Souped up and plugged in

For younger generation, PC gaming's got pull

For younger generation, PC gaming's got pull

June 24, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Armed with customized computers and a thirst for digital combat, Jonathan McIntire and Benjamin Hall morph nightly into "Final Decay" and "Dagger" to play the popular online game "MechWarrior."

"'MechWarrior's' our first love, but we'll also play 'Battlefield (1942),'" said McIntire, 20, of Hagerstown. "We can play until the sun comes up."

Computer gaming has been a favorite pastime for him and his friend since they got hooked on such early console systems as Atari and Sega when they were kids, they said. Like millions of other Americans, McIntire and Hall continue to be captivated by an ever-evolving array of games designed for personal computers.


"I'd say it's very addictive - but it's not something I can't put down," said McIntire, who also works part time and does bike riding stunts with Hall.

"Gamers aren't antisocial," added Hall, 20. "Not everyone who games sits in front of the computer all day. You have to prioritize."

But sitting in front of computers for a 12-hour stretch is just what the duo and a handful of other gamers ages 16 and older did recently when Hagerstown Community College hosted its first local area network (LAN) gaming marathon at HCC's Valley Mall satellite campus. The event, which was held Saturday, June 14, gave gamers an opportunity to socialize and play computer games using a high speed Internet connection.

The biggest attraction for gamers, however, was the college's dedicated T1 line, said event organizer Jack Drooger, manager of computer and information technology training at HCC's Center for Continuing Education.

A T1 line can carry about 60 times more data than a normal residential modem, and can handle multiple users. In addition to a fast, uncluttered Internet connection, today's sophisticated computer games also profit from pricey system upgrades.

"I just rebuilt my computer so I could play 'Battlefield.' My other system couldn't handle it," Hall said. "When 'Doom III' comes out, I'll have to upgrade my graphics card. I can't wait for that game."

Like many hardcore PC gamers, McIntire and Hall customized their computers to maximize the machines' gaming power. They upgraded their computers' information processing speed to two gigahertz, and purchased high-resolution monitors, speakers for surround sound, optical mice, graphics cards with 64 megabytes of memory and operating systems with one gigabyte of super-fast double data rate (DDR) random access memory (RAM).

McIntire and Hall also use headphones, microphones and Team-Speak software to communicate with other players while gaming online.

The upgrades - which cost Hall about $1,200 over the past year and a half - were necessary to keep up with modern games' increasing complexity, he said.

"It's not like it used to be. You're not a hedgehog collecting rings anymore," said Hall, referring to Sega's memorable "Sonic the Hedgehog."

"The technology's improving at an accelerated rate," added McIntire. "It's getting to the point where it's actually like you're playing in a movie."

The LAN marathon served as a showplace for gamers' customized computer systems - down to the see-through cases, heat-activated lights and, in the case of gamer Nate Dorsey, a built-in water cooling system complete with radiator and hoses. Dorsey, 21, of La Vale, Md., said his "constant" computer upgrades are part of a quest to keep up with the technology that's exploded since he started playing Nintendo as a kid.

"Gaming's a part of our generation," he said. "It's what we do."

Peter O'Connor agreed - without disengaging from the 3-D world of "Command & Conquer Generals."

"I personally feel like this is the way our generation socializes," said O'Connor, 21, of Hagerstown.

Across the room, Josh Bingaman and Tyler West piloted on-screen helicopters while planning their battle strategy for "Battlefield 1942" as Josh's younger brother, Jordan, looked on. The boys credited computer games with improving their hand-eye coordination - and filling their free time.

"I don't know what I'd do without them," said Josh, 17, of Greencastle, Pa.

"They let you do something you can't normally do and make you feel like you've been places you've never been," added Tyler, 16, of Mercersburg, Pa.

And the Internet has enabled gamers from throughout the world to come together in fictional worlds on Web sites devoted to specific games and gaming leagues. Hall and McIntire participate in multi-player first-person shooter and strategy games in three different leagues.

"It's a complete online community," said McIntire, who plays "MechWarrior" with competitors from as far away as Germany. "It's a crazy mix of people I'd never meet if it weren't for the games."

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