The 72 Hours War
Embedded at the Texas Gaming Festival
As I entered the parking lot at the airport Hilton (you know, the round one where the Air Force pilots used to duke it out), my pulse quickened. The bumper sticker in front of me read, "My other car is a Klingon Strike Vehicle." I knew I was in the right place. What I was in the right place for was advertised as Central Texas' largest LAN (local area network) party: the Texas Gaming Festival. The Texas Gaming Festival is a bring-your-own-computer marathon gaming session and first-person shooter "fans and clans" convention taking place during 72 continuous hours in the moistly wonderful, dark, cool basement of the hotel. As the morning sun forced my eyes in painfully different directions, the thought occurred that a dark basement is the very best place for things like this to happen. Unless there's a sub-basement.
So, equipped with my software, PC, 200-pound monitor, and backpack full of peripherals, I entered.
Chris Tom is the director of the festival and checked me in. He and his crew had a room set up for a 200-member LAN that they had been working on for several days. The servers were engineered into a huge DJ hip-hop booth complete with the required wired sodas and lots of room for microphones, speakers, T-shirts, tournament prizes, and banner ads.
The kids in attendance all seemed to be great and getting better. No goons, all geeks, and even three geek girls. As early as five on Friday, a lot of these boys were ready for war. Their computer rigs had their own air-conditioning units, see-through walls, and four kinds of internal black lights. They had definitely pimped, in a pubescent-boy-hacker way, their virtual rides. Practicing nearby, there was one team of Sayonara bandana-ed suicide junkie gamers, thin and pimply 15-year-olds, prepared to give the weekend and their clan their all. I looked away before they caught me staring.
Tom said that his mobile group had launched about 15 of these marathon LAN convention/fests around Texas and the country and, judging from the amount of luggage and PC setups, a lot of the gamers were staying at the hotel with their clans and taking part both in the cash and prizes tournaments and in the pick-up-game action. And of course they were, like, networking, only face-to-face. The LAN fest is fun because it's a group party with the emphasis on the group. It's like a DIY computer camp, and the particular kind of kid attending a LAN fest needs camp more than most.