Ok folks, I'm sure you've all heard about LAN parties. For those who don't know what a LAN party is, it's basically a bunch of gamers that get together in a big warehouse, network all their computers together and play games head-to-head for hours on end. It really is quite fun. Of course, LAN parties are always nothing but PCs... with the exception of me! Every two months there is a LAN party just a few blocks away from my house. I'm always the only Macintosh out of about 50-60 computers. Everyone there always gives me crap because I'm on a Mac, but I ignore it. I take pride in being the lone representative of my platform at these gatherings. Now I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about LAN parties including finding a LAN in your area, getting ready, setting up, and configuring the network once you're there. How it works: TCP/IP, the universal computer language! Before I begin, I want to explain to you exactly why and how a Mac works on a PC gaming network. Almost all games today use a protocol suite called TCP/IP. This protocol is very widely used and is also the protocol of choice for everything on the internet. A protocol is to a computer as grammar is to language. It's a common reference for computers to communicate. Both PCs and Macs can use this protocol. Since we can both speak the same language, all we need is a common media to communicate on. This media is ethernet. Both Macs and PCs use ethernet as their defacto networking media. With both platforms using the same protocol and the same cabling we can play on a PC gaming network with no problem. If you still don't understand exactly how this works, just think about what allows us to connect to internet gaming services on the net and play against PCs. The LAN scene is the same concept except we are using ethernet instead of phone lines. One thing to be aware of where protocols are concerned... Just because we speak the same language doesn't mean the games you're playing will get along with the PC versions of those games accross the network. We must also consider game versions. All games get patched and updated at some point. Sometimes different versions of games will not be compatible over any kind of network. So what? Just keep up with the latest version, right? Wrong. The fact is, Mac and PC updates for games are almost always released at different times. During that time period when you have two different game versions floating around for two different platforms there can be issues with playing that game accross those platforms. Just be aware of that. Step one: Finding a LAN in your area. This part is actually quite easy. Just go to http://www.lanparty.com/ and do a search by location. It will then give you a listing of LAN parties in your area. There will always be a homepage associated with each LAN group. You can click on the homepage of the group nearest you to find out details. It was at lanparty.com that I found out there was a LAN just a few blocks away from my house every 2 months! Step two: Getting ready. This step consists of getting your equipment together for the LAN and making sure everything is in working order. Always make sure you bring the following: your computer (duh!), power cords for all hardware, surge/power strip, 25' Cat5 ethernet patch cable, headphones, software CDs, money, and anything else your LAN group recommends. Prior to attending a LAN party I always like to run Norton Utilities on my system just to make sure everything is running smoothly. The surge/power strip is sometimes not needed, but you should bring it just in case. Usually 25' of ethernet cable is enough. You will want to check with the LAN organizers to see if this length is adequate. Cat5 ethernet patch cable can be purchased at any computer or electronics store. Make sure you get patch cable, not crossover. Crossover cables are only for two-computer networks. At LAN parties the ethernet hubs will do the "crossing over" for you so you only need a patch cable. Headphones are required at some LAN parties where noise is an issue. Check with your LAN organizer on this issue. Regardless, it's nice to have headphones for your own sanity if things get too loud. The software CDs are a good precaution in case you have to reinstall something during the event. I recommend bringing money for the occasional trip to the QuickStop down the street. Or you can just stock up on food and drinks before the LAN. Another part of getting ready is making sure your computer is network ready. The nice thing about Macintoshes is that most all of them have built-in network cards. If you aren't sure if your Mac has a built in network card then look in the back of your computer where all the ports are. The network card will look like a big phone jack, too big for a regular phone cord. The ethernet cabling itself will look like a fat phone line. Once you have confirmed that you have a network card, you need to make sure the appropriate network software is installed. If your Mac has a preinstalled network card then this software is already installed. Step three: Setting up. Basically you just need to plug everything and press power. Aside from your computer itself, you will need to take your ethernet cable and plug it into an ethernet jack on the nearest available hub/switch. You may want to check with the "network guy" at your LAN to make sure he/she doesn't have a certain network layout they would like you to follow. NOTE: don't set up near the speakers for the mp3 server or near a door that stays open a lot. Trust me, I know from experience. When you are near an open door you get to experience all of the temperature extremes. If the LAN party has an mp3 server playing music then it can get very loud near the speakers. Step four: Configuration. Once you get to the LAN party you will need to configure your network settings. Simply go to your control panels and click on TCP/IP. Under "Connect via" you will select "Ethernet." It may also say "Ethernet built-in." For the "Configure" option in TCP/IP you will need to talk to the "network guy" at the LAN party. If they have a DHCP server set up (auto-configured network settings) then just set it to DHCP and that's it. DHCP will automatically configure everything when you launch a network application. If they don't have a DHCP server set up then you will need to select "Manually." For the manual configuration some one will likely assign you an IP number and subnet mask to put in at the LAN. You're all done! Now go frag some PC scum!