War Games

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"You'll notice she's not here," adds co-worker Todd Christensen wryly, affixing a giant "LanCamp: Fueled by Bawls" banner on one of the walls.

Between the huge LAN parties like Desert Bash, group members take turns hosting smaller get-togethers like the Zborg Mini-Bash. For many of the guys, who either work in computer-related fields or are taking night classes at DeVry or other specialized schools to get into it, the regular LAN parties provide an opportunity to get wild and crazy with the technology they toil over by day.

"A lot of us work in the computer field," says Lock Langdon, who logs in by the name Jestyr when playing games. "But we're limited in what we can do with the computers at work. Here, we can do whatever we want and just have fun."

Langdon notes that in the games, he and his pals can take on personalities that are often much more colorful and uninhibited than they could ever be on the job.

"It used to be, the IT guys were kind of left alone," he says, recalling the salad days of the Internet boom when geeks were prized enough to be spared from the typical office restraints of dress codes and clock-punching. "Now, they expect you to come to meetings and be a little more involved in the corporate infrastructure. It's a little more confining than it used to be."

At LAN parties, office drones normally confined to spreadsheets, and young computer junkies accustomed to parents peeking over their shoulders, get to take their obsession to the max, sitting blissfully glued to their monitors, sucking down high-caffeine sodas and playing nothing but games until the break of dawn.

It's an odd application of the extreme sports mentality, lending a renegade "we do what we want!" attitude to predilections that are, underneath it all, pretty nerdy. In any other testosterone-filled convention, the sight of a bunch of grown men wearing matching shirts with nicknames like Chuckie, Keefer and J Dogg stitched in the back would be prime-choice bully bait. But at Desert Bash, in the geeky-as-you-wanna-be environs of the LAN party, the CKUA guys proudly pose for group pictures in their gaming uniforms and revel in the admiration of other clans.

"We thought about doing shirts like that," Young tells Chuckie, a gray-haired gamer with the CKUA clan. "But we couldn't afford the stitching."

At huge LAN parties like Desert Bash, where there are enough battling gamers to fill a downtown warehouse, computers are the weapons. And the guy with the fastest, smoothest and most responsive rig in the house is the Jedi knight of the conquests.

Harrison Egge, a shy, unemployed part-time community college student who enjoys building things with his dad, is known to have one of the fastest-running machines in LanCamp -- as well as one of the most talked-about case mods: a water-cooled contraption using a four-foot-tall handmade bong to keep his CPU running half a gigahertz faster than normal.

"I just wanted to do something off the wall," Egge says of the design, which makes ironic use of the laid-back hippie icon in the highly wired world of gaming. But the bong, which chugs along loudly in the living room of his dad's modest manufactured home in north Phoenix (the system, alas, turned out to be too large and unwieldy to tote to the LAN party), was only built to keep the computer running cool enough to further Egge in his primary obsession: overclocking.

"Overclocking is when you mess with the BIOS to make the computer run faster," he attempts to explain in plain English. "Right now, I've got a 400 megahertz overclocked from 1.8 gigahertz to 2.2. I'm gonna try pretty soon to go to 2.3, now that I can safely up the voltage to 2 volts."

For Egge, who goes by the call name Deathbringer, the obsession with speed goes beyond just trying to make Battlefield and Unreal Tournament run without a lag. "It does get to a point, up around 3 gigahertz, where your computer is fast enough to run any game out there," he admits. "But for me, I get more enjoyment out of seeing just how fast I can get it. A lot of people talk about you once you hit, like, 4 gigahertz with a Pentium 4. That's kind of the sweet spot right now."

Indeed, sometimes the race to be the first to log into a game is a high-glory game in itself. "A lot of us race to see who'll be the first on a server whenever a map changes in the game," says Young, whose processor, video and sound card have all been overclocked to run at extra-fast speeds. "On a lot of servers, they'll give you a list of who loads first. And if a server gets full, it'll kick the slower ones to let other players on."

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern