Drifting through the Ethernet: What the hell did we do to the LAN Party?
Today, I want to talk about something that I haven’t thought about in a long time – The LAN party.
An old custom that has long been made (at least in my experience) obsolete and an anachronism, and yet, I fondly recall it and wonder where it all went wrong.
As with all good retro news, Let’s rewind.
Everybody remembers their first LAN game. Mine, officially and fortunately enough, began at my first job, in the desolate hellhole in which I used to reside, giving me an overinflated (and now incredibly spoiled, in hindsight) viewpoint of what job expectations and responsibilities truly are.
The year was 1999. I still had acne that I couldn’t do anything about. I bet I didn’t weigh over 120 pounds and was coming to terms with having to cut my long, unkempt “angst” hair and join a corporate workforce. I was beginning my slow descent into a rapid freefall of phasing out of knowing what the hell was cool or what youth talked about.
And I worked in an IT call-center. An IT call center for DIAL-UP internet service. I knew a modicum of anything technical about computers. And my job was to deflect questions, act perturbed, advise people that the problem lies in the quality of their phone lines, and, as I’ve come to expect from my 9-to-5 position—play seemingly endless games of Quake 3 off our “BADASS” 450MHZ Pentium III 98SE workstations.
And when I say we, I mean, up to eight of us, simultaneously trying to juggle attention span versus hunter’s edge in a business casual environment. We could never get the damn thing to connect out past a LAN, but once we figured out that Quake 3, well, would run on ANY computer ever. (we became confident we could have replaced our ATI video cards with blueberry poptarts and the game still would have managed to process and run at 24 Frames Per Second.)
And this is what I was paid for. I was paid $6.50 an hour to sit around, and basically be a jackoff that shot rockets and plasma rifles in springboard environments at other coworkers and mouthed out the kind of veiled trashtalk you could in an all-male office environment whenever we were on or off the phone across the office.
You know the ones. We were young. And it was different then. Not like when the youth do it to us now. The smug fucks. :)
These were the days of invincible youth squandered on petty demands and assuming things were worse than they were. I would kill for such a cush job opportunity as the time I utterly squandered at (job name from defunct company withheld.)
And it was great, because aside from the fragfests (we also played Magic: The Gathering, a lot. One dude eventually even brought his goddamn Dreamcast in and had some sessions of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 when it became available), I was utterly horrible at the job itself. Short of have people delete and readd TCP/IP adapters (which did nothing) in their network settings, and then act completely sorry, sympathetic, and utterly useless as to why their modem-based internet sucks (future protip: your dial-up modem internet sucks because it’s dial-up internet accessed by a modem.)
And what’s best? I did this job for THREE years, somehow. (We eventually got high-speed internet, which I couldn’t even begin to fake my way through troubleshooting, and my viability became limited. There may have been the whole “I may have stopped completely doing all of my work, and instead was playing games on a constant basis” thing as well.)
But what was it? A Perpetual succession of LAN games amongst real human opponents in an enclosed environment.
Unreal Tournament! (classic, not even 2003)
Starsiege: Tribes (that one sorta died out as I was coming in, but understood it was the bee’s knees in the department for a long while.)
Think there was even some freakin’ Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun action going on for a brief point.
The very definition of a Lan…PARTY. That is until I was laid off. (I do recall getting off work, buying the JUST released GTA:Vice City, and doing nothing but playing It for two weeks straight as I waited for unemployment to hit, but that’s an entirely different story for a different time.)
Flash forward to a couple of years later. There had been talk of casual LAN parties happening in the world, and somehow, my ass had been discluded from all of these events occurring. It was often discussed by a friend of a friend, how we should go to Quakecon sometime, in an illustrious scheme of a potential roadtrip to Texas gone wrong, only to get to play in a surely hopeless tournament setting, in what seemed like the most PRACTICAL way on earth to play a fast paced FPS game with everyone else.*
(*Fact to consider. Our terrible, stupid county didn’t get practical, widespread high speed internet until nearly the mid 2000s.)
But one day, the word hit the street, and by some method of chance (I learn about everything last.) I find out about it.
“Computer shop (that my friend owned at the time) is doing a LAN party. Has a bunch of Jolt Cola (remember that?!) and shit on hand. Bring your tower, a monitor, peripherals, etc. We’re gonna play all night.”
I jumped at the damn chance. Keep in mind, that the machine I was on wasn’t anything you could remotely consider suitable for, well, running any programs whatsoever.
*sigh* It was cheap. And it would still let me play X-Com Apocalypse. And on demanded occasion, would give me enough access to the seedy underbelly of 5 MB porn clippets and cracked .exe files to run games without having to have the DISK IN THE DRIVE. THE FUTURE IS NOW.
So anyway, the effort it took to unhook, bundle up, pack into the 2000 Plymouth Neon (shut up), unload, rehook up next to the custom built towers designed for practical modern gaming (the original CoD, for instance.), turn on, fight to get ON the damn LAN, and then FIGHT to try and understand why the hell it couldn’t find anybody else’s hosted game, all in an environment crammed with 20 strange and unfamiliar people that smelled like a dead camel’s asshole, popping Jolt tops and making repeated “your mother sucks my dick”-type comments—was not terribly worth it.
This was my first encounter with the pitfalls of gaming with strangers in a strange environment. And also questioning the practicality of what I did. And cursing every deity I could think of the first name of at 4 am, when I attempted to discreetly haul all this computer shit BACK into my parent’s house (shut up) at 4 in the morning.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t even get my PC to run, let alone connect to anyone else’s game…why wasn’t that a fun experience?
That marked the last time I ever drug my PC out of my house, into another environment, with the intention of playing a game with a group of stranger for amusement.
For the years that followed after that, I’ve had my share of Halo-game-of-the-week (and Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and eventually SFIV) nights. A culmination of friends would get together, and by default, I would somehow rank almost undoubtedly the best (against people who didn’t play many games at all period, let alone FPS or fighting games) and go home to my parent’s house (shut up) and sleep like a champion. Not exactly the same as a LAN party, but the experience of multiple people playing games competively round robin, was still there.
The competitive and witty banter of trash talk.
The sly underhanded jab at the sexual indiscretions of a matronly figure.
The cheap, cheap camp kill followed by the satisfying celebratory dragging of Spartan armor codpiece against fallen opponent’s visorplate.
Welcome home, old boy.
Fun was had in this kind of environment. One that I miss.
One that, for the most part in my life now as a 31 year old grown-ass man, remains stagnant, if not dead.
It scares me to think how much my gaming tendencies have changed in a relatively short decade.
My cravings for interpersonal communication and interaction from REAL LIVE PEOPLE in a gaming environment have taken a backseat to a universal standard of accepted playstyle.
Get your console on your Wi-Fi. Sign into some server. And play against people you don’t really know. Or maybe you do know them if you’re in a group of friends. But play in your own house. In your room. Away from everyone. Talk into the mic. That is if you can get a word in edgewise from the douche who’s freestyle rapping about being riproaringly high and sniping your “homo-ass” (paraphrased) with his Dragunov.
You’ll never see the disgruntled face of someone struggling to beat you competitively in a fun and casual environment of colleagues — you’ll just hear a cacophony of their foul-mouthed raging remarks, hate-speech, threats, or worse. And your attachment to them, or to the game will suffer from the course.
At least that’s how it was whenever I’ve played stuff like this. Even with friends. The remote connection pales in comparison to the side-by-side event of having, well, an event out of the occasion.
A game is nothing without the sum of it’s parts. And as I can feel the Saturday afternoon special/get beat up by my fifth grade peers for saying something this stupid, other people ARE an important factor in that.
Now, I’ve been made aware of the fact that people still get together and game, and that my own experiences with this are unique in that it’s just something that doesn’t happen anymore, for whatever reasons you can guess. (i.e.—you’re an old person, joerocks1981.) Some people still go as far to haul their own towers and spools of Cat-5 cable in the back of their vehicles to god-knows-where for League of Legends meetups or whathaveyou. And there’s satisfaction in that.
The advancement of practical communications and technology has long stabbed the NEED for LAN-games in it’s heart, for the most part. You can’t go into a McDonald’s these days without being given,for free, access to internet connection speeds that would have made anyone in the beginning of the new millennium shit their pants.
But the reality of it all, when everything you need is available from your couch, that information and connectivity is superfluous to where the need to interact at a physical level is unnecessary, do you still yearn for the other foul-smelling human, full of mountain dew, ready to triple-kill you, your buddy, and that weird guy your friend brought over who’s taking over on P3 with a frag grenade factor?
Is this a convention that you miss? Is this something you still do, and if so, what do you play? Is this something totally obsolete and not worth thinking about? Let me know in your comments. I’m very curious how if things like this still occur in your gaming cycles.
My advice and closing thoughts.
Play Games. Early and often.
Game with others. Especially if you can beat their ass at them.
Poke jabs. But know your limits. Don’t be a dick.
Never bring any PC with Windows ME or a store brand label to a setting where other computer users will sit and judge you. Because they will judge you. And the good name of the woman that brought you into this world will be sullied.
Be excellent to each other.
And LAN Party on, dudes.
Excuse me. I’ve apparently got some Sixpence none the richer to listen to.