Every once in a while, gamers like to dismantle their carefully setup gaming stations, put everything in large bags, and gather in a dimly lit place to celebrate a party like no other. Why are LAN parties so fun and what makes them a staple of gaming culture?
Back in the digital dark age, before the omnipresence of the internet, gamers were lonely. But like any other human, gamers were (and are) social beings that like to talk to other gamers and play together. Before the rise of online gaming, the only possibility to play with other people was to meet them in person. So, we did! I still remember packing up my PC – including mouse, keyboard, cables, and a heavy CRT-monitor – for the first time, to celebrate a friend’s 10th birthday with a LAN party. Today, it is much easier to transport flat screens and notebooks.
Still, the first minute is spent with choosing a seat. Coming early has its beneftis. You do not want to stand up to let others pass through or interrupt others, whenever you need a break. You also want to protect your screen from the prying eyes of your opponents – this includes reflections in windows behind you. Of course, sitting near important places like the stock of snacks and drinks, or the bathroom has its benefits.
After settling down comes unpacking the equipment and the most difficult part: connecting to the local network. This was once a tricky process and included manually setting up workgroups, IP addresses, and lots of prayers and sacrificies to the old machine gods while repeatedly shouting “Can you see me in the network?!”. Nowadays, local networks are much easier to setup and include only minor cantations to praise and soothe the spirits.
The first game is usually something small that can be shared, installed and played quickly. The favorite among my friends is Soldat, which is a free 2D shooter. It is easy to learn and the quick-paced action leads to many chaotic and fun moments. The game can serve as a fill-in between larger games, too!
When everyone has arrived and connected to the network, larger games can be started. The biggest classics on LAN parties are ego-shooters like Counter Strike, Call of Duty, Quake, or Unreal Tournament. They offer non-stop excitement and it is always satisfying to taunt or angrily shout at friends after lucky shots. Bonus points if you can look your opponent in the eyes.
An alternative for fast-paced action are racing games. Our favorite to day is FlatOut 2, which offers classic races, demolition derbys, and other party modes. A free racing game is Trackmania Nations Forever, in which you can even create your own racetracks. New racetracks enable less experienced players to keep up with veterans and make competitions more enjoyable.
Strategy games are usually reserved for groups of equal skill levels. Classics like Age of Empires, Command & Conquer, Starcraft, and Warcraft require several games until new players roughly understand the mechanics. Since matches start rather slowly, they can take several minutes before the excitement begins. However, playing against other people is much more satisfying than playing against AI. Once, I have met up with friends to spend six hours in a single match of Empire Earth. Regarding instant fun, Warcraft III has become famous for its vast collection of challenge maps and party modes that completely overhaul the game mechanics. One of these is Defense of the Ancients, aka. DotA. This has become even more popular than the main game and created a new genre of games.
LAN parties are as fun as ever! I recommend every PC gamer to experience them at least once. You only need a room, a network switch, several ethernet cables, and some friends with gaming computers. You can even visit public LAN parties in your region! If you develop a game yourself, do not forget to include a LAN mode! A small, but loyal community will thank you.
What are your favorite experiences on LAN parties? Share them in the comments below! I look forward to reading them. In the meantime, I need to connect to the local network.
(Photo by Jordan Harrison on Unsplash)