While world sleeps ... gamers get their fix

Video play keeps local computer group going all night long


Bryce Masse does battle with multiple monitors as part of a team of gamers competing at a recent gathering. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald

Bryce Masse does battle with multiple monitors as part of a team of gamers competing at a recent gathering.

It's 1 a.m., and about 30 partiers are standing outside in heavy snow, cracking open cans and chugging as part of a drinking contest.

A closer look, however, reveals that the revelers are slamming Mountain Dew, not cheap beer, and when they return inside it will be to digitized race courses and war zones, not drunken antics.

But that's not to say this crowd isn't a little crazy: They got started at 6 p.m. and will play games on an elaborately networked system until the sun peeks over the horizon around 7 a.m.

Durango LAN Parties – LAN stands for local area network – began in the summer of 1999, briefly holding the name Durango Gaming Consortium.

The desire of gamers to practice their habit, er, hobby, in large gatherings has become a global phenomena. A LAN party in Sweden set a world record with 12,757 attendees in November 2010.

The setting for the Durango tournaments is as unlikely as it is logical: La Plata Electric Association's headquarters in Bodo Industrial Park.

Once a month in a large conference room at the electric cooperative, dozens of gamers bring their own computers and cables to network them together and play games such as Day of Defeat, Counterstrike, Unreal Tournament and the racing game Grid.

(LPEA spokeswoman Indiana Reed said the conference room is available for use by community groups when not otherwise occupied.)

As the hours tick by, the walls of the conference room reverberate with the sounds of automatic rifle fire, explosions and squealing tires.

Tournament winners at the most recent LAN party in December split about $400 in prizes ranging from hard drives to headphones.

Though the games lean toward the violent, the gamers say they are there for the camaraderie and friendship. And the station wagons and hatchbacks – the best option for transporting computers and monitors – demonstrate the need for speed here is measured in gigahertz and RAM, not horsepower or mph.

Rob Meier, LPEA manager of engineering who has programmed his own computer games, likens the hobby to past generations souping up muscle cars, with one key benefit.

“It's not against the law,” Meier said. “You can go as fast as you want with your computer until it melts down without hurting anybody.”

Lending credence to Meier's theory is one machine bearing the name General Lee 2.0, with signature orange paint and the 01 numeral used by the Duke Boys.

Alex Vandergrift, who placed second in two of the night's tournaments, said despite the theme of many games, they don't encourage fast driving or violence. Besides, he said, in today's society people get exposed to violent imagery regardless.

Studies on the topic disagree, with some stating that any attempt to link video-game play to violent behavior is impossible. Others, such as an Iowa State University study involving 3,033 participants and published by the American Psychological Society, concluded, “High video-game violence was definitely associated with heightened aggression.”

Vandergrift maintains it is just good stress relief.

“You can be worked up from a day's work and go home and play Grand Theft Auto and have some fun and not be wanting to go out and do something bad,” he said.

Vandergrift acknowledges gaming can be addictive but maintains his addiction takes him away from homework for only a while.

Bryce Masse corrects himself when he refers to it as his “habit.”

“I suppose hobby is the word I was looking for,” said Masse, whose computer cost upward of $4,000 and has three monitors. “It's cheaper than a drug addiction, I'll say that.”

Though competition is what gives them a rush, the atmosphere is convivial and easygoing. Husband and wife Derek and Haley Webb sit side by side laughing hysterically as they challenge each other while Stuart McCracken, a gamer from London, visits with Durango girlfriend Kelsey Parks.

“We're all friends. It's all community, whether we're in high school, college or a 36-year-old playing games, leaving his wife and kids at home,” says event organizer Sean Leonard, referring in the latter case to Meier.

By 7 a.m., the cases of Mountain Dew are gone, tables cleaned, floor vacuumed and chairs pushed in. They drove untold miles and fired untold amounts of ammunition, but nobody got hurt, and on Monday morning, there is no trace of the party that raged all night.

jstephenson@durangoherald.com

Cases of Mountain Dew fuel fast moving fingers at a Durango gathering of gamers. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald

Cases of Mountain Dew fuel fast moving fingers at a Durango gathering of gamers.

While married couple Haley and Derek Webb digitally duke it out on their computers, Haley’s sister Kelsey Parks, background center, shares a laugh with her visiting boyfriend from London, Stuart McCracken, left, and Brian Hill. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald

While married couple Haley and Derek Webb digitally duke it out on their computers, Haley’s sister Kelsey Parks, background center, shares a laugh with her visiting boyfriend from London, Stuart McCracken, left, and Brian Hill.

Brett Masse of Durango celebrates a round of gaming. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald

Brett Masse of Durango celebrates a round of gaming.

Morgan Blue, right, and event organizer Sean Leonard finish a round of gaming at about 1 a.m. in the La Plata Electric Association conference room. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald

Morgan Blue, right, and event organizer Sean Leonard finish a round of gaming at about 1 a.m. in the La Plata Electric Association conference room.

Alex Vandergrift battles his way into second place during one of several tournaments. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald

Alex Vandergrift battles his way into second place during one of several tournaments.

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