by Zach Terrillion
For me, the heart of my Oberlin life lies on a bookshelf in the southern lounge on the 2nd floor of Noah Hall. It is a series of polaroids cast in that signature uncanny 2000s lighting. A group of Obies who graduated long ago. They’re posing in outfits drawn from the great IPs of sci-fi and fantasy. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Anime. All of that. You also find piles of board games on this bookshelf, whether it’s multiple varieties of Catan or card games about ninjas that wield tacos. It’s freaking weird. Sprawled across the 2nd floor of Noah Hall, Sci-Fi Hall is a weird place. And that’s its greatest strength. If you’ve ever even considered calling yourself a nerd, this is for you. Welcome, you’re home.
Current student Eva Bergeron had Sci-Fi Hall thrust upon them. She was invited to a hall event by her friend Reid Bobrownicki, who had been a part of the Hall since his first semester. The event was a game night for a wacky dating sim, Monster Prom, based on choosing which weirdly attractive creatures one would romance and take to the school dance. In her words, “I was brought into a world of weird people who play weird games.” From there came waves of D&D sessions, plans for the year’s Obiegame, and a regular playthrough of the Ace Attorney series. It was the golden age; in the eyes of current fourth-years like Eva, “it was the type of Sci-Fi Hall you want to emulate.”
Sci-Fi Hall has been through many different stages, with its institutional memory more fragmented. It was founded in 2001. It has shifted through various locations over the years, from the 2nd floor of Langston to the entirety of Barnard. Classic traditions include things like a long-time rivalry with the former Classics Hall, which included the horrific conflicts of Nerf Battles. There were pageants, proms, and a three-hour road trip taken every semester to the nearest White Castle to, quote the official description from the hall’s records, “eat inhuman amounts of sliders.” During Sci-Fi Hall’s time on Langston’s 2nd floor, they divided themselves into various Harry Potter-themed-wings, featuring “Gayvenclaw” and “Huffleslut.” In the heart of this Langston space was the “Party Zone.” This was a place for members to hold spontaneous hangouts, play games, and do homework. During the mid-2010s, Sci-Fi Hall had a bit of a salacious reputation. It was dubbed the “strange, sexy” Hall with “rumors of illicit activity,” to use Bergeron’s words. The sole remnant of Sci-Fi Hall’s spicy era is “Sexy Jenga,” a very cursed version of Jenga where all the blocks are inscribed with some very concerning and non-COVID safe dares.
I joined the Hall in Fall 2021 as I entered my second year. My choice to join the Hall was a spontaneous decision. I wanted the chance to grow my social circle, but I was panicked. I was in some fandoms. I had my particular interests. However, was I a full-blown gamer dungeon master? I entered a space in flux. The Hall had just moved back into Noah, with piles of boxes littering their new lounge.
Still, on the first Friday of the school year, there was a public announcement for a Nintendo Switch game night. I didn’t own a Switch, but I checked it out. The rest was history. The teeny “dark academia” dorm room was filled with nerdy gays in KN-95 masks running two simultaneous games of Smash Bros on two different T.Vs. among a pile of unpacked Magic: The Gathering decks. That night itself was magical. The people were kind, open, and so weird. It wasn’t the wildest event I’ve attended or organized, but for some reason, it’s the one that’s stuck out the most. It’s the type of moment that leaves a warm tug in the stomach. The feeling that you’re home.
Eva's moment of clicking with the Hall came with her first organized “scream night,” which is exactly how it sounds. She and several others on Hall trekked to the North Fields in the pouring rain, trudging through the mud to let out unholy, primal shrieks. “It was fantastic. It was so stupid,” she says. For her, Sci-Fi Hall involves “community in the strangest of circumstances.”
As the seniors in the Hall continue to graduate, the memories of the old sexy, White Castle-traveling Hall fade away more and more. The institutional memory is small. One of the main repositories is a Tumblr blog from 2012. It’s titled “Shit Sci-Fi Hall Says.” The blog is mostly memes of which it would require a Sociology Ph.D. to unravel the meaning. It describes the Hall as a “place of alternate timelines, no sleep webs, insanity, and wonderfully quotable lack of context.” Within it, you find a photograph. A picture captured at a particular moment in time. You can’t qualify it or take it away. It truly lacks context. The Hall finds itself at the tip of two other timelines: recapture the past or embrace the future? Some strange circumstances indeed.
The blog references some traditions that remain today. The biggest is “Squidmas.” At the end of every semester, the Hall comes together to give gifts to one another. It enshrines the “squid” as our main mascot. No, we don’t really know why that is. You also have the big event of the season, Barbie Night. Our gaggling party converges in a random room in Wilder to drink to episodes of Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. Common themes of our drinking game include classism, homoeroticism, and Schlond Poofa (no, I will not elaborate). You also have new traditions like cursed PowerPoint Night.
These traditions are likely to continue and evolve next year as Bergeron is set to assume hall leadership as the Noah RA. They are nervous about losing a bit of the Hall. “Nothing ever matches up to your first experience at a place. As we lose people who are so key to Sci-Fi and that vision, I’m worried there won’t be enough to add to the spirit.” Still, she remains excited about what’s to come. The Hall is currently looking to make itself into a full-scale campus organization. It wants to organize a real board with a president, treasurer, and the works. These plans are all a part of an initiative asserting the Hall as a space for the “nerdiest people on campus.” This initiative kicked off during this year’s Culture Fest, where the Hall played host to a cosplay contest that invited both students and community members to participate. It was the first time Sci-Fi went beyond its “illicit” circle and moved out into the whole town of Oberlin to maximize the number of people involved and associated with the space.
This max-involvement may be what defines the modern Hall. Sci-Fi has moved its base of operations to the online sphere. Its signature Discord server, manned by the Sci-Fi Hall council of Bergeron, Bobrownicki, and Gwen Crossman, operates with over 100 current students and alumni. It is where you learn about upcoming events, send cursed memes and TikToks, and even debate the politics of the times. There are spaces to share vents and rants alongside goals and accomplishments. However, this Discord is not the end-point to Sci-Fi Hall. There is also the “Venn-Diagram.” Many Sci-Fi Hall members crossover with other organizations; this includes co-instructing the D&D ExCo, the planning of Obiegame, and Oburlesque (l can’t emphasize the crossover in the third club enough). “Sci-Fi Hall was a very in-person Hall before,” said Eva. “If you were walking down the Hall, you could easily stumble upon and join in on an event. People do miss that in-person aspect.” Still, members like Eva are embracing this digital future: “the online presence allows for more planning and an easy central space.”
Overall, Sci-Fi Hall has said a lot of shit and meant different things to many different people over its two decades of history. It’s an online nexus. A rancid party joint. It traces to a bookshelf that holds together so much history. That history gets more distant every day, but there is a fascinating future on the horizon. For Eva, “I’ve met all my closest friends there. It’s the community I’ve always turned to.” There is one thing about Sci-Fi that never changes: its value.