SOCIETY

CALL IT NERDAPALOOZA

Rows of men silently playing video games together. What a party!

ALEXANDRA SHIMO August 6 2007
SOCIETY

CALL IT NERDAPALOOZA

Rows of men silently playing video games together. What a party!

ALEXANDRA SHIMO August 6 2007

CALL IT NERDAPALOOZA

SOCIETY

Rows of men silently playing video games together. What a party!

ALEXANDRA SHIMO

Parties usually have a few common themes. There is alcohol, or some other substance to take partygoers out of their 9-to-5, must-pay-the-mortgage/answer-my-emails frame of mind. There is music, often with a strong beat. And lastly, there are girls, or another demographic to provide sexual tension. But a new type of party quickly making inroads into Canada bears no resemblance to the traditional social phenomenon. Known as LAN parties, they take place in rented sports halls, community centres, or even private homes. Accommodating anywhere from just a few souls to thousands of people—mostly men—they consist of row upon row of computer screens flickering, and hundreds of men frenetically pushing buttons on their key pads as they play video games.

The largest Canadian LAN gathering (short for local area network) is scheduled to take place this week, from July 26 to 29 at the Mayfield Trade Centre in Edmonton. About 800 to 850 people have paid the $75 to $90 registration fee and are expected to attend. “These parties have really taken off,” says Gil Amores, the president of the event, who also works full-time in computer network management. “We’ve got people coming from across Canada and from the United States.”

Edmonton resident Claude Myles, 39, is one of those who have signed up. He plans to stay the full four days for the total LAN experience. Most of his time will be spent playing a mixture of role-playing, first-person shooter and strategy games.

On Friday night, Myles and his fellow partiers will receive free pizza, courtesy of Nvidia, a video card company. Booze is banned,

as are cigarettes and other recreational drugs. Music is also verboten—it would break everyone’s concentration. Instead the events are BYOC—Bring Your Own Computer. Organizers also recommend partygoers supply their own chairs, which Myles plans to do, since several days spent sitting on the ground puts a lot of strain on the back and the behind. A computer technician by day, Myles spends his evenings and weekends gaming—about 20 to 30 hours a week. The LAN party, which will take up most of his five-day summer holi-

day, gives him a chance to get out of the house and meet others who share his twin passions for computers and video games. “It’s amazing,” says Myles, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. “It’s great to meet people there who share my interests and to see the ‘mod’ competition.”

The mod competition is one of the highlights of the event, Myles says. Mod, an abbreviation for modification, refers to reinventing the case which holds the computer, either with paint or a leitmotif, or by building an entirely new one, so the computer is housed in a household object, such as a flowerpot or a ceramic piggy bank. At last year’s Edmonton LAN party, a computer

built into a beer keg that dispensed cold root beer took first prize.

While the first-ever LAN party has not been recorded in the history books, the world’s largest party took place last December in Jönköping, Sweden: 10,638 people attended the four-day event held in a giant concrete hall in which players slept on rows of air mattresses.

The main LAN party in Mississauga, Ont., is organized by Steven Mell, 17, and his 19year-old brother Bryan. Several times a year, in the basement of their five-bedroom home, Steven serves his mother’s barbecue ribs, and the boys drive out to Krispy Kreme for a latenight fix of doughnuts. The rest of the time is devoted to playing video games. Sleep is not part of the experience, Steven says, nor is alcohol, at least not much, so people can concentrate on gaming. Although women are invited, including the girls on their swim team—both boys are avid swimmers, and train about 24 hours a week—they don’t usually come. “Usually it’s just the males who are interested. Some people think it’s nerdy. Some of the girls are like, ‘Why would you want to spend three days in the basement?’ ”

To the uninitiated, Steven admits, it’s hard to explain. But when some 20 guys are competing together in a caffeine-fuelled, adrenalin-pumped atmosphere, he says, it’s exciting and intense. “Everyone is playing the same game, and the person is right there, competing against you in the next room. So if anyone does anything cheap, you can just go over and hit him in the face,” he says, partly in jest. The Melis’ LANs are a lot of work to organize, and 20 men sleeping, eating, sweating, and gaming in a basement doesn’t do much for the room’s cleanliness, says Mell. “We don’t have a lot of time for dating. Some people think it’s stupid, but they don’t get it. You have to be there to really understand.” M

‘SOME OF THE GIRLS ARE LIKE, “WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO SPEND THREE DAYS IN THE BASEMENT?”'