Editorial by Erin Ellis
It’s a paradox that, in an increasingly shrinking world, we are becoming more and more isolated from one another. Men in particular have a hard time establishing productive relationships with other men. This fact is exacerbated by society's increasing reliance upon electronic communications and aggravated by increasing demands on our time from work, family, et al.
Most adults in that prime, consumer demographic were most likely exposed to videogames from a very early age. As a result, the overall demographic of gamers is getting older. This is also reflected in the games that are being produced these days: smarter, grittier, and engineered to appeal to adults.
Videogames offer a great opportunity for socialization. Online gaming offers a medium for social interaction, but it's an anonymous exchange. We can assume whatever persona we like within those vast, virtual worlds. The true person is never exposed as we huddle in our home office. LAN parties however, offer an intriguing opportunity to foster camaraderie and friendship in a raucous, competitive environment.
Gay_Spyder_Monkey is one hell of a host. My Irish Catholic grandmother could have learned some lessons from him. He holds semi-annual LAN parties at a secret location here in the Midwest of the United States. Starting in the mid-afternoon on a recent weekend, he forsook his own gaming pleasure to make sure that the 30 or so guests at his party were set-up on the LAN and provided with everything they needed to enjoy the carnage that was soon to ensue. Jewbacca, a 30-something of Semitic descent, tells him that he's worse than an old, Jewish muthah!
There are some initial bumps in the road. Muttering something about Smith being a f***ing idiot, Gay_Spyder_Monkey hops about much like his handle namesake trying to set people up without half of his equipment. Soon enough, the aforementioned Smith shows up with the missing equipment, and the chaos begins.
Lights turned low, sound system pumping out an eclectic collection of thrash metal, punk and rap; we jumped into Battlefield Vietnam and Unreal Tournament 2004. There were complaints that the music was interfering with the retro soundtrack of Vietnam. The response from Gay_Spyder_Monkey was R-rated and brooked no argument.
Most of the attendees fall somewhere within the 25-35 year-old age group, and while there are some who fit the stereotype of the lonely, basement-dwelling gamer, most are adults mired in the typical, suburban lifestyle: job, kids, crippling mortgage.
Case in point: Charlie Foxtrot is an assassin on the battlefield. Not given to adrenaline-induced mistakes like the younger crowd, this stout, 40ish Scotsman is steady and unflappable. Crouching, creeping and sniping among the jungles of Vietnam or skulking in the shadows of UT2004, he is as deadly as a cobra hidden in tall grass. In reality, Charlie is a father of three with a big house and a job that drives him nuts, but here, in this dark basement, he talks a little smack and puts a hurtin' on everybody...even his teammates. Friendly fire is not his fault, if you are dumb enough to move in his sights, you get what you deserve.
As I busily grind up Tim with a Manta in UT2004, he looks over at me with hooded eyes and mutters something about Dramamine. Tim, married, 31 years-old, suffers from FPS disease, but with a little muscle relaxant and a little Guinness, he's ready to play all night. His liver, if it could talk, may have some concerns to voice, but that's a problem for another day. For tonight, he is Meatball, and he is most excellent cannon fodder for the rest of us.
Rollins Band pumps out of the speakers behind me as we fire up the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942. Gay_Spyder_Monkey finds some time to play. Asking Jewbacca for his handle, he proclaims that he is about to make him his b****. Jewbacca cackles with delight.
Things are really heating up now. Capture the flag is the game of the day in Desert Combat. Helicopters rove back and forth, filled with gunners. I plug an enemy with a sniper rifle just as he's about to grab our flag. There's nothing quite as satisfying as hearing the profane exclamation that erupts from across the room in despair.
We all bolt generous amounts of pizza at around 10, and before the grease has congealed on our faces, in our beards, we’re at it again. Shouting imprecations, yelling instructions to teammates, we pummel one another in the virtual arena. It seems an eternity to wait for a spawn. The end of every map is greeted with jeering and bellows of victory.
All too soon, things start to wind down. DeadEdWest jumps out and watches some anime to wind down. He and his wife have to go to his nephew's first communion tomorrow. Jewbacca and Charlie Foxtrot head out with handshakes and backslapping, frustrations vented, inner-children indulged.
Around 4 A.M. people wrap it up, network cables are rolled, and tables are broken down. Those who aren't too exhausted are already boasting of the night's feats. Good natured ribbing abounds. With a few handshakes and weary smiles, we're headed home.
It dawns on me as we drive home that there is something essential about this sort of competitive, martial experience that is inherent and essential to human beings. Ancient tribes used to meet on the battlefield to boast, taunt and insult one another. Occasionally, a hero from each side would meet in single combat to decide the issue. Sometimes they would actually fight, but it was mostly about the spectacle, the camaraderie that existed between tribe members. Afterwards, they would head back to eat, drink and boast of the day's events. Not unlike our little LAN party.
This group was not made up of immoral men. These were Every Man: frustrated, overworked, conscientious, and for one night, they were able to come together with one another in a positively charged, competitive environment where the primary rule is 'If You're Rowdy, You're Outie!' It's a safe place where they can, for a few hours, indulge a primal side of themselves without hurting anybody. Perhaps some of our warmongering, world leaders should attend the occasional LAN party.