don't want or expect anything back. It's because we all care about each other on more than just a group level.”
Robby Allten, who started the Manly GameTroupe, has been attending Manly Gameday events since Fall of last year.
“It's a lot of fun with a lot of awesome with a lot of people,” Allten said.
Although Gamedays hosts enough events to allow opportunities to meet up every day, most members only attend one or two events per week, allowing plenty of time for schoolwork, jobs, and social lives.
“It's like the green bean casserole of Thanksgiving. It's good that it's there, but it's not everything,” sophomore film major Sean Henkel said.
Manly Gamedays is more than just a group, it's a culture. Though its members are often part of other, more specific, gaming-related RSO's, most credit Gamedays with giving them the peer group and identity college students so often struggle with searching for.
“One of the main reasons that I like this so much is because Amber and I both, we don't ever want to drink, I'm never doing drugs, I'm never smoking, I'm not doing any of that. And none of that goes on when we're playing Manhunt and Mafia,” said Simpler. “I feel safe here.”
Quite an ironic statement from someone who’s just been murdered by 23 of her closest friends.