The sun was setting, casting linear shadows on the floor of the conference room. The failing light gave way to the ambient glow of monitors, blinking routers, computer towers, and the open fridge. A din of restrained enthusiasm permeated the air as people danced around tables, caught in a bizarre waltz with cables and wires. Hands rested over mice and keyboards. Eyes fluttered and stared. More people gathered as the light kept fading from the sky and kept growing from the room. At some point, people started shouting and cheering, leaping from their chairs, propelled by a skyward fist. Sometimes they’d be celebrating, sometimes they wouldn’t be. Most times they were smiling.
These eyes, this attention, this enthusiasm, was not for this reality. Everyone was sitting together in this huge room and sidestepping with each other into a different world, their computers participating as the vehicle. Everyone was joining together to re-meet as someone else, somewhere else. We’ve all seen a couple people standing side by side at an arcade cabinet, or sitting in front of the TV on the couch with controllers in hand. You may even see a few people standing together outside, attention drawn to the world through their phones. This isn’t that, though.
A LAN (local area network) party is quite a different beast. People gather together with their computers and all other necessities for sustained gaming in the company of others. To see rooms, garages, conference halls, or event centers packed to the gills with people sitting side by side is a scene I can only liken to some sort of viking feast where PCs are the main course and everyone is eagerly dining on a reality just next to ours.
Moments in these spaces can become totally surreal. When the context of the world around you changes, suddenly, you’re not caring about getting the laundry done, mowing the lawn, or that stressful class you have to go to. Suddenly, you’re deeply concerned about how your teammate is going to rescue the hostages without your covering fire, who is going to make the game point by successfully capturing the enemy’s’ top secret documents, or how you could possibly operate this towering machine of horrors deftly enough to toss a basketball. History is made each night with instant celebrities in a brand new scene.
How is this a thing? Why do LAN parties continue to happen in an age where the internet has connected and networked people across the globe, where you can enjoy the fruits of accomplishment and glory in the safety of your living room? There’s a million ways out there now to play games with other people without the need to be anywhere near them. We hear about it, even participate in such things from time to time. But having people together, that many, with that kind of care and intention, is beautiful. It’s rare.
It’s special when you can separate yourself from the rocky landscape of humanity a bit and settle into a world of your own, a persona of your own. It’s special to find people who will accept you for those things you can’t normally be in everyday life. It’s special to be around people who understand so well because they’re so similar in some ways, but also pleasantly different in most. It is undoubtedly special that this kind of thing can happen in a small town like Durango on a regular basis.
There is always going to be work, or kids, or school, health problems, financial problems, obligations, and so on, to take up our time and our lives. There’s always going to be something else to do. Perhaps sometimes that something should be getting together with friends in the dying light and playing games for hours, refusing the daily routine, stepping off the conveyor belt of procedure so that you end up wondering where you are a couple times through the night. Leap into that other reality, waltz with network cables, shout until your voice is raspy, cheer when we accidentally trip the circuit breaker, sweep up the crumbs, and shamble home in the rising sun. Do not stop until you have saved the world and fallen in love.