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In The Green Room, the first of many

AUS holds first informal talk between professor and students

“Should I get another couch here? I don’t know how many people are going to show up,” Yasmeen Gholmieh, VP Communications of the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) and the organizer of the event, asked me unsurely.

“I’m sure lots of people will show up, there’s free food!” I asserted teasingly. She laughed along, but of course people weren’t going to show up to the Arts Lounge on a cold Wednesday afternoon just to get their hands on free Subway, coffee, and Timbits.

“In The Green Room,” a new talk series Gholmieh initiated – under the umbrella of the AUS of course – is an informal talk between professors and students that takes place outside the classroom or lecture hall, in the Arts Lounge. The first of these series, which Gholmieh hoped would be the first of many, revolved around the correlation between “Games and Politics,” lead by Political Science professor Rex Brynen, of the renowned class “Peacebuilding,” (POLI 450) as well as others in Developing Areas.

Professor Brynen showed up right on time, at 5 p.m.; the food was set on the table, and Yasmeen asked everyone in attendance (by then a fairly large crowd seated on the circle of couches, or standing up on the periphery, all eyes on Brynen) to fill out a small survey on the event at the end. “So if I’m boring you’re not going to do this again?” Brynen joked, and the atmosphere immediately relaxed.

The talk itself was centered on how most video games we play today are actually inspired by real-life events – 9/11 War on Terror, the Vietnam War, the Iranian nuclear situation. People are familiar with these video games, most notably Call of Duty, but there are others, like the video games designed in Iran and Vietnam, which are not as proliferated. Many political biases come into play in the virtual world of these games. Professor Brynen informed the crowd that similar video games are also used under the heading of the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, the World Food Program, et cetera, as part of training programs in case actual real- life instances of crises occur: negotiations at checkpoints, situations of kidnapping, torture, extraction of information – the list goes on. Not to mention the war games that the United States army uses to simulate war situations – such as the war in Iraq – that are not sold to the public.

Looking at the crowd, you could see that everyone was taken in by Brynen’s talk. The professor interjects jokes here and there to keep people interested and attentive. Despite the fact that he might say some things that would not necessarily align with your own political views, you can’t help but listen. These video games are a huge part of our lives; if we don’t play them, we know someone who does. We see adverts of them all around; we see commercials of them on the web. What we don’t know is how ‘real’ some of these games actually are. Video games, and gaming companies in general, are basically capitalizing on the current and past political climates, and they’re doing it well.

“When I checked the Facebook event page to see how many people had RSVP’d and I saw that over 130 people were going, I freaked out!” exclaimed Gholmieh, who said she was ecstatic with the turnout. “I think, in the end, around 70 people showed up, which is just as amazing for the first time.” Her inspiration for the talks, she admitted, was simply the quality professors we have at McGill.

“We have so many great professors here and we don’t know what they do outside the classroom. Most of them do such interesting research and you may not hear about it because it wouldn’t necessarily be in your area of study.” Her reasoning for this is simple. “Say, you’re majoring in Economics and you don’t have enough time to take a Political Science class on the side if you’re interested. These talks are a chance for those students to come together and learn about these topics in an informal setting.”

Already, Gholmieh is talking about the next talk she plans to hold. In an effort to bridge the informational gap between the different faculties at McGill, she hopes to bring in Professor Robert Rutledge from the Physics department to talk about his research in astronomy. Surely, this is not the last time we will see an “In The Green Room” Facebook event page, and hopefully not, because the event was a surefire hit among undergrads.