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Magic Under The Wires At QuakeCon, the Biggest, Baddest Bring-Your-Own-Computer Party Around

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Check out more shots from QuakeCon in our slide show.

Finding QuakeCon amidst the bustling mini-metropolis of the Gaylord Texan was easy: just follow the kids in flair-laden QC necklaces staggering under the weight of their clunky homemade PCs.

It wasn't the kind of convention that I was expecting. I thought people might be dressed in theme with monster masks and plastic machetes, but the crowd looked pretty normal: a diverse group of hardcore gamers who'd come from across the world for the four-day "Woodstock of Gaming." I realized that the population was almost entirely male, and my observation was confirmed later by a guy who told me (after I'd inquired about intra-QuakeCon romance) that most girls who came were with their boyfriend/husband, very brave, or being paid.

Never having played many computer games save for The Sims circa sixth grade, I didn't know much about gaming culture, but it didn't take long before I picked up on a few QuakeCon traditions. Most important at the convention is acquiring the coveted annual T-shirt with the QuakeCon logo and year. Because you can only get the T-shirt at the convention, wearing one shows that you were there, or at least know somebody who was. People hoard them so that they can sell them on eBay for up to 30 dollars. To wear an old T-shirt at the convention is to walk like a veteran through a crowd of n00bs; it is an instant ticket, as one boy told me, to "street cred."

Another major part of the convention is referring to fellow participants by their "gaming names." Talking to four guys who work the complimentary Tech Center, I learned that the necklaces I initially saw were actually name tags so that people can display their virtual identity. People introduce each other by their self-chosen titles with mutual respect and gaming camaraderie. The four guys, who were now in their early 20s, went to high school together and have been calling each other by their gaming names since freshman year; one of them goes by Alkali, another, Virus. Some people, they told me, who are members of  gaming clans (groups of gamers who play together online) will only put their clan's initials.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the convention was the 77,000 square-foot BYOC (bring your own computer) area. In the middle of the room was the Networks Operation Center, acting as the electrical nervous system for the roughly 3000 interconnected spaces available for people to attach their computer and LED screen to the QC network. To make the monitors easier to see, or just to help mellow the mood, the huge space was barely lit -- a futuristic cyberspace aglow with twisted neon wires. Eyes glued to their computer, people hunched over keyboards, clicking through levels of games which they played against others at the convention.

According to two boys working a makeshift information desk, gamers will sleep on top of their computers in order to hold their seat through the next day. There are rules against it, but in a room this big, some people get away with it anyway. One boy told me that he wasn't very worried about getting up to walk around and leaving his equipment unattended. "Security is good, even though the cops are lazy," he said. I asked if people fight over where they get to sit in the BYOC room. "Nah, people only really fight for the T-shirts."

One of these fights is a competition called "What Would You Do?" According to QuakeCon legend, Michael Taylor was on stage here in 2007 when he decided to deliver a swift kick "down there" to a friend next to him, a move that sent the crowd wild, and made the boys the most favored competitors in the challenge. This year, I watched as this year's challengers ate chocolate and pancake syrup-coated spam.

I began to wonder: did people come from around the world just to get a free T-shirt? The answer, of course, is no -- QuakeCon is a time for gamers to come together and shamelessly share their geek pride and passion. They play against one another, file-share (also technically against the rules), and hear speeches from executives at id Software on the most recent news about upcoming games.

id Software president Todd Hollenshead kicked off the speeches, taking the stage wearing a studded bracelet and rocking a ponytail. His favorite phrase, it seemed, was "kick-ass," which he used to describe the trailers shown to the crowd for upcoming games including Doom II, Wolfenstein, and the highly anticipated Rage.

The trailer for Wolfenstein, out Tuesday, showed Nazi soldiers in an indoor setting like the murky inside of the Mr. Freeze ride at Six Flags. "Just want to confirm that Nazis were killed in the making of these trailers," Hollenshead announced. And after the Rage trailer, which showed an epic, doomsday vision of the world, Todd said he had goose bumps on his neck watching it.

He then introduced "the smartest man alive," id's co-founder and technical director John Carmack, who entered to overwhelming whooping and cheering from the crowd. Carmack affably and articulately discussed the business behind the recent team-up between id and Bethesda Softworks. Although he described himself as "an incredibly unsentimental person," he spoke proudly of id's former independence as a production company, but explained that the decision was done out of financial and managerial necessity.

Regarding the hotly anticipated Rage, he said that the game was all but ready, except for the "picky" details to make the shooting "feels right" and the game operates seamlessly and exceptionally, so that people will "deeply love and remember [it] forever." Requiring a larger developing staff and more challenging teamwork, the game is id's "largest developing project ever."

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