Wedge rats is the term used to describe a social group particular to WPI. Wedge rats are usually associated with the Science Fiction Society (SFS) and also sometimes with the Society for Medieval Arts and Sciences (SMAS). The term "Wedge rat" refers to the tendency of Wedge rats to congregate in and around the Wedge, though in recent years since the construction of the Campus Center the community has in large part relocated to the Class of 1946 Lounge, often referred to as the Octagon or the Octo-Wedge. Most Wedge rats are self-identifying; they accept the term and are not afraid to identify with it. In some circles, however, the term is used in a derogatory manner, as the Wedge rats have a highly negative reputation in some campus factions.
Wedge rats tend to enjoy computers, playing games of all sorts, immersing themselves in science fiction or fantasy books and partaking in tabletop or live-action role-playing games, though few Wedge rats enjoy all of these things and there are many who enjoy none of the above. The community as a whole is remarkably harmonious, with no major altercations or internal enmities in recent memory, and is also highly cohesive: many Wedge rats who have graduated from WPI remain in the community as so-called "Wedge elders" and continue to participate in activities and social gatherings for many years. These elders often offer interesting perspectives into the history of WPI spanning back into the 1980s. Among the Wedge elders, those current students who refer to themselves as Wedge rats are sometimes called "Neo-Wedge rats" instead, emphasizing the often vast differences between the community as it exists today and the way things used to be ten years hence.
Wedge rats often find themselves together in large groups at unexpected and sometimes unlikely times and places. This phenomenon has been jokingly dubbed "Wedge gravity" and occurs frequently, and to the occasional consternation and discomfort of bystanders who suddenly find themselves surrounded by rather large groups of energetic and often very loud gamers for no apparent reason. Indeed, it is an acknowledged problem among Wedge rats that some lack volume control, and when assembled in groups of thirty or more (not at all uncommon, especially on Friday nights in the Wedge) their combined voices can often register well beyond the "dull roar" level. There is also the phenomena of "Wedge Summoning," where speaking the name of a Wedge Rat enough times will generally lead to their sudden appearance. The most impressive of these instances involved a Wedge Elder deciding at random to return to WPI during the summer, and stood in the Wedge. Moments later, another Elder randomly showed up from across town, eventually joined by another who had shown up randomly from across the state, and finally (and most impressively) the last walked in, who had decided for no particular reason to fly in from California to visit WPI.
The campus community at large also tends to associate the Wedge rats (and the SFS) extensively with the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. This has perplexed some Wedge rats, many of whom don't really know anything about Cthulhu, but in recent years the SFS has embraced the association and Cthulhu has become something of a logo. Two of the last three designs of SFS T-shirts have featured Cthulhu in one form or another, and one suggestion for last year's T-shirt involved the phrase, "Now 99% Cthulhu Free!" (In the end, Cthulhu never made it onto that shirt, to the relief of some.)
The Wedge rats as a group probably started sometime around the 1970s. In those days and for many years after, the group was much more computer-oriented than it is today, with close ties to the Gweep community, the SFS, and Masque. The general attitude of the Wedge rats has also evolved over the years: many of the eldest Wedge elders are perceived as somewhat tough and spiky, with a sharp and often stinging sense of humor and a tendency toward many things modern "Neo-Wedge rats" rarely do, such as heavy drinking. In turn, some Wedge elders see the current crop of Wedge rats as juvenile, game-obsessed, and annoying. While the often vast differences in age probably account for a lot of this, it is undeniable that the character of the Wedge has changed in the past few years.
Around the time the Campus Center was built, the Upper Wedge was remodelled. The built-in furniture was removed, including several tables which were made out of lane surface from the original WPI bowling alleys. The food service area, which had provided fast food and sandwiches during the day and well into the evening, was closed as all on-campus non-meal-plan food service was moved into the the Campus Center. The Upper Wedge was provided with a small number of tables, chairs, and couches, which were almost all immediately relocated for more pressing service in various dorm rooms and apartments. Despite repeated threats of legal retribution and offers of amnesty for the return of this furniture, the Upper Wedge remains almost devoid of seating and tablespace. The Lower Wedge was also remodelled into offices for NetOps.
This created an environment which was a far cry from its previous incarnation. Where once there were almost always students (Wedge Rats or otherwise) doing homework, eating, hanging out, or even sleeping, the Wedge is now little more than an unwelcoming brown-carpeted glorified hallway through which students pass on the way to DAKA or their rooms. A once-thriving 24-hour retreat, the Wedge has been supplanted by the Campus Center, which has the distinct disadvantage of closing at midnight or earlier.
As a result of these major changes, the Wedge Rats and the sort of activities once pursued in the Wedge have, as mentioned, mostly relocated to the Class of 1946 Lounge. Until the end of D Term 2007, Friday Night Gaming, a weekly event that features a variety of games being dragged out and enjoyed, still used the Wedge. This came to an end when the Wedge became no longer a 24-hour area, now closing at 9:00pm every night. Friday Night Gaming now takes place in the Campus Center.
The Wedge rat community as a whole is seen by many students in a rather negative light. Attributes often associated with Wedge rats include a pronounced lack of personal hygiene and grooming, a lack of social skills, and a tendency toward the extreme in all things. Astute readers may note that these are many of the same stigmas associated with the community of "geeks" and "freaks" as a whole. Naturally, the accuracy of each of these accusations falls somewhere between absolute truth and absolute falsehood, but it is generally observed by those who choose to associate with Wedge rats that most of them do in fact bathe regularly and many are quite comfortable in various social situations. It remains to be seen just how much of the perceived social ineptness of the Wedge rats stems from a suspicion of outsiders due to a fear of persecution (unfounded or otherwise), but it seems very likely that this is the case at least in part.
As for the charge of going to extremes, of which the most cited evidence is a tendency to run around with padded foam boffer weapons in strange and ridiculous costumes, it cannot be denied that there is some merit to that accusation. It should be noted, however, that the province of boffer weaponry is properly that of the Society for Medieval Arts and Sciences (SMAS), which is only peripherally associated with the Wedge rats. Although some may feel that the marginal nature of the Wedge rats is in fact an inherently bad thing, they are, overall, a fairly typical example of a counterculture. The negative attitude toward Wedge rats is, in fact, a standard and cliched response of the mainstream (or the crypto-mainstream, as more of what once were countercultures have been absorbed into acceptable society) to the unusual and nonconformist.
In some sections of the WPI community, the negative reputation of Wedge rats has in recent years been transformed into an outright contempt, with some fraternities allegedly turning the persecution of Wedge rats into community builders or tasks to be required of pledges. The reputation of the Wedge rats among these individuals has been greatly expanded and exaggerated to include such things as near-universal homosexuality and severe mental illness; those who actually know Wedge rats, however, are fully aware that this is not the case.
There have been efforts in the past to counteract the social stigma associated with being a Wedge rat, largely by way of attempting to introduce people from the general campus community to Wedge rats individually and as a group. Chief among these efforts is the fact that Gaming Weekend, a bi-yearly weekend-long event staged by the SFS, is open and free to all students regardless of SFS affiliation (or lack thereof). Flyers and posters, including some explicitly self-deprecating jokes (such as the "Wedge rat" magic card poster), are often posted across campus days or weeks ahead of time. Unfortunately, in the past five years at least these overtures have been largely unsuccessful, with most non-Wedge rats avoiding Gaming Weekend, perhaps under the incorrect impression that they are unwelcome.