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Communal gaming is a good reason to sit around for 12 hours

February 14, 2006|by ROWAN COPLEY

Around me are the sounds of unpacking, unrolling, setting up.

People begin turning on their computers and the room is filled with a quiet humming. The lights go out and the only illumination comes from monitors and colorful LEDs lighting computers' insides. Milling around subsides as people sit down at their rigs and start to game.

A 12-hour LAN gaming marathon, organized by Hagerstown Community College's Jack Drooger and hosted at HCC's Valley Mall facility in early February, was a chance for fellow gaming fanatics to get together, with their own computers and games, and play over a Local Area Network (LAN).

By the time I get there, scattered gaming has begun in little pockets already. Most people come with a couple friends, and they usually have their own games that they play.

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Contrary to the popular stereotype, "geeks" are not antisocial Internet junkie gamers who spend their lives alone in their mom's basement - those are what we call "nerds." Geeks are typically quite a social lot, going to LAN parties like HCC's, arguing in online chatrooms or hanging out online in World of Warcraft.

Geekdom isn't confined to computers, but most geeks have a certain love of technology. Still, not everyone at a LAN is a geek. Gaming has become quite the mainstream hobby nowadays. The video-game industry recently passed the film industry in profits.

A few hours after the initial 10 a.m. start-up time, my friend Jon arrives and we have to literally jump-start his computer with two wires and a nickel. It takes him five or 10 minutes to debug errors, and just as he's getting his computer to start booting Windows, the circuit blows. Half the room's computers go black.

"Huh, I guess now you'll have to do it all over again," says Stefan Wilk, a fellow geek. Luckily, the pizza arrives soon after we blow the power.

A lot of my geek friends are into computer making and "modding" - modifying them - which is basically taking apart computers, upgrading them and redesigning their cases to make them look cooler. And why not? Playing around with things and trying to make them better is a good way to learn.

Of course, building your own system has drawbacks, and one of those is reliability. When you're continuously shuffling parts and storing fragile hard drives on your dresser top, things are bound to go wrong a bit more often than for your average Dell user.

Yeah, I've had to reinstall Windows more times than I can count.

But, for geeks, it's the spirit of the thing. We do things our way, we learn from our mistakes, and, eventually we can do some cool things.

A great way to bring people together at a LAN is to have a game which can be distributed (legally, of course) to everyone to install and play. So Drooger brought the FPS "Wolfenstein: Enemy Terretory," which is actually a partially made sequel to the original "Wolfenstein" game, released for free before it could be completed.

Throughout the HCC LAN, there is a gradual migration from game to game. For the major games - involving most of the people in the room - if enough people leave, the game is abandoned. It goes something like: "Where did all the people go?" Check player list. "Gahh! I'm the only one on the server!"

At around 6 p.m., I get up and walk around and notice how suddenly empty the room is. Across the room, almost the entire table of gamers has cleared out, and other people are heading out as well. Things are winding down.

Drooger admits it's a little early, but not really unexpected. It's open until 10, but he didn't expect everyone to stay for that long.

There is an impulsive atmosphere at a LAN. It's not uncommon for gamers to go out and buy a game, go out for pizza, walk over to Radio Shack and buy new hardware, or even reconfig their system or install a new operating system.

LANs aren't all about games. Sometimes, people will cluster around a computer to watch funny videos found on the Web. Then there are things like instant-messaging someone three feet away from you, which is patently absurd but undeniably funny in a very geeky way.

LANs are a community of kindred souls sharing an experience.

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