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Online is great, but the joy of a LAN party is still unmatched

In the age of online play, sometimes getting all your mates over for drinks and games is still the best call

This past weekend, my friends and I held the latest entry in an on-going tradition: a yearly LAN party. Every year, without fail, the party reminds me of something that should be unforgettable – you really can’t beat gaming together in the same room.

It’s been easier to forget it over the last year, of course. We haven’t had an opportunity to see each other. We squeaked the 2020 LAN in right before the whole pandemic thing exploded, but the 2021 iteration was called off, exchanged for a casual series of online games. But, damn, it felt good to be back in the same room.

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So, I set up the house, everybody posted a negative test the morning of, and a bunch of buddies piled into my place for a 12-hour gaming-and-drinking session this last Saturday. We had six PCs - and though there were quite a few more than six of us, we made sure nobody was bored with other activities. In the living room: the Oculus Quest, plus a Switch with Smash, Mario Golf, Mario Party, and other multiplayer delights. Elsewhere, there was a dartboard and a beer pong table. We all got rather drunk and had a lot of fun. The center of the action was the dining room, though, where the six PCs were networked with one bonus screen spurred off to ‘mirror’ the displays in the kitchen as a spectator area.

One of the great things about our yearly LAN, for me, is the breadth of the games and the sense of discovery - which remains even for somebody like me who spends all day every day thinking about video games. It’s one thing to be discussing what you’ve been playing down the pub, or over Discord, but it’s quite another to be experiencing and showcasing it all together.

I got to see games played that I hadn’t thought about for years (DEFCON), new games I’ve barely had time to experience played at a decently high level (Age of Empires 4), and games I’ve always meant to play but never quite got around to (Ultimate General: Gettysburg). Some people showed off solo stuff, like selling friends on the excellent Mini Metro and SimCasino, or displaying a brilliant, dumb Sekiro boss strat (although maybe it's not quite the blindfolded masterclass we saw at AGDQ 2022).

I played recent stuff that I’m still learning (taking a local 4-man Halo Infinite squad online) and ancient stuff at which I think I’m a sage master (Command & Conquer Red Alert 3, Street Fighter 4). There were even unlikely favorites that aren’t even traditional LAN games, too – like a round where everyone tried their hands at Fall Guys and one guy went all the way, the rest of us screaming and cheering behind him.

The show-and-tell aspect stretches beyond games, too, of course. People have new rigs, new GPUs, wanky RGB setups. We run the gamut; some have laptops, some pre-builds, some custom setups. I’m also proud of my guests, especially those who aren’t as wired into the tech community, for the fact that not one of them turned up having succumbed to the notification pressure to install Windows 11. Good going!

These friends and I have a Discord server, and in smaller groups we play online regularly. Halo, in particular, has inspired a good amount of online play lately. We see each other all the time outside of the context of video games, too, so the magic doesn’t come from seeing friends in person once in a blue moon or whatever. It’s all about the games. There’s just something special, something better, about playing games in person. In my heart, I know this, as I’m an arcade evangelist. The feeling of playing fighting games at a machine, where your opponent's movements on the stick actually jostle the hardware, is unbeatable. Everybody knows that.

But it’s easy to forget how much fun other genres like shooters and strategy games are when you’re all in the same room together. Or even watching; it’s like Twitch, but in person! A phenomenal idea!? I’m being dumb, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth to a joke like that. I don’t really watch twitch, but I watched a slow-ass RTS back-and-forth with great interest on Saturday.

So, coming off the back of my LAN, I implore you all: try getting some buddies together for some multi-screen multiplayer. It doesn’t even have to be on PCs, or technically a LAN - stack up some TVs and online-connected consoles if you must - but just get together in the same room, and game. For me, it’s still gaming at its most magical.

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