The room was flooded with the sound of clicking. Like crickets, an unending chorus of mice buttons being pressed over and over again. The unending hum was the sound of a LAN Party run well. The gamers blocked out the world, wholly immersed in the Age of Empires match, the silence punctuated by the occasional shout of “I just hit Castle Age” and “Blue, get your horse archers ready to haul ass!”
Despite the seemingly anti-social environment, the moment the game ends the mood changes. Players from around the room jump from their seats and rush to the center of the room, eager to regale each other on the glories and defeats of their game. Treating the central routers and server PC as a proverbial water cooler, I now listen to the sounds of over a dozen gamers chattering excitedly at once!
“Man, you almost had me with your knights at the start” one man proclaims.
“Yeah, I was hoping you wouldn’t have been able to get the castle up in time, but when I got there it was a bloodbath” his opponent responds grinning; his loss in no way reducing his enjoyment of the game.
It is moments like these that keep me hosting LAN Parties for going on 9 years now. It started with a simple enough concept in high school. My friends and I spent Friday nights alone in our basements playing computer games online with one another, our games of choice being Unreal Tournament and Battlefield 2. We couldn’t afford headsets and elected to squeeze phones between our head and shoulder for as long as we could tolerate the neck pain; the option of playing with one hand being unthinkable.
One Monday afternoon, my friends and I were sitting in the library on a break between classes, massaging our necks and recounting the highlights of our Friday night game. At one point, my friend mentions that it would be great if we could all be in the same room.
At that moment, the concept of the LAN Party entered our psyche.
For those unfamiliar with what a LAN (Local Area Network) Party is, it is when several gamers bring their computer to the same room, hook them up with network cables and play with one another without having to connect to the internet. For those who remember the days of dial-up, a time when plugging in the internet could mean disconnecting a phone line, the benefits of an internal network were obvious.
What started as three friends playing together quickly expanded when I saw other gamers in the city suffering from the same issue. My pitch for the LAN Party became: “you are going to spend your Friday gaming in your parent’s basement, why not come spend it in mine?”
We quickly outgrew my house and adopted the high school gymnasium under the watchful eye of the educational administration. Admittedly, it is understandable why the thought of keeping a school open overnight to cater to a group of gamers could generate a sense of malaise in the educational establishment, particularly as video games had not achieved the main stream status they now enjoy.
The administration’s tune quickly changed when they saw both the type and number of students that showed up. Dozens arrived and of the caliber that typically avoided extracurricular activities and organizations. At the LAN Party however, they showed up early for the event, eagerly chatting about games, giddy with anticipation to share in collective gaming experiences and socialize about it after.
To me, LAN Parties represent the best elements of gaming. They bring together passionate gamers eager to engage with one another in a constructive manner (aside from one incident involving a tossed chair) and socialize over what they are most passionate about.
LAN Parties are also the reason I got into board game design (a lack of programming skills notwithstanding). Board games (aside from Solitaire) demand social interaction in a way that videogames do not except through events such as LAN Parties. The close quarters of a board games demand require a physical presence and a lack of anonymity that promotes adherence to social norms as well as a rapport with others that is not replicated through online games. That is not to say that online players by default avoid social niceties and that board gamers don’t (again, I have had a chair thrown at me), but I will say that it is a heck of a lot less likely that you will bad-mouth a player sitting five feet away than one who is on the other side of the country!
Now I don’t devote as much time for LAN Parties as I would like. Since I dove into the world of game design this past year, free time has become a premium resource. Between designing the game, collaborating with an artist and promoting the game at conventions and online, not a lot of time is left to host LAN Parties. I will however, always remember the social good generated by bringing gamers together gamers to play and discuss their favorite game, regardless of whether that game involves a computer monitor or a hand full of cards.
My name is Trevor Lehmann and I design/write/play games. You can learn more at www.convergentgames.com
I look forward to connecting with you through email or through social media.