Thumbnail graphic by Rachel Yoon / North by Northwestern

When the clock strikes 10 p.m. on weekend nights, Weinburg second-year Alix Radke works as a bouncer. But not the kind who confiscates fake IDs from first-years standing in line at Chicago dance clubs.

Radke is stationed at the front desk of the Nexus Gaming Lounge in the basement game room of Norris University Center, and she’s tasked with kicking out the polite (but committed) gamers playing Valorant after closing time.

Walking into the Norris game room feels like time-traveling to the 1980s. The basement ceiling sits low above nine pool tables, a jumbo-sized Connect Four game and an arcade-style basketball hoop. Life-size cut-outs of Super Mario characters decorate the walls. Just left of the front desk is a door to the Nexus Gaming Lounge that feels positively futuristic in comparison.

The Nexus Gaming Lounge first opened in fall 2023, replacing a lone ping pong table. Radke said student traffic increased substantially with the addition of ten desktop computers, each fitted with a comfy chair and gaming equipment. Nexus also has a back room with two more desktops, a large computer for live-streaming and a lounge space.

Radke initially gave 15-minute warnings before closing time, but these proved ineffective because competitive rounds of Valorant can last up to 45 minutes. Sometimes students couldn’t hear her through their headsets. Radke even tried turning off the overhead lights, but the gamers remained focused, faces glowing with the fluorescent light of their computer screens.

“I remember calling my dad and asking for advice because he was an usher,” Radke said with a laugh.

Now, she’s learned to give 45, 30 and 15 minute warnings. Despite the initial challenge, Radke is happy that the space is so loved.

“It’s cool that people don’t do work in there, it’s not like the library,” Radke said. “It’s always people having fun which is really relaxing [to see] during finals and midterms.”

McCormick second-year Alex Pyo became a regular for exactly that reason. He said playing video games helps him manage stress and enter a world separate from his industrial engineering and statistics classes.

Before Nexus opened, Pyo played video games on his laptop in his dorm room. He said the computers in Nexus better support his favorite games due to their higher refresh rates and specs, like processing speed and memory. Aside from the technical benefits, the space also offers a social community. Even though certain games are independently played, Pyo routinely exchanges gaming progress with a friend he met in the lounge.

Most people who visit the space stay for an average of two hours, which is the maximum guaranteed daily playing time. Radke said there are many regulars, but also individuals who sporadically drop in. Some students come in with friends, and others play against each other online. The high quality computers allow students like Pyo to connect with friends from home or other gamers from anywhere in the world.

Nexus doesn’t allow guests to play for more than 10 hours per week. McCormick first-year Julian Tang confessed maxing out on this limit during one exceptionally free week during Winter Quarter.

As an international student, Tang appreciates that Nexus allows him to play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) with his friends from back home in Singapore. He said this long-distance connection wouldn’t be possible on his laptop.

The time limit bumps up to 25 hours per week for members of Northwestern Esports, who use this time to master their competitive craft. The club hosts tournaments in the gaming lounge, and other student organizations can rent the space out for large-scale events.

Weinberg first-year Allen Hu recently played at Nexus when the Korean American Student Association rented the entire game room for a night. He often comes to the lounge with his girlfriend to connect through a shared hobby and play side by side. Nexus has allowed him to rediscover his childhood passion for gaming while balancing it with the academic and social aspects of college life.

Hu describes the lounge as a supportive community, allowing students to connect with each other outside of academic clubs and sports. One friend he met in the lounge sometimes watches him play and hypes him up.

“This space is just for the people that don’t want to have to be super physically active to have fun with their friends,” Hu said.

Moving forward, Radke hopes to work with her computer science professor to automate the Nexus waitlist system. Currently, student workers manage the waitlist and are responsible for manually texting individuals when a desktop computer opens up for them. Pyo hopes to see the addition of more computers so that wait times don’t increase as the space becomes more popular. During Nexus rush hour on weekend evenings, Pyo sometimes has to wait for an hour before getting access to a desktop.

Still, the students say their access to the desktops is worth the wait. The Nexus Gaming Lounge offers what hooked them to video games in the first place: a shared, relaxing and fun activity with a new level always waiting to be reached.

Nexus welcomes all Northwestern students and faculty during their operating hours of 2 p.m. to 10 p.m on Sundays through Thursdays, or from noon to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.