from the Curator's Office:
The LAN Party
Lan Party in full swing.
(8/06) Most of the people who read this will have
no idea what a LAN party is. If that is the case, consider yourself
lucky in your blissful ignorance. A few people who read this that
will identify a LAN party as something that is lots of fun. That's
nice, but this column wasn't really written with you in mind.
For the third group of people, most likely parents with one or
more teenage boys in their home, a LAN party is something you
avoid hosting at all costs - but usually can't.
Just to get the definition straight, I turned to
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
A LAN party is a temporary, sometimes spontaneous
gathering of people together with their computers, which they
connect together in a local area network (LAN) primarily for the
purpose of playing multiplayer computer games.
Just to set the record straight, despite Wikipedia's
assertion, a LAN party is never "spontaneous." It requires interconnecting
enough electronic equipment to run a small third world country
and supplying enough food (in the form of pizzas, chips and soda)
to equip that same country's army for an invasion.
Granted, we knew what we were getting into. This
particular weekend wasn't the first time we hosted a LAN party.
We already knew that it involved five or six teenage boys moving
into our house overnight, bringing with them not only sleeping
bags and (optionally) a change of clothes, but also more than
half a dozen very bulky computers.
Each of these machines isn't just a computer, but
a gaming computer, which means they are at the extreme
edge of computer performance. The games my son and his friends
like to play have fast-moving action that put high-resolution
3D images on the screen. Players in these games who have a slow
computer that lags behind are at a definite disadvantage and are
more likely to get knocked off sooner. In the virtual world of
Counterstrike or Unreal Tournament, that's a bad
The fact that these are all gaming computers means
a few things: First, they are loaded with devices such as special
graphics and sound cards that can cost as much as the computer
itself. Because of this, are almost never a nice portable laptop
that somebody can tuck under their arm and carry around. They
always have enormous cases in order to hold all those extra cards
and the extra large power supplies to run those cards. To be fair
there are a few companies like Alienware
that do make laptop gaming computers, but they tend to be prohibitively
expensive, especially on a teenage budget. Besides, it is a lot
easier to "mod" a big computer case than a laptop.
Let me take a moment out from the LAN Party story
to tell you about "moding." Most people are totally unaware there
is a sub-culture of people - mostly college age or high school
- who modify their computers with paint, lights and other add-ons
to make it a showpiece ( a process a friend of mine refers to
as "pimp my computer.") A typically modified computer - like my
son's - includes a fancy case (ones in the shape of an alien head
are popular) with an acrylic window on one side so people can
see how much you spent on the expensive graphic and sound cards
inside. Lighting is an integral part of these conversions and
they can be made to glow with ghostly blue, green or red colors.
Even the wiring and connectors inside can be made to glow as well
as the keyboard and mouse. The cases' fan covers can be replaced
with one carrying the insignia of your favorite game or maybe
something threatening like a biohazard or radiation warning symbol.
People who really want to go all out will actually start gluing
things on their case, making their computer look like it is an
object out of their favorite game.
Moding your computer is a bit like "suping" up your
car, but without all the greasy hands. Just as with an automobile,
you don't make changes for appearance only. In the same way you
can add a supercharger to your car to speed it up, it is possible
to make your computer into a dragster too. This is usually done
by "overclocking" the processor. Overclocking is a bit risky as
making the processor go faster than it is designed for is likely
to cause it to overheat and burn up. Since the processor is the
most expensive part of the computer, a destroyed one can cost
you many hundreds of dollars to replace. For this reason, people
who want to overclock their computer must add even more equipment
to it - usually more fans, or even a liquid based cooling system
to keep the temperature down. Another reason why these machines
have huge cases.
Not not only are all these big computers coming
into the house, but also all the associated equipment like network
hubs, Ethernet cables, speaker systems (complete with sub-woofers
capable of shaking the house to its foundations) and gigantic
monitors that might seem to be more appropriate if mounted in
a baseball stadium. After the last time we hosted my wife swore
she would never do it again. She was forced to give in only because
all the other parents in our son's circle of friends had pretty
much taken their turn and the spinning bottle now pointed back
to us. Her agreement to host another LAN party wasn't without
some strings, however. Everyone had to agree to the following
conditions: 1) They would go to bed by 2AM (LAN parties are often
marathon events with the objective to see how long you can stay
coherent while playing DOOM III), 2) The number of people attending
would be limited to six and most importantly 3) I would be there
to help for at least the evening portion of the event.
Perhaps it is best, at this juncture, to switch
to a timeline account of the occasion:
Friday: 1530 hrs - My son is home from school and
is asking me to help him set up the room. We have agreed that
he can use the sunroom for this event as it is somewhat closed
off from the rest of the house by a set of French doors. I'm hoping
that by isolating the party in there we might avoid total disruption
of the rest of our domicile. There is already one table set up
in there and we get another folding table out of the basement.
With those in position, my son announces that we don't have enough
room as it looks like the tables will only hold four computers
and he expects eight machines tonight along with their owners.
This would seem to be counter to condition 2 of the above, but
there is little that can be done about it now but scrounge more
tables from the basement.
1630 hrs - We now have four tables up and most of
the wiring is strung. My son and one of his friends have invested
in buying a LAN hub and a pack of Ethernet cables, both of which
are necessary to support the interconnection of the computers.
This purchase not only ensures that they will be prepared for
such high-tech festivities in the future, but, in a wily social
move, guarantees that they will be invited to almost every LAN
1700 hrs - The first guest arrives complete with
both parents who each carry a vital part of the guest's computer
system. The parents are smiling widely as they are a) happily
anticipating having an evening to themselves and b) have successfully
avoided hosting the party this time.
1805 hrs - It is rapidly becoming apparent that
while each of our guests have remembered the important things
- computer, monitor, power cables, etc., but nobody has remembered
such niceties as pillows, sleeping bags, toothbrushes or blankets.
Parents find themselves stopping back with these necessities.
I notice they aren't smiling as much.
1835 hrs - Almost all the computers are up and running
and the kids are playing some game that requires them to chase
after each other through a dingy virtual reality world while shooting
at one another and throwing grenades. Some of the kids are using
headphones, but most have speaker systems with the dreaded sub-woofers.
Electronic explosions rock the room and send vibrations through
the house. Unfortunately the closed French doors have little effect
except to add the sound of rattling window panes to each detonation.
2100 hrs - It has gotten dark and the sunroom now
has taken on a surreal look. Eight teenage boys sit jammed around
the four tables. The only light in the room are the computer screens
into which they are staring or the glow creeping out from inside
of the cases. One could imagine that like in some cheap sci-fi
movie they are cooking up a scheme to set off a nuclear war and
end the world. I hope they aren't, but who can tell?
2300 hrs - My wife and I try to get some sleep.
It's a warm night and we need the windows open. This is unfortunate
as the sound of automatic gun fire and the occasional explosion
can easily be heard wafting up from the sunroom. Neighbors are
driving by and peering into the sunroom wondering what is going
Saturday: 0600hrs - I have to work today, but before
I leave I check out the sunroom. There's no blearily-eyed teenager
sitting at any of the eight computers jammed into the room, which
is an improvement from last time. The room does look like it has
been hit by some catastrophe, however. Cans of soda are strewn
all over intermixed with empty pizza plates amid the high-tech
equipment. The scene with the early morning sun streaming through
the windows reminds me of a battlefield after all the soldiers
have left: desolate and lifeless. I need only remind myself that
the warriors are upstairs asleep, not dead, and will soon arise
to do battle again.
I smile. The party is not over till noon, but I'm
going to work now.
Copyright Lee Krystek 2006.
All Rights Reserved.