I have been pretty interested in the idea of LAN parties lately. I guess what sparked my interest is that one day a few months ago (via some simple facebook stalking), I found out that a colleague of mine from high school was studying abroad in Europe last fall, and he traveled to DreamHack, the biggest LAN party in the world! I was checking it out and apparently there were over 10,000 people there. It’s kind of interesting how they’ve really created a festival around the celebration of computers and the digital age; it’s like the Woodstock of the tech world.

I guess I am also fascinated with the social dynamics of LAN parties. While there are those like DreamHack that are full-on computer festivals, I don’t really get the point of everyone getting together in the same room to sit and play a computer game that they could play from their homes. Most LAN parties are obviously not the size of DreamHack; some can be as small as a few friends getting together to game (see photo below).

In these cases, I think the social aspects are interesting. The standard critique of gamers is that they isolate themselves and participate in sometimes violent, potentially brain-rotting activities when they should be getting out of the house and adopting some more socially acceptable hobby. But I tend to think that LAN parties provide a social setting for people who share a common interest to get together and do what they love. How is that different from a book club getting together, or a bunch of musicians getting together for a jam session?

Over January Term I took a book discussion class on the book Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson. He made a somewhat compelling argument that video games actually bring people together rather than force them to isolate themselves. Additionally, video games definitely do require mental capacity; they’re not just activities for lazy people.

I personally think that events like DreamHack in Sweden sound pretty awesome. I’m definitely not a gamer (except perhaps in the case of the incredibly addictive bubble shooter), but I think the festival would be fun to attend to learn about computers and the digital age in general. I’m not sure Woodstock provided its guests with the same educational experience that DreamHack-goers receive. But maybe some people, while at DreamHack, could go to a music festival in Second Life?

Either way, does anyone think the Smith College conference fund would subsidize costs for a student who wanted to attend DreamHack? Or maybe a certain American Studies department could sponsor its Digital Ecology class on a field trip?? Just an idea.

Below is a panoramic photo from DreamHack. Pretty cool, right?