News, Views, and Reviews
I have worked in video game centers for nearly a decade, and I always hear the same questions: “what kind of place is this?” or “what do you do here” and “what IS a video game center?”
For those that have been to a video game center or something like it, the answer is obvious: A video game center provides a large number of individual gaming stations that allows multiple customers to play video games with or against one another in the same building or online. But what does that mean, and where did the idea for video game centers even come from?
To answer these questions, we can look back to the history of video games. Even the first, simplest video games encouraged competitive gaming between two or more people. Believe it or not, one of the very first video games ever invented was a two player game called “Space War!” and one of its variants named “Orbit War!” linked up to eight arcade cabinets together, for four versus four LAN matches! A “LAN” is a “Local Area Network” and predates the modern internet, as it directly connects several devices together, usually in the same room. Arcades, personal computers, home consoles, and even the internet can trace their origins back to brilliant inventors developing ways of getting people to play games with each other.
From this history, we learn there has always been an important social aspect to the video game industry. As a boy, I could walk up to any machine in an arcade and play a game with a complete stranger, and we would immediately have at least one thing in common: the love of playing video games. Arcades eventually gave way to home consoles and computers, and then we all became connected to the internet. Before there was something called “Xbox Live” I would gather up my original Xbox and a TV and go to Halo LAN parties, where up to sixteen of us would play in epic Halo matches all night long. As fun as these LAN parties were, setting them up could be challenging, so young entrepreneurs set up permanent businesses dedicated to hosting video game LAN matches all the time. Even today, some people call video game centers “LAN centers” or “modern arcades” or just “gaming centers” for short, in reference to those origins. Popular LAN center games included “Halo” on the Xbox, and games like “Battlefield 1942” and “CounterStrike” on the PC. Like “Orbit War!”, these weren’t simple two player games; they had sixteen or more players and required just as much strategy and teamwork as reflexes. Large, team oriented games like these helped support that social aspect of video games, but gaming evolved from local matches to global matches via the internet.
Modern technology allows us to connect and relate with each other in ways these inventors couldn’t have imagined years ago, but that convenience can sometimes come at the price of anonymity or losing the opportunity for meaningful social interactions. In short, my usual answer to the question “what do you do here?” in a video game center is simple: preserve the social aspect of video games. When customers go to a video game center, its not just to play video games, it’s to interact with others. They can bring their friends and have their own spontaneous “LAN party” or they can meet new people and make new friends. The convenience of playing games online is great, but nothing beats the fun and satisfaction of playing with others in the same room. Many modern games cater to ten or one-hundred or more players in a game, or more intimate two to four player co-operative games where everyone is assisting each other. The ever popular “MMO” genre (Massively Multi-player Online) boasts millions of subscribers. New competitive games like Starcraft 2 and League of Legends have millions of players around the world, with the potential for some players to earn a living as professional virtual athletes. Yes, all of these games can be played from the solitude of one’s own home with an internet connection and a head set, but it’s the social atmosphere of a video game center that will bring out the most fun in a gaming experience.
What is a video game center? It’s a LAN center, a modern arcade, and a video gaming room. It’s a place to play video games with your friends and make new friends. People can play competitive or co-operative games in small groups or large groups. They can even play single player games next to their friends, that are playing other games on their own screens, but at least they are being social. A video game center can have casual game nights or professional tournaments, birthday parties or bachelor parties, or epic “48 Straight” non-stop gaming marathons. Support the social aspect of video games, and support your local video game center!