Just over 10 years ago (yeesh!) I did a little writeup of Million Man LAN 2. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as the first Million Man LAN, and I haven’t been since, which is something I’m going to fix this weekend.
Million Man LAN 2 wasn’t my first event, either (or even my first MML). I first heard about this ‘LAN party’ thing way back in April 2000 and convinced a buddy to pack up our computers, drive to Louisville, Kentucky (a mere 120 mile drive), and pay some people some money for the privilege of using their network to play games nonstop for an entire weekend. It was something called ‘LanWar 7‘.
We arrived to Louisville a bit ahead of schedule, and it was the first time either of us had driven that far out on our own, so we took some time to drive down the main drag and check out some of the sights. And, once we stopped at a local Hardee’s to use their restrooms, we realized that we had crossed into another time zone and we were actually late.
But, we finally arrived to the University of Louisville campus, paid our registration fee and hauled our computers inside. What I saw was mind-blowing: rows and rows of people and computers playing games (Quake 3 Arena, Half-Life DM, and Unreal Tournament? Yes, please). There were also file servers full of interesting files to download (all legal, of course), an IRC server, a projector showing geeky videos on a big screen, etc. etc.
It was an incredible experience. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even blink all weekend as I tried to take it all in, and when the weekend was over I hopped on ICQ and tried to get everyone I knew to go to the next one. We gradually got more and more people interested and even formed a loose-knit group of friends who attended LAN parties regularly. And, for the next several years, we went to various parties around the area. Bi-weekly LAN party in the attic of a PC parts store? In. Local LAN party needs staff members to help pull off the event? I’m totally there. No LAN party this week, but want to play LAN games anyway? Just have a mini-event at my house. No problem.
If this all seems weird to you, you have to remember that broadband was still in its infancy around this time. My home internet service at the time had just been upgraded to a blistering 0.5 Mbps, which was phenomenally fast (10 times faster than my crappy old dial-up modem, anyway). Trying to play multiplayer games on a dial-up modem? Forget about it. It worked, sort of, and you had to tie up your phone line while you played. Forgot to disable call-waiting/someone else needs to make a call and picks up the phone/cat knocks the receiver off the hook? Too bad, game over. So, broadband helped with the reliability problem (connected all the time, and I can still use the phone? Sold!) but trying to find people to play games with was still a bit of a chore.
Downloading the latest Linux distribution (or your other favorite large file) would still take hours (or days), and practically necessitated a download manager to get them all while you slept. So, to find a place where there were not only people playing games on reliable private network, but that there were also the files you wanted, but didn’t want to tie up your Internet connection to get available was an amazing experience. To experience that with hundreds of other people who also loved computers, technology, and video games was just eye-opening.
Social networking sites didn’t even really exist yet, and in my hometown, finding tech-minded people was (and still is, sadly) very difficult. Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t even launch for several more years, so to even find people in the larger enthusiast/gaming community (heck, finding that the community existed at all) that you could actually talk to and interact with? It was an experience like no other, and an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
But, like the local arcades, I’m afraid that LAN parties are not long for this world. Reliable, fast broadband is reaching more homes and more people than ever before, Free-to-play and MMORPG games haven’t quite displaced LAN gaming yet, but they’re getting close. Lots of multiplayer games these days rely on some servers out on the Internet somewhere. Social networking and video streaming sites mean that I can find and virtually interact with anyone with any interest (just about) anywhere on the planet without having to leave the (relative) comfort of my own chair. And the Old Guard is, well, getting older. I’m past the point where tearing down my computer and hauling it a state away has become tedious. I have a full time job now with real responsibilities (geez, when did that happen?), and killing a weekend or so playing games is a tough sell. Finally (I have yet to see this firsthand, since I haven’t been to an event in several years), I suspect that the younger crowd aren’t replacing the folks who aren’t coming any more. Likely, they don’t see the point.
So, tomorrow morning, just over 13 years after my first event, I’m going to tear down a computer, load it in a car, pick up the same buddy I picked up then, and drive back to where it all began for me, to the scene of what will likely be the last actual LAN party that I go to.
It’s been a good run.