An Inside Look At Gamers In Iowa City

LAN parties are a great way for gamers to get together. Image courtesy of Digital Ecology.

The room is crowded and is being lit only by the glow of about a half dozen televisions.  Gun fire is loudly emitting from each set and yells of both victory and defeat are happening intermittently.

Employees of the Coralville Video Games ETC! are meeting for their weekly LAN party.  LAN parties are where gamers bring their own televisions and game consoles so that they can play over a local online network.  This week they’re playing the recently released Call of Duty: Black Ops.

“We’re pretty competitive players,” said Graham Gibson.  Gibson is a full-time employee at Video Games ETC!   He is also the organizer of the weekly LAN parties.  Most of them happen in his apartment in Iowa City.  Suddenly, Gibson is distracted as he gets stabbed in the back from a fellow player.

“Dammit!  I had finally found a good spot!”  Gibson said.

A slice of game geek in Iowa City

Empty cans of Mountain Dew are stacked in a corner by the door of Gibson’s apartment.  Everyone has some sort of snack or drink by their side.  No one is looking away from their television screen.  There is a lot on the line tonight.  The winner of the next round of Call of Duty gets a ten dollar Pappa John’s gift card.

“Sometimes I like to up the stakes a little,” Gibson said similing.  “It makes it more fun for everyone.”

Many of the players spend between 20-40 hours a week working at Video Games ETC! This depends on whether or not they are full-time.  All of the part-time employees are full-time students at the University of Iowa.

“All we do, a lot of us anyway, is play games.  I mean we do have homework, but it’s mostly games,” said Brian Albert.  Albert is a journalism major at the University of Iowa.  He is hoping to write about games once he graduates.  Albert says that the thing he enjoys most about the weekly LAN parties is the competition.

“I don’t do sports or anything like that, so it’s nice to come here and work off that competitive edge.  I like that everyone here gets as into it as I do,” Albert said.

There is a cardinal rule at the LAN party: don’t talk about work.  The attendees all agree that the party is the last place they want to bring drama into.  The weekly gathering gives them each a chance to blow off some steam.

“A lot of times you’ll have weeks where you run into a lot of bad customers.  It’s really easy to get stressed out.  This LAN party is something I know we all look forward to.  I want to keep it positive,” Gibson said.

Gibson plays games for about 40 hours per week.  He often plays with friends online and focuses on multiplayer games.  Some of his favorites include Halo, Street Fighter and Gears of War.

“It’s almost like a second job.  Except this one I actually look forward to.  I just get so much out of it.  I liked getting sucked into a world and exploring it.  I can’t afford to travel anywhere.  This helps me get that same feeling without spending a ridiculous amount of money.”

Local gaming hangouts

Video Games ETC! isn’t just a place that its employees like to escape from.  It’s also a meeting place for local gamers.  The store acts as a central hub, where the latest games are excitedly talked about.  Think of water cooler conversations in an office, only geekier.

“I come here [VGE] because these people actually know what they’re talking about.  When I go to Best Buy or Walmart the employees act like they’ve never touched a controller.  The folks who work here actually play games,” said Nate Feldmann.  Feldmann is a frequent customer of VGE.  He says he stops in at least once a week and has been doing so for the past two years.

“It’s cool because these guys play a variety of stuff.  We can talk forever about any kind of game,” Feldmann said.

Felmann isn’t the only one who enjoys talking game at VGE.  Chris Christensen is also a regular customer.  A part-time employee at the Hy-Vee next door, Christensen usually stops in during his breaks.

“They’re the only people that play the same games that I do,” Christensen said.  “Like anything else, it’s nice to be able to express to people what you’re passionate about.  I can do that here.”

Albert enjoys the customers, saying that they make him want to show up to work.  Working in a place where he gets to talk about games freely has been something he has always wanted to do.

“They make it fun.  Not only that but I feel like I’m actually helping them,” Albert said.  “I won’t lie to a customer and tell them a bad game is good just to sell it.  Nothing makes me happier than knowing they’re walking away with a game that’s really great.”

Defending their games

The Supreme Court has recently heard opening oral arguments about a case that could change the way games are sold.  California lawmakers want video game content to be regulated by the government.  These politicians believe that some games can be too violent for children and want to restrict those games.

“It’s crap really.  I would listen to them if they had actually played a video game,” Gibson said.  “How can you try to restrict something you don’t understand?  I guess that’s always how it works.  People trying to get rid of things they know nothing about.

It appears that the courts are siding with gamers on the issue.  During the opening arguments, California deputy attorney general Zackery Morazzini was interrupted by Justice Antonin Scalia.  Scalia reminded the deputy attorney general that video games are not the only violent form of entertainment in existence.  He sarcastically mentioned Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Morazzini.

“Are you going to ban them too?” Scalia asked.

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