What ever happened to LAN parties?

LAN parties were big quite a while ago…mainly before the Internet came into its fullest. What ever happened to them?

What LAN parties were is simply a group of friends who would each bring their own PC over to someone’s house and play video games over a Local Area Network or LAN. For those who don’t know, this was simply a network switch (or hub if you are really old school) where everyone plugged their PCs into and therefore were attached together on their own network. Think of it as a micro-sized Internet.

Video games were primarily distributed on physical media in those days. Over the years, this progressed from floppy disk to CDs to DVDs. You did not need a connection to the Internet to install, play, or update your games. In the earliest days of LAN parties, in fact, there was no Internet. You had to know a little bit about networking in order to host a LAN party. The first LAN party hosts had to grapple with a selection of networking protocols and topologies. For the PCs to talk, each had to be setup to use the same topology and networking protocol. While everything today is Ethernet and TCP/IP, the earliest LAN party hosts had to choose between many varieties, such as the popular IPX/SPX.

The first LAN party I played was a game called Snipes. This came packaged with Novell’s Netware software, an early Network Operating System (NOS.) In fact, it was one of the first networked games, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipes_(video_game)) I was a network engineer in those days and we played it at work, since networks were exceedingly rare in homes in those days.

The first successful home based LAN party game I can recall was Doom by ID Software, and it essentially ushered in the era of LAN parties. In those days, LAN parties were the only realistic way to play networked games. The Internet was still in its infancy and largely unrecognizable by today’s standard. Back in those days it was little more than University databases searchable through things like Gopher, Archie, and Veronica, and professional services such as CIS (CompuServe Information Service.) The Internet, as people know it today, (i.e., the World Wide Web,) was only a handful of servers in select locations.

Over the next decade or so, while the Internet matured into what it is today, LAN parties grew in popularity and almost every multiplayer title was released with built-in support for LAN play. I have many fond memories of playing many games with friends at one house or another, StarCraft, Hexen, Doom, Quake, Baldur’s Gate, MOHAA (Medal of Honor Allied Assault,) Half-Life, Age of Empires, Empire Earth, and so many more.

So, fast-forward to today, and you see a completely different landscape. We still play multiplayer games, but it’s not quite the same thing. Some might say we have evolved, but I’m not quite so sure. With the evolution of the Internet and online gaming, we can now play with virtually anyone from anywhere in the world. Multiplayer gaming has become more competitive and a player’s prowess and bragging rights has become a public spotlight to share with the world. We now have achievements that we can post, so that others might admire our accomplishments.

At the same time, we’ve seemed to lost one of the best parts of multiplayer gaming…playing with friends. Today’s social interactions are now limited to essentially anonymous players behind arbitrary screen names who I, for one, don’t find much comradery with. I can tell you that one of the best things about LAN parties was after the game was over, when you and your friends could talk about the gameplay, brag about superior actions, begrudgingly accepting defeat, and then share strategies for the next round, all the while sharing in those out-of-game social interactions that you just won’t get with online gaming. We’d often stop at some point in the party to order some pizza or have a barbecue, and we’d still be talking the whole while about the gameplay. This is an aspect of multiplayer gaming that seems to be lost to the annals of history.

The topic of LAN parties recently came up with some of my friends and I, and we regaled over the glory days of old LAN parties, and it made me wonder how many of today’s gamers have even had the luxury to experience one. The video game industry seems to have entirely embraced online multiplayer gaming, and fewer and fewer games even offer you the option to play over a LAN; those that still do seem to bury the option in an elusive corner of the menu.

In the end, my friends and I decided we need to bring our LAN parties back, even if that means digging up those golden oldies that marked a large part of our early gaming years. We are planning to host our LAN party at our new business that we are starting, Square One Clubs, by the end of the year. If you have an opportunity to host one of your own, I would highly recommend it. Together, maybe we can once again popularize one of the best things ever to happen to video games. With recognition and all due respect to those few who never let them go.