4B SUNDAY, JULY 22, 2001 Local & State The Charlotte Observer
By Tim Whitmire
PINEVILLE - It's a dream come true for anyone who as a child was ever nagged by mom: "It's a beautiful day outside. Why don't you go outside and play in the fresh air?"
Inside a meeting room at the Golf Village minigolf center, the lights are off and a sheet hangs over the glass door, dimming the Saturday morning sunlight (and reducing glare) as more that 50 hard-core gamers stare at their monitors at The Carolina Armageddon! Lan Party.
Headphones are clamped over ears, hands glued to keyboards and mouses, as players compete in an assortment of online games, linked through servers by bundles of wire that hang from the ceiling.
In spite of all the death and destruction onscreen, the room is relatively quiet, thanks to the headphones, which channel the noise of firing bullets and concussive explosions into the players' ears.
This particular lan party (lan stands for local area network, which is what the gamers create when they link their computers) has met monthly since last fall. It is organized by the Carolina Computer Gaming Association, which rents the venue, organizes tournaments and provides servers.
Gamers pay $30.00 each and bring their own computer equipment (computer, keyboard, monitor, mouse, plus copies of the games in which they will compete). In return, they get a day of play on a high-speed network unaffected by time lags and jerky graphics that sometimes plague smaller setups.
Frank Shorter, who will be a Clemson computer engineering senior in the fall, came with a group to try out the party.
"At school, we've got informal lans," he said, but nothing like the organized competition at Saturday's event.
As the party's title suggests, nearly all the games played at the lan party are variations on the time-honored video game themes of search-and-destroy and shoot-'em-up.
Shorter enjoys the team play more than the violence.
"You get this image of the Columbine killer," he said, referring to the link many have made between video games and school violence. "But I can't stand blood. My brother watches "ER", and I make him turn it off."
Mick George sat at this computer with his daughter Sylvana, 11, at a computer to his left and his son Alexander, 10, to his right.
George, who lives in north Mecklenburg, said he's comfortable bringing his kids to the lan party. "The guys who put this lan party together, they sort of gear it toward the family," he said.
Sometimes Alexander and Sylvana team up, sometimes they compete.
"She always wants me on her team," Alexander said. "But sometimes I won't let her."
Organizers Glenn Fried and Robert Flowers, co-workers at a Charlotte software development firm, attracted about eight people to their first lan party. The event has grown each month since, Fried said.
Fried said he and Flowers are reinvesting their small profits, hoping to expand the parties and make them into big moneymakers. Their ultimate goal is to stage a massive, multiday party.
So far, Fried and Flowers have easily attracted sponsors looking to curry favor with gamers who have already shelled out between $1,000 and $1,500 to get stared in the hobby.
On Saturday, gamers looking for help staying awake could grab free bottles of the lan party's official drink, a super-caffeinated concoction called Bawls.* A state-of-the-art, $400 graphics card donated by its manufacturer was being given away as a door prize.**
Gamers are nothing if not serious about their hobby.
One player, Jesse Lovejoy, wore glasses that used a fast-moving shutter to create a realistic 3-D effect.
And many of the computer towers brought by gamers were customized with black paint, transparent cutouts showing the circuitry inside, even neon light.
The competition even had a spectator - Latice Fuentes, a college freshman-to-be from Cheraw, S.C., who came along with the Clemson contingent.
"I play sometimes, but I mainly like to watch," said Fuentes, one of only a few females present.
"She likes death and murder," joked her friend, Wes Sullivan.
"Most of these guys met through gaming," Fuentes said. "They have a Web site for their little clan, and I'm their official cheerleader."
Tim Whitmire (704) 358-5046;
*Minor correction...Bawls are for sale, not free...yet...Lefty
** The GeForce 3 card was provided courtesy of our sponsor, Two Geeks. Thank you very much Two Geeks!!!