Years ago, many moons, before the Earth was round, LAN gaming was but a baby. Local Area Network (LAN)’s were what you had in your house if you knew enough geeks with network cards. You’d somehow get everyone’s computers to the place of choice. Your computers would be linked together with a piece of cable, which you’d probably made yourself. Then you’d spend a good four hours getting everyone’s computer to work and deciding what to play. The amount of effort involved initially was well worth it, because the goal was the ultimate in worthwhile - being able to kill and maim each other with a variety of weapons. The problem then was, of course that it was pretty hard to find enough people and the technology itself wasn’t exactly accessible. The popularity of the home PC means that problem has pretty much been eliminated now that all of them come with LAN / internet devices as standard. Getting together with a bunch of friends on a weekend to paste each other with semi-automatic weapons of death, is thankfully, easier than ever.
This enormous and growing phenomenon is now well out of the realm of hardcore geeks, and into the realm of gaming in general. It would be fair to say that the future of a large portion of games, lies in their multiplayer potential. PC games like Battlefield 1942, Tribes, Quake, Command and Conquer all share the roots of their collective appeal in their multiplayer capabilities and all of these games and their sequels still share an enormous following. This great appeal, no doubt stems from the fact that it’s much more enjoyable competing and playing against another person, than a frequently predictable AI. Console gamers are now in on the action with handy products like Xbox Live allowing them to establish connections to game servers via the internet and play against human competition in games like the hugely popular Halo 2. In fact so popular is the idea of lugging your PC someplace else to engage in vast tournaments of destruction with likeminded folk, you can now do so with several hundred of them at a time.
Alexandra Park Raceway in Auckland, will play host to one of New Zealand’s largest gaming LAN events. XLAN as it’s known, takes place from the 8th to the 10th July and has steadily increased in popularity over the years. This year over 700 gamers will be competing for prizes and bragging rights in what should be an excellent time for all. Far from being populated by curiously backwards geeks, reeking of Lynx “Africa”, a wide variety of people attend events like XLAN. Parents often bring their children and play games against other kids and parents with them, online friends and enemies finally get to place a face to the name and talk about their online exploits, and an ever growing number of female gamers means it’s hardly a boys only sort of thing. It’s hard to see well organised, hassle-free events like XLAN getting any smaller in the future.
Gaming has always had a bad rap, it seems not a month goes by without someone complaining about the violence in video games, or the fact that they’re causing kids to stay locked up in their rooms devoid of real social skills. It is a curious thing, that when you actually go to a LAN, what you discover is hardly a cesspool of frustrated young people plotting the demise of the person sitting beside them, but rather a relaxed, loud and very social group of people interacting with people perfectly fine. Gamers do not seem to care about what race, sex or background you come from - everyone is pretty much equal inside the game(s) which they mutually enjoy. Aside from the physical inactivity (and odour) you’d be hard pressed to say a negative thing about a LAN.
Obviously with the ability to actually talk to each other, you’re going to eventually run into some people you like. Groups of friends, who either know each other in real life, or have met online, commonly form ‘Clans’ within a game. Basically this is just a group of people who play against other groups of organised people in either professional sponsored competitions (such as the upcoming EA Cup Tournament for Battlefield 2, complete with $15,000 worth of prizes) or makeshift friendly games. In this respect, at a certain level of gaming it begins to resemble a ‘proper’ sport. With ladders, tables and results for all games played within a match or competition. Obviously a LAN is the perfect setting for makeshift games. Entire groups of people will organise themselves with usually little hassle. Intense final games can even woo crowds and spectators into cheering on one side or the other.
Still, New Zealand is a small country. Thus it is unlikely we will ever have gaming elevated to such a level where it is almost a national sport, as in South Korea where enormous outside screens are erected and famous players are minor celebrities complete with sponsorship deals and advertising contracts. In fact LAN gaming overseas is larger than most would expect. The World Cyber Games for instance, features competitors from over 70 countries all competing in various games until the final. Such an event is massive, enormous outside screens are set up and huge crowds assemble to laud the winner, and empathise with the defeated. Aside from the actual playing field being simulated, it is almost exactly the same as any major sporting event.