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Alex Fiks, White Hall RHM

Alex Fiks, White Hall manager

Alex Fiks Designs Card Games to Train RAs

Published on March 15, 2024 - 1 p.m.

Southwestern Michigan College William M. White Residence Hall Manager Alex Fiks also designs card games like Behind Closed Doors as a tool for training resident assistants (RAs).

More than 150 games have been marketed across the United States. Cards reflect experiences from numerous institutions. They are meant to be fun and interesting for new and veteran staff alike by drawing out situations that frame conversations for supervisors to cover.

“Kutztown University of Pennsylvania ordered from us,” Fiks said. “Albion ordered some. A couple of schools in California, a couple of schools in Oregon, Washington even a school in Ontario, Canada.”

Fiks lived in the USSR until he was 4. His Russian family considered board games “a frivolity.” He only discovered them in college in 2007.

“I fell in love with the imagery of games like Settlers of Catan,” Fiks said. “This was right before American-style games exploded out of places like Madison, Wis.”

Now he designs games for CHOU! Games, such as Behind Closed Doors. His college friend, Daniel Chou, is the publisher and artist, as well as Iowa’s Cornell College Associate Dean of Students/Director of Residence Life and a novelist.

Fiks completed his bachelor’s degree from Portland State University in Oregon, where he went to high school, and added a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University to his BA in arts and letters with a concentration in conflict resolution.

His first professional job out of college was at Ferris State University for three years. That’s where he met Chou, who shared his interest in making board games, which they self-publish through Game Factory.

 “In 2015,” Fiks said, "we loved Cards Against Humanity, so we took the idea and made simple black cards with white writing with scenarios we had gone through ourselves. Then we added two More Behind Closed Doors.

“We sold the cards for $13. Now it’s closer to $20 because paper costs have gone up, but we weren’t looking to make money. We were looking to provide a resource for others that didn’t require blocking off an entire floor or hiring actors.”

CHOU! Games also introduced a version aimed at apartment living, where Ferris international students lived. Expanded scenarios dealt with butchering meat for halal, modifying plumbing to add bidets, changing car oil in parking lots and children.

“Then we came out with the Roommate Game,” Fiks said, “because mediating conflicts is hard. The surface level might be ‘you ate my bagels’ or ‘you wrote passive-aggressive notes.’ The RA facilitates to get at the underlying reason there’s an issue, such as, ‘Your mom called and yelled at me, and that’s not my responsibility.’ ”

They’re working on a board game-like experience for Behind Closed Doors. The companion product would allow additional elements such as student positioning, location of hazards, physical environment cues and a visual focal point for staff.

They created Cards Attempt College, a party game for higher-ed professionals. One player is the judge and plays a scenario card. Everyone else plays response cards to please the judge.

“We each did passion projects. Dan’s was Security Council. Mine was Merchants of Medieval Europe. I really like history and had wanted to be a history professor,” Fiks said. “Money I make I put back into the trading card game we do here at SMC.” Cards depict campus buildings to acclimate students and mascot Ronnie Roadrunner, at the Renaissance Faire, for example.

“When they build a set, they can trade them in for Ronnie Bucks for prizes like socks, mugs and candy,” said Fiks, who has led White Hall for four years after coming from the University of Connecticut. He has worked in student life for nine years.

“When I became an RA,” he said, “I loved the sense of family. We had an intern come in from Michigan State who said I could do this as my job. You needed a master’s degree for most positions, so I took a year off, worked for a for-profit company, then went to Eastern for two years, including a year with their housing program as a residence hall director.

“I really got to spread my wings. At Ferris, we built a mini-golf course you could move around. My last year, we put together a 1,000-person haunted house.

“I love SMC. It’s one of the places I’ve been where I feel like I have a voice on campus. Whether I’m doing housing or Adventurers Guild, I’m affecting students in a  positive way.”

Adventurers Guild is in its third year sponsoring a tabletop game convention, RonnieCon, with 18 vendors expected Saturday, April 13, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., in Mathews Conference Center.

“I love that games bring people together,” he said. “I like to work together with a lot of folks to get someplace. In games, there’s no downside to winning or losing. You have fun and move on.”