Multiplayer video games have gained popularity in recent years, facilitated by the prevalence of high-spec computers, fast internet and Valve Corporation’s Steam service, which provides easy game rental and installation. But while multiplayer video games are a common way for people to have fun, the current method of booting up a game in your dark room and mumbling into a microphone over the internet isn’t exactly social — at least, not by most conceptions. Wanting to remedy this myself, I started getting into Local Area Network (LAN) parties.
A LAN is a small network of computers that are physically connected and share data, much like how the series of tubes called the internet attaches networks of computers globally. LAN parties (commonly called LANs) are a local group of people attached to one network playing the same video games.
Why would anyone want to do this instead of simply using the internet? Because it counters the pseudo-social nature of a lot of multiplayer gaming and, frankly, it’s a lot more fun.
After attending and running a variety of LANs around the country, I have found that they generally come in three sizes, one of which I find to be optimal.
A small LAN can be intimate and familiar. My friends and I get together, hook up our computers and connect to a computer with video games and other files on it. We play, watch shared movies and eat take-out, all while running back and forth to configure computer stuff and fix networking issues. So while you won’t have trouble socializing with your friends (for obvious reasons), the organizational headache and general setup and upkeep of the event prevents it from being strictly fun. And, if anything goes down hard, the resources available might not be able to fix it.
For a more sophisticated experience, there’s the second type of LAN: group events. After searching the internet and trolling through forums, I found a local gathering. Upon arrival, I was greeted by several thirty- to forty-something nerds kicking an Xbox 360 and jiggling a video splitter, half-heartedly acknowledging my presence and at the same time asking for a hand. The garage the shindig took place in was covered top to bottom with video game posters and paraphernalia while shelves held additional hardware and tabletop games. A faded old couch sat in front of a flat-screen TV.
The day’s activities included sharing movies and warez on the file server, rotating through an assortment of games, drinking the hosts’ beer and stopping to eat pizza. The games we played were typical for the event, with arena shooters being the most popular among several genres. The garage was, stereotypically, filled with techno, euro-dance and even some All Your Base and Paul Fetch remixes I hadn’t heard in over a decade. As the night came to a close on a large Halo Free-For-All, I swilled down another energy drink and managed to drive home, exhausted and satiated on video games for at least another few months.
This type of LAN is great overall. Admission is free (but chip in a few bucks for the pizza), everything is set up prior and you’ll definitely find at least one game you haven’t played before. While there are concerns about fitting in with the group and getting stuck outside an obvious clique, it’s important to remember that the people here are huge geeks. That doesn’t mean you have to be one in order to keep conversation — it just means that there is always at least one person in the room who will reciprocate your interest, no matter how small or tangential. For instance, the old guy sitting next to me and I developed a connection over our shared interest in manga artists. As long as you come ready to talk, play and possibly help, everything should be all good.
The third and final LAN iteration consists of massive events. Earlier this year I attended DreamHack, a large gaming tournament and LAN company that held an event in San Diego. I paid the admission costs and trucked down everything I needed for the 72 hours that it was running, including water, drinks, sandwiches and a blanket. Since this article’s getting on in length, all I have to say is that it was rough. Really damn rough. Because there are over 200 participants, people seldom interact outside their groups. You barely sleep while mainly running off the free energy drinks, admission and food are not cheap and by the end of the event, you’re delirious and bleary-eyed from staring at a monitor for days on end.
If a small get-together of friends is one extreme, then this is the other. While it’s intense, I would definitely go again if only for the challenge of staying conscious.
As for which ‘level’ of LAN you should seek out, the second type — group LANs — is the most balanced. The first level might be easier to make yourself comfortable with, and the third substitutes admission costs for socialization, but considering their burdens, the second level is where it’s at for most.
So if you’re ever in the mood for real gaming, find a local LAN gathering — and bring some food, files and friends to make it extra fun.
Liam Martin HM ’24 is from California and is looking to buy Bawls Guarana in studded bottles at any price. He hasn’t had his fix since Fry’s went bankrupt.