A few days ago, I noticed some photos posted on a friend’s wall on Facebook. Peng Tiong had managed to pull off hosting an enormous LAN gaming party at my old residential college, International House (IH). He got a number of people that would have never classified themselves as geeks (or nerds or whatever derivation you like) involved and enjoying themselves.
Before we launch into the interview, let me explain the concept of a ‘residential college’ at the University of Melbourne for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Australian use of the term “college”. It is sort of a cross between a straight up dorm hall and a fraternity/sorority atmosphere. There are approximately 300 students living at International House – they will each have a room to themselves. There is also a “Student Club Committee” that is elected by the students that live there. This committee is in charge of the money and assets that the students themselves own (independent of the administration of the college) and are usually in charge of running events for students at the college.
Basically, 300 students from the University live, eat, and play together in this little collection of buildings – and there are currently 12 different colleges at University of Melbourne that sometimes engage in intercollegiate events. You can read more about residential colleges here.
The point is, though, that there is usually quite a diverse group of people at these colleges – and International House is one of the most diverse of those at University of Melbourne. So it was quite a feat for the IH LAN Party Group to have hosted a gaming event that so many non-gamer-types showed up to. It’s really nice to see a real-world gaming community being accepted and celebrated by the so-called ‘other side’.
I managed to interview Peng Tiong about the spread of gamer culture at International House and about organizing the event.
Read the full interview after the jump!
Let’s start with the IH LAN Party Group. Why don’t you describe to me exactly what this group is and what you do?
The LAN Party Group is just a Facebook group that started when I first came to IH last year. I didn’t start it, it was started by a guy named Jonathan. It basically started just so we could play Halo and it took off from there because we actually found that a lot of the guys really liked gaming in general.
So it became a forum for us to update on when we’re playing games, how we’re doing it, and also general support for gamers at IH. It then evolved from just Halo to Halo 2, CoD, and now it’s just going in all directions – we’ve got guys playing DoTA and we’re even hosting the Games Expos, which is the event you noticed.
It’s really taken off as a page where you can just talk to a community of gamers.
When did the parties, like the actual getting together and playing, first begin?
Well it started from the very beginning – the group was initially created for LAN parties. And then it evolved. At first we were having physical parties, where we had a switch and people connected through that. We then started playing off the college ethernet system, and it became a lot more convenient and people played a lot more often.
It’s kinda now transitioning back to having both – we can have that kind of physical connection so we can be sitting there and yell at each other over the table, but then also have more frequent ‘virtual’ LAN parties over the ethernet, played from our rooms.
How often do you guys play?
It depends on the semester and the guys who are in the group, really. There was one point when we were playing basically every night, and that was right before exams, which was not good, haha. But there are slow periods, especially when people have assignments and just can’t get on.
Especially with the new semester and the new year [Australia is in the southern hemisphere so the University year begins in March and the second semester begins in August], we have a much more diverse group now.
See, last semester, and even last year, we had a solid CoD group and just loved CoD. Now we have people who enjoy both RPGs and FPS, so it becomes a bit more difficult to organize, but it’s getting there.
So at parties do you guys play both First Person Shooters and Roleplaying Games?
At the latest one, at the Games Expo, we did, but usually we only play one or the other. We are open to suggestions and it all depends on what people want to do.
Do you guys sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the college or has it just been a good fit? Basically, were there any negatives from organizing this group?
At first, you kinda feel like there is this sort of cohesion. I wouldn’t really call it isolation, in fact it’s the opposite; theres this cohesiveness that has formed in this group. But yeah, sometimes you do feel like there’s this group and then there’s IH.
So it creates a bit of exclusivity?
Yeah, there is. But, as it went on, and as we expanded and included much more games and became much more diverse, we’ve actually got most of IH participating. So it’s gone from being an exclusive group to being an incredibly inclusive group really. It’s still exclusive but includes everyone, you know what I mean?
Yeah like those who don’t really consider themselves ‘gamers’ on a regular basis might join just to see what it’s like?
Yeah definitely. We had our current Student President come in and she told me she hated gaming, absolutely hated it. But because she was so interested in what we had to offer, she came in to take a look at what we were doing.
What was really notable was that a few of the guys actually went and created a replica of IH on Minecraft and that attracted a lot of people. So you don’t really have to be a gamer, because you can just come and be like “Cool, that’s a virtual International House, that’s where I live!”
There are other colleges at Melbourne University, so do you also have LAN parties with them? Is it competitive?
Not currently, we’ve been having ideas around that though. I’ve been working with Harry and Ben [who is the liaison with the other colleges] to see if we can organize an intercollegiate LAN party but because of the amount of organization required to go into that, we haven’t yet been able to do that. It’s something we’ve definitely considered but no one has had the time to organize!
So let’s talk about this Games Expo I saw on Facebook, what date was that?
31st of August. Last day of winter.
Great time to play games! How many people showed up?
We had 30+ gamers. I had actually planned for much less – last time we had a LAN party we had about 25 people to play CoD. We ran out of space that time, so this time I actively put out an extra two tables and we still ran out of space!
We had more than 40+ people in the room at any one time as well, including the spectators. But that was at any one time, I’m sure if you add it all up with people coming and going there were a lot more people than that all up.
We did have food set up as well, so people kinda came for the food as well as looking at the games.
What games were played?
On the night itself we didn’t actually play CoD. But we played Left for Dead 2, DoTA (Warcraft), Age of Empires and Unreal Tournament (which is one of the first of its kind and was quite nostalgic). And we had Minecraft as well.
Did I see that up on a projector?
Yes! We actually set up the projector to show the IH replica we’d created on Minecraft, and I guess to exhibit some of the other games we were playing as well. But yeah, the projector was on all night.
So was there a kind of atmosphere of the more experienced gamers teaching the less experienced? Or was it more like those who were playing already knew how to play?
It was a bit of both. It really depends on the gamers. A lot of gamers prefer to just play rather than teach. And a lot of games you really do learn by just playing rather than listening to someone give advice.
We had some really great gamers like Adrian, who arrived late so he was setting up and he’d help people. Nick as well – he had a Mac so he couldn’t play, so he was just going around helping people, teaching them how to play and what to do, just general tips.
But for the most part we had people just join, and kinda pick the game up for themselves rather than sitting and teaching.
Did you say that if you had a Mac you can’t play?
Most of our games were PC based so if you had a Mac and you hadn’t Bootcamped it then you couldn’t really join. Unless you had a version of the game for Mac, you generally couldn’t join in.
Where did you get the equipment? Was it all self-provided?
A lot of it was. I had two wireless routers myself. A lot of it is also from IH: IH provided the main switch, and the IT department was kind enough to lend us 5 ethernet cables in case anyone forgot to bring one. And our Student Club Committee also provided power boards and extension cables.
But for the most part, the students came with their own power boards and extension cables and ethernet cables.
How much did it cost to run the event? And where did you get the money?
Well all the money we got was spent on food.
It’s not a proper gaming party without junk food right?
Yeah! And it cost exactly $199.06, which was great because we were given a budget of $200 from the Student Club Committee! We were organising a student event that everyone could come to, so they were happy to subsidize it.
Do you think this has made you ‘sexier’ in the eyes of the college in general? Are you proving that Geeks are Sexy? Haha.
Interesting question. I think I had a very ‘sexy’ image before, haha. But having coordinated something like this, it definitely gets you recognized. I’m seen as more reliable and being able to pull something like this off has definitely helped with that image.
So in terms of sexier? Well based off the speech that I gave to promote the event and the response that that got, I’d say so! I’m a little sexier. Haha.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Well I’d just say that pulling off an event like this doesn’t really take as much effort as you’d think. Having done it once, anyone can do it. I would highly recommend it to lots of people. You do it once, you know how to do it, and it’s really fun and not hard at all!