November 08, 2006

Public Affairs Reporting (#3)

LAN24 Party a Success
by: Andrew Hayward

Stepping foot into room 136 of the Harold E. White Aviation Center on the night of Saturday, October 21st revealed not a single active light – only glow. The glow of two-dozen computer monitors, the glow of projectors and backlit screens, and the glow of handheld devices of all sorts.

While an optometrist might have taken issue with the lighting (or lack thereof), the students and their companions attending the LAN24 party at Lewis University seemed to have no problem with the situation. The LAN (local area network) party was not the first to be held by Prometheon, a computer science and creative arts club, but was easily the largest to date, playing host to fifty paying individuals during its twenty-plus hours of operation.

LAN parties typically have gamers bring in their own computers to a central location, connecting them via a local area network to compete against one another in a number of popular games. However, as the line between console and PC gaming has dissipated in recent years, a LAN party has become more of a catch-all event that presents a number of entertainment choices to attendees.

Holding a LAN party was an easy choice for Prometheon, as it served as both a social event and a fundraiser. “It’s not like we’re going to hold a dance or something like that,” claimed Dr. Ray Klump, faculty advisor to the group. “It’s really the natural kind of social activity for this group.”

Prometheon formed in early 2005 as a way for like-minded students to congregate and work on projects, regardless of their majors. Though largely populated by Computer Science majors, the group also features Biology and Aviation Maintenance students, among others. Though the group had held several smaller events in the last year and a half, the LAN24 party was intended to top them all – and required a change of venue in the process.

“This is our first one that’s in this building, because before, we were always in S120 and S121 in the Science Building,” said Chris Conmy, treasurer of Prometheon. In fact, power issues forced the group to move their latest LAN party to the Harold E. White Aviation Center, as it was one of the only buildings on campus with enough juice to maintain power for all of the computers, console systems, and other related devices in use.

With the aim to create a bigger and better event, the group decided to hold a twenty-four hour overnight party, thus explaining the LAN24 moniker. Club members showed up around 11:00am on Saturday, October 21st, with registration beginning thirty minutes thereafter. Lewis students were required to show their student IDs, while non-students had to leave their drivers licenses as a safety deposit. As the event was not run by Lewis faculty, the group would have been held responsible for any damage done to school property.

To circumvent this issue, attendees were forced to sign a waiver, holding each person responsible for his or her actions. No alcohol was allowed at the event, and all attendees were given an orange wristband, which allowed them to come and go during the course of the party. A flexible registration fee allowed attendees the ability to customize their experience. Gamers who brought along their computers were charged a ten-dollar entry fee, while those who came for the console games and non-PC-related activities were charged just five dollars.

A tentative schedule was introduced, splitting the twenty-four hour period into four-hour segments like “console tournaments” and “real-time strategy games,” but there were many on-going activities throughout much of the event. A PlayStation 2 system running fan-favorite “Guitar Hero” was setup on a projector, allowing attendees to live out their rock and roll fantasies on a guitar-shaped plastic controller.

The large, backlit screen in the room was used for Nintendo GameCube games, such as “Soul Calibur II” and “Super Smash Bros. Melee.” A twenty-four person tournament was held for “Smash Bros.” on Saturday evening, with the eventual winner taking home a forty-dollar prize. Tabletop and board games were also present at the event, and movies and Japanese anime were shown during the late hours. A separate room with another backlit screen played host to a Japanese import PlayStation 2 system, allowing gamers to play “Pop’n Music 8” or one of the “Dance Dance Revolution” titles.

Of course, the computers received plenty of attention. Gamers were sighted playing “Battlefield 2142,” “The Sims 2,” and “Star Wars: Empire at War.” Real-time strategy favorite “Warcraft III” was played in an impromptu tournament, albeit one without a cash prize. Some of the most popular multiplayer titles on the market are Mature-rated first-person shooters, and games like “Prey,” “Quake III Arena,” and “F.E.A.R.” had gamers battling for virtual supremacy. However, not everyone had high praise for an event that featured violent games.

In the weeks leading up to the event, at least one unidentified faculty member questioned the intentions of an event that featured violent videogames. According to Dr. Klump, “there was some concern raised by some people about the nature of this event, because some people view videogames as promoting violence and aggressive behavior.” The faculty member alerted Student Services, who then asked the group for some clarification about the nature of the party and what it would entail.

“The faculty member tried to couch it in science, which is wonderful. We need to be aware of the research,” said Dr. Klump. “I just know that for this particular group of students, I don’t see anything but positives.”

Rather than choose sides, the group took it as an opportunity to reflect on the subject and try to understand the opposing point of view. “We have a board, a discussion board, and I raised the topic in an effort to try to get people to debate it and think it through,” said Dr. Klump. “Those who responded have responded very thoughtfully, and that’s good – that’s what we need to do. A healthy debate is good.”

Dorian Jarrette, publicity chair for Prometheon, affirmed the positive outlook. “I think it’s great that a faculty member voiced [his or her] opinion,” he said, further noting that “the university has never had a problem with us. The administration has never tried to stop us.” Jarrette later stated that “the club does not promote violence,” and that it is a “social base where any student of any major can come and have fun while working on technical hobbies.”

While there may have been some debate over the nature of the event, one thing that seems certain is the success of the event. Though it ended just shy of the twenty-four hour mark (around 10:00am on Sunday), the LAN24 party drew fifty attendees, including seventeen non-students and a handful of faculty/staff participants. “Prometheon's previous events were fun, but they could not even come close to the level of excitement that LAN24 created,” said Jarrette. “I foresee the LAN Parties becoming an attraction for all members of the Lewis community.”

Dr. Klump also considers the LAN parties to be a positive for all Lewis students: “What I see this kind of event doing is building a sense of community. [Computer Science] majors and majors from other disciplines are getting along and making friendships like we haven’t seen in a long time. This kind of community activity is a really good thing.”

Not only did the event affect the hearts and minds of the participants, but a portion of the proceeds raised by the entry fees and baked goods sold during the event will be donated to University Ministry. The group has done this with past events, and Jarrette noted the need to give back to those who make the LAN parties possible: “We figured if the university is going to be cool with us and help us out in promoting the event, we should give something back.”

The remaining funds will be used to further current and upcoming Prometheon projects. Next semester, the group plans to create an original computer game based on the “Half-Life 2” game engine. Prometheon recently purchased three LEGO Mindstorm kits, and the group members are currently working on programming the robots to do a variety of tasks, including the ability to sense motion. Other tasks for the group include painting an arcade machine that they assembled last semester, as well as creating a permanent setup to be used for future LAN parties.

The next Prometheon LAN party is tentatively set for late December, following finals week. Information about the club can be found by searching for “Prometheon” on the Lewis University website, and details about the next party should be posted in the weeks prior to the next event. Though the next party may not be as extravagant as the LAN24 event, Jarrette believes it will provide another opportunity to bring people together.

“Many of today's youth communicate through electronic media more frequently than through the classic, natural lines of communication,” he said. “The LAN party is a way for young people of today to combine their love of electronic media with the classic sense of human contact.”

(The final printed version got chopped down a bit near the end, so I'm posting my original version. I think it's better in long-form, but then again, I wrote it that way.)