How Left 4 Dead cured a toxic LAN environment

How Left 4 Dead cured a toxic LAN environment

The undead made me a team player.

How Left 4 Dead cured a toxic LAN environment - image2
(Image credit: Valve)

Left 4 Dead reᴘʀᴇsᴇɴᴛed a ᴛᴜʀɴɪɴg poɪɴt ɪɴ ʜᴏᴡ I sᴏcialɪse ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ɢᴀᴍᴇs. In 2008, LAN pᴀʀᴛies ᴡᴇre sᴛɪʟʟ aʀᴏᴜɴᴅ ᴀɴd I ʜᴀᴅ a ɢᴏod ɢʀᴏᴜᴘ I'd pʟᴀʏ ɢᴀᴍᴇs wɪᴛh ᴀᴛ ᴍʏ ᴏʟᴅ IT gig ᴀᴛ tʜᴇ Universɪᴛy ᴏꜰ Mᴏɴtᴀɴa. We'd ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴏᴠᴇʀ tʜᴇ ᴏꜰfɪᴄᴇ ᴀꜰᴛᴇʀ-ʜᴏᴜʀs ᴀɴd ʀᴜɴ ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ a lɪst ᴏꜰ cᴜsᴛᴏm Warcraft 3 ɢᴀᴍᴇs (a ʟᴏᴛ ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ ᴏʀigɪɴal Dota ʙᴇꜰᴏʀe I ʀᴇᴀʟɪsed whᴀᴛ a mɪsᴛᴀᴋᴇ I wᴀs makɪɴg), sᴏᴍᴇ Quake ᴀɴd Unʀᴇᴀʟ, Counter-Strike ᴀɴd tʜᴇ ʟɪᴋᴇ. Tʜᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴏɴ thʀᴇᴀᴅ: ᴀʟʟ competɪᴛive. Wᴏʀse, sᴏ wᴀs ᴇᴠᴇʀyᴏɴe ɪɴ tʜᴇ ʀᴏᴏᴍ. Thɪɴgs ɢᴏt ʜᴇᴀᴛed, ᴀɴd ᴀꜰᴛᴇʀ a lɪꜰetiᴍᴇ ᴏꜰ ꜰᴏᴏᴛbᴀʟʟ ᴀɴd wʀᴇsᴛlɪɴg coacʜᴇs tᴇᴀᴄʜɪɴg ᴍᴇ ʜᴏᴡ ᴛᴏ bᴏɪʟ ʙʟᴏᴏᴅ, I shut ᴅᴏwn tʜᴇ moᴍᴇnt sᴏᴍᴇᴏɴe ᴛᴏok a ɢᴀᴍᴇ ᴛᴏo serioᴜsly. I sᴛɪʟʟ ᴅᴏ. 

Left 4 Dead changed the mood completely. We went in on a few of those early four-packs and spread them around. No one was particularly excited about Left 4 Dead, but it was a Valve game so we had to give it a go. We didn't play anything else for the whole semester. 

We started inviting more people to game nights because working together to survive a zombie apocalypse was a far more appealing activity than getting wiped by Mike in every game ever. Enough people of varying skill levels would show up to get a few groups going, each dancing with the AI director at their own lovely rhythm, bouncing between despair and hope. The screaming in the office shifted from anger to a chorus of yelping barely discernible as calls for help and ensuing thank-yous. Rather than end each session deflated, saying nothing and shambling off to our dorms, we'd stick around or walk somewhere together, maybe get food, breaking down a dramatic standoff at Dead Air's refuelling finale, or how everything nearly went to shit in Blood Harvest's cornfield sprint. 


How Left 4 Dead cured a toxic LAN environment - image3
How Left 4 Dead cured a toxic LAN environment - image4

(Image credit: Future)

 This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 354 in February 2021. Every month we run exclusive features exploring the world of PC gaming—from behind-the-scenes previews, to incredible community stories, to fascinating interviews, and more. 

(Image credit: Valve)

After mastering the campaigns, we entertained the idea of trying out the versus mode and, yeah, that had me worried. See above. Yelling. Fragility. I tensed up at the thought, but Left 4 Dead's versus mode never dipped back into that volatile competitive mood. Coordinating the perfect Smoker pull and Hunter pin combo to split up the survivors always carried more of a pranking-your-pals energy than any spectre-of-my-disappointed-dad vibes. Versus was cunning and playful, hewing closer to hide-and-seek than the pure reflex-driven play of most competitive shooters. We stayed jubilant and friendly. The dingy basement IT office lit up with whooping and back claps like a damn mead hall. God I miss it.

It's odd, seeing the LAN culture fade so quickly after one of the best LAN games I'd ever played was released. Forces beyond our little IT office's control, I suppose. But it's OK. Sometimes we'll manage to get a fragment of the group together for some modded nightmare run of a custom L4D2 level, Teletubby hordes chasing us through Mario's palace or something else normal like that. And with Back 4 Blood on the horizon, old text threads are creaking back into motion. I wonder if we'd be so adamant about keeping in touch if we kept playing Quake and DotA, pissing the bed with every bad game. Would I even lament the slow death of LAN, or would it be a relief to me? 

Left 4 Dead made finding positive social connections in games a guiding principle for me, something I take into consideration with every multiplayer experience. Some genre fiction paved an avenue for amazing friendships. How great is that? And, yeah, we'll never be in the same room together again, but that's OK. A lobby's a lobby.

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