These incredible LAN party photos remind us how much work it used to be to play games together

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For a subset of PC gamers, happiness was a basement crammed with off-white tower PCs, interlaced extension cables, two-liter bottles of full-sugar Coca-Cola, and enough players to fill out both the Terrorist and Counter-Terrorist sides on de_dust. LAN parties represent a blip in time. The multiplayer revolution was well underway by the late 1990s—Quake and Doom had conquered college campuses, and Microsoft was preparing a new console with a built-in ethernet port—but cyberspace itself had not yet caught up to our insurgent bandwidth demands. The 100-player headcounts of Warzone and Battlefield were but a dream. The only way to circumvent that deficiency? A bunch of LAN cables and enough friends willing to schlep their machines to the makeshift arena for a big night in.

My interaction with computers today is often rote and negative. I think a lot of people in their 20s and 30s feel that way.

Merritt K

This is the subject of LAN Party (opens in new tab), an upcoming photobook from writer and game designer Merritt K (opens in new tab), which reproduces over 400 greasy snapshots of the era, specifically the years between 1997 and 2004. Flip through the book’s 176 pages and you’ll find pyramids of empty Mountain Dew cans, fat CRT monitors perched precariously on kitchen tables, and a whole inventory of regrettably X-Treme fashion decisions. It is a loving tribute to gamer putrescence.

(Image credit: Lewis van den Berg-Shaw / featured in LAN Party)

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I am 31 years old, which means the images summon up something indescribable within me: a bizarre amalgam of joy, wistfulness, melancholy, retroactive embarrassment, and, perhaps, a twinge of lost innocence. Perhaps we keep playing videogames into adulthood in order to chase down a bygone sublimity lost to our youth. I am incapable of articulating that sensation precisely, but with Merritt’s book, we can at least point to a photo of a bunch of teenagers gearing up for a marathon Diablo 2 session under the watchful eyes of a Goodfellas poster, and hope everyone else gets the idea.