I’m no stranger to the LAN party. After nearly thirty years of geekdom, getting together to game, all the while consuming an alarming amount of cola, pizza and salted snacks, is hardly a new experience. However, this was my first dance in a few years and it seems that the LAN party demographic underwent a few changes while I was gone.
The first thing that is immediately striking about the grown-up LAN party is that people bring their significant others. At first, this worried me. Nothing kills a day of gaming like people hovering over your shoulder, wanting to know when it is time to go home. This anomaly was further underscored by the presence of toddlers. Rest assured, I’m not about to delve into a screed against children or the fact that my generation is getting older. Instead, I’d just like to point out some very high irony. One of the big reasons people like me started going to LAN parties is because we couldn’t find women who would put up with us, let alone have sex with us. Score one for the nerds coming full circle.
Surprisingly, toddlers aren’t that big of an impediment to gaming. Granted we had to spot our host a few points in Halo Reach when his kid decided that he needed to “help” daddy kill some godless blues. But more often than not the miracles of consumerism kept the kids occupied for hours on end. Some might allege that we are horrible people for tucking one toddler in for a nap while plopping the other in front of a screen and saying, “watch while we amuse ourselves like a rowdy herd of adolescents”. I, however, call it brilliant parenting. Probably for the best that I don’t plan on having kids anytime soon. I also hope my future mother-in-law doesn’t read this rant.
Meanwhile, the significant others went…somewhere. I think they told us where they were going to a movie…or out…somewhere…else. I was too busy trying to shoot down a banshee with a sniper rifle to notice the details. My teammate, who I started calling Caboose, suggested that the women probably think they are getting the better half of the deal: they get an afternoon to do whatever they want while the men look after the kids; I disagree. No matter what the women did, it can’t possibly measure up to what we got that afternoon. Despite having to include child care in the order of the day, the LAN party’s standing rule of “leave your life at the door” remained intact. Even after the women returned, we didn’t talk about our work, mortgages, car payments, job prospects or any of the other things that keep adults up at night. We were eight men warriors Spartans gods of awesome, all in their late twenties or early thirties, whose only concern was the post-game stats, well that and Caboose’s inability to shoot straight. Thousands of hours spent in Mechwarrior 4 clans, World of Warcraft guilds, EVE Online corporations, Pirates of the Burning Sea fleets and even a tribe in Tribes, have never quite captured that feeling. Just as the LAN parties of years past offered a refuge from the knowledge that we, as gamers and nerds of the first order, were social pariahs, so too did the contemporary LAN party grant a reprieve from de rigueur and malaise of adult responsibility.
Of course, there were a few tradeoffs. The presence of toddlers demanded a moratorium on swearing. However, the company of fellows who understand the meaning of the phrase “Spin up the FTLs” allowed for frak as an apt f-bomb substitution. Occasionally, the carnage also found itself punctuated with things you never expect to hear while gaming, “Don’t hit mommy in the head with a snake! That’s a time out for you.”
The whole affair got me thinking about the future for gamers and more specifically, gamer parents. Since my ilk and I haven’t out grown gaming, and likely never will, what’s going to happen when the kids get old enough to game? Will a forty-year-old Shaftoe have to defend his honour and that of the “old” men against the twelve-year-old upstarts? Will a generation of children discover their parents’ fallibility on the digital battlefield after sticking daddy with a plasma grenade? What will gamer parents make of that moment? Will they act like parents of past generations, resenting their child’s accomplishments because it reminds them of their looming own mortality? I think not. If gamers know anything it’s that the game has to end eventually. We are also astute enough to know that when somebody levels up, you don’t scorn their accomplishment, you celebrate it – unless you’re a troll. Gamers also know that sometimes people level up faster than you expect. When that happens a good gamer will modify the other person tactics to suit their style of play. If gamer parents take that approach to child rearing, perhaps the games of the future won’t tear families apart with their violence and suggestive themes. Instead, they could help build some unique relationships heretofore unknown in the lexicon of parenting.
While the night may end earlier and the capacity to drink an entire case of Fresca without gastrointestinal consequences may be gone, the LAN party lives on. To those who decry gaming as a frivolous waste of time and fear that a generation of gamers raised by gamers would be better off in organized sports, I leave you with the following.