Culture : Come on Lan, let’s have a party

peteLAN parties.  Is there anything more exhilarating?  Probably.  However, few geeks can deny the certain “Je ne sais quois” that they feel in the belly of a damn good LAN party.  It’s not just about the games, it’s about the pizza, the beer, the company and most importantly beating the pants off your mates. 

I remember a good friend’s brother used to host LAN parties occasionally at his house, sometimes filling the place with an extra 14 people that used to suck the life out of the poor buildings electrics and fill the air with excitement and anticipation.  I’d lug my fairly decent, optimised, slender tower round to his house, only to find the place filled with the biggest towers, hard drives, power supplies I’d ever seen.  One guy in particular had a case which stood from the floor up to his waist, and he was by no means the smallest guy at the party.

We’d generally split the rooms to begin with based on who wanted to be in each team.  This always led to rivalry and jeering, envy, horror and shout upon shout of, “But you can’t go with Jim, cos you’ll beat the pants off us.”  Ok, so that quote was lacking some authenticity, insert some random swear words into it, and you’ve got a much more realistic idea.  The kitchen area would be filled with roughly seven people, whilst on the other side of the house, the games room, and two bedrooms would house the other mob.

“He mentioned that he had a date that night. When questioned about the venue of the date, one of his friends blurted out that he’d heard they were meeting online, in a game of Resident Evil 5„

Then the games would begin, slowly at first, as people tinkered with their machines, dropping in and out trying to obtain the best possible advantage.  Generally, at our LAN parties short of physically cheating, such as looking at an opposing players team, most other forms of advantage were permitted, removing textures from everything but other players to make them stand out, changing your FoV so you could almost see round corners.  Occasionally people would have to swap teams.  For the nonchalant of us that would mean uprooting yourself and moving to another room.  For the more hardcore, their entire PC would go with them, no one else was allowed to touch it.  By the end of the night, this practice would become less and less common, as either the teams evened out, or the players didn’t care which machines anyone used anymore.

It was during these games that I acquired a trait for which I am now constantly moaned at by my current set of gamer friends; inverting the Y-Axis.  I seem to recall at one early session, the overall master of all gaming showed me a few tricks.  One such trick was to invert the mouse.  He said I’d find it much easier, that it was more intuitive.  To be honest I totally agree with him, and liken my inverted mouse to flying a plane.  Push forward to go down, pull back to go up.  Easy.  Not so for my current set of friends who think I’m just plain weird.

So where did the LAN parties go?  It seems that people are having them less and less these days.  Sure there are still the huge corporate organised events, where thousands of gamers get together in intense two or three day events, but what about the little games, the local LAN parties.  From what I can see, they all appear to have almost vanished.  By and large, it’s probably the Internet that has had the most impact on this.  In the days that I used to play, Internet speeds were pretty dire, and that was if you actually had the Internet.  Couple that with the fact that most people only had one phone line, and the parents got a little narky if Jimmy was spending 3 hours tying up the line, and you have a recipe for not a very wide area network.

The Internet revolutionalised this.  The first game I played online was probably Red Alert.  The connection was diabolical, the speed sucked and tying to find someone decent to play with was like tying to wash your jeans in a tea cup.  As the speed of people’s connections increased, so did the capacity to play games reliably online.  Thinking back to the more recent times of me playing CS:Source online, the game play was much better, but there was still jerking of players and just general lag.  On a side note I love the way some gamers use lag to justify their poor performance.  “Why did you drop out Matt?”  “Oh I had to there was…eh…..too much lag.”  “Oh yeh?  That sucks”  More recently I have been experimenting with KillZone2 online and I have to say, I don’t think I have yet experienced any problems in the movement and reliability of the online gameplay.

With the Internet changing the LAN to a WAN, does playing multiplayer with people you know and love still have the same oomph?  In part yes, but overwhelmingly I feel a big fat no.  On the one hand it means you can plan tactics and talk to each other privately without anyone on the other team having any idea about what you’re thinking about.  This makes the, “Let’s gang up on Martin” rounds all the more fun.  However the whole spirit of it is largely lost on me.  The funny thing is I’m a geek, I don’t generally like to exist in large groups of people, but if those large group of people are also hell bent on shooting each other with MP4 machine guns in a virtual environment, then count me in.  Sometimes I just don’t want to play alone.  I want someone to be physically there talking to me about how they’re doing etc.

“I’m a geek, I don’t generally like to exist in large groups of people, but if those large group of people are also hell bent on shooting each other with MP4 machine guns in a virtual environment, then count me in„

On the flip side, the online era offers some distinct advantages and these mustn’t just be glossed over.  Sure, people are not there with you, but sometimes that’s not just an inconvenience, it’s a definable problem.  How do you meet up with someone you know in Australia to play a LAN game of Call of Duty, when you live in the UK.  Intercontinental LAN parties tend to be rather expensive, not to mention getting your all important PC along with you.  Do you really want to risk it getting beaten around in the belly of a 747?  I certainly don’t.  No, the Internet definitely has it’s advantages in this respect.  Not only can you play with people you know in distant countries, you can also play with people you don’t know and make new friends, often meeting tens if not hundreds of people a night, depending on whether you switch games often or not.

It doesn’t stop there of course.  One of the other main advantages of the online model is that of availability.  It’s inherently difficult not just to fit 14 people in one building, but to plan fitting 14 people in one building.  You have to consider dates, consult your diary, ring around, or in these days txt people.  “Are you free on the 24th?”  “No, sorry m8 got a new girlfriend and we gonna hang out for the day”  “Damn”  With the online model this doesn’t matter so much.  People can dip in and out whenever they please, and more importantly sometimes, more that 14 people can dip in and out during the course of the day.  You just can’t expect to have constant LAN parties, where as with online play, you can play whenever and wherever you like.

Sounds like the Internet is the bees knees, doesn’t it?  Well it is and it isn’t.  Forgive me for being old fashioned, but I like the physical touch.  The air always seemed so charged at LAN parties and if you came across a situation where your comrade John was standing with his face 3cm from the wall, you could always yell out “Oi John, where are you?” and wait for the reply “I’m just taking a dump!”  Seriously though, online gaming is just a different method of achieving the same thing, playing with multiple REAL people.  Some people prefer the anonymity of online gaming, welcoming the ability to hide behind an avatar, a virtual character, through which they can achieve things and interact with people in a way they just can’t do in real life.  Some people crave the attention they get from being #1 on the leaderboard, and dealing with the flurry of clan invitations.  Some people enjoy hanging out with friends, talking about their lives, and kicking some serious bottom whilst they do it.  Me?  I guess on second thoughts, I love a bit of everything.  I enjoy the online play, and I enjoy the LAN party.  They kind of go hand in hand for me.

As I was on the train today, I overheard a conversation between a guy and his friends.  He mentioned that he had a date that night.  When questioned about the venue of the date, one of his friends blurted out that he’d heard they were meeting online, in a game of Resident Evil 5.  After all the social nature of things is changing wildly.  Maybe I’m blind, maybe I just don’t understand things anymore, but it certainly seems to me that being apart is the new being together.

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