At the turn of the millennium, when high-speed broadband wasn’t widespread and online multiplayer gaming was less common, video game enthusiasts lugged gigantic CRT monitors and desktop towers to each other’s homes. Then, they physically hooked their PCs up to each other using LAN cables to battle each other in games like Diablo II and StarCraft.
The long sessions, often fueled by junk food and Mountain Dew, were called LAN parties, and they defined an era in which video gaming started transitioning from hobbyist pursuit to mainstream mainstay.
Today, fast broadband and sophisticated online gameplay have killed LAN parties. But a new book aims to preserve the nostalgia of the bygone area in glossy, hardbound pages.
LAN Party, by New York–based video game designer, writer, editor, and podcaster Merritt K, will feature more than 450 photographs of LAN parties from around the world. The crowdfunded title will be out by fall 2023 via Read-Only Memory, a boutique British publisher of books about video game history and culture. It’s available to preorder right now.
“A lot of what technology does today is provide a way for people to not interact with other people in person,” Merritt told BuzzFeed News. “Most gaming today is done online with strangers over Discord or whatever. You’re usually not in the same room. So I think there’s something really appealing about these photos of LAN parties showing people actually hanging out and goofing off in person.”
Merritt didn’t grow up going to many LAN parties herself. “I never owned a gaming PC because my family couldn’t afford one,” she said. But as a teenager, she sometimes tagged along with friends who attended them. “A lot of the culture represented in these photos is my childhood,” she said.
The genesis of the book was a viral tweet that Merritt posted more than a year ago.
Soon, she was flooded with DMs and emails from people sending her pictures from LAN parties they attended 20 years ago. The pictures represent more than just the communal experience of teens playing video games together. They capture the artifacts that defined the technological revolution that was sweeping the world in the first decade of this century: Long cables snake across floors, desks, and countertops; bootleg copies of games burned onto discs labeled in marker lie scattered under cardboard plates filled with half-eaten slices of cake; and oversized headphones sit next to gaming mice.
Most photographs are from the US, where the space afforded by large suburban homes to set up a dozen or so computers made LAN parties popular weekend pursuits. But Merritt was also able to get pictures from parts of Europe, Africa, and South America.
Tracking down the rights to each photo was tough, according to Merritt. But there was an additional challenge — most of the pictures in her book were taken from digital cameras of 20 years ago, devices that had considerably lower resolution than today’s smartphone cameras. This meant that printing them in a book would be nearly impossible.
To get around this, publisher Read-Only Memory is using Gigapixel AI, image-processing software from Texas-based Topaz Labs that upscales low-resolution images using machine learning and neural networks.
But why not just make a website instead of a book? “There’s a poetic resonance between the physicality of a LAN party and the physicality of a book,” Merritt said. “It just makes a lot of sense to me.”