QuakeCon, considers itself “the Woodstock of gaming.” The event, held every year in Dallas, draws 2,800 nerds to a hotel conference, where they play video games for 72 hours. So it’s nothing like Woodstock. The only thing they have in common is the funky aroma.
“The last day, it did have a bit of a smell,” says photographer Laura Buckman. “What did you think would happen when mostly men don’t shower and play video games for three days?”
Buckman lives in Dallas and has a thing for quirky conventions, and checking out QuakCon was just too good to pass up. “I wanted to see the physical community that came together from such a solitary activity,” she says.
The first QuakeCon drew just 32 people. Twenty years later, the 2,800 nerds at the con entertained an audience of 7,200 gawkers who came from around the world to celebrate games and gaming. People go especially nuts for the BYOC—that’s “bring your own computer”—hall, where 16 miles of cable keep thousands of PCs powered up and connected to the Internet.
Glowing screens illuminate an otherwise dark room, augmented here and there by bright LEDs. Players wear their very best duds, ranging from doge T-shirts to all of the cosplay get-ups you’d expect. Junk food wrappers and energy drinks line the long tables, providing fuel for marathon sessions of games like Quake, Call of Duty, and Overwatch. Although vendors in adjacent rooms hawk all manner of gaming gear, the truly committed make it a point to stay in front of their computers 24/7 for three days. Sleeping in the hall is a definite no-no. “A lot of people were playing in their pajamas, camping out there as long as possible,” says Buckman.
Game publishers host tournaments, but QuakeCon is less about competition than hanging out with friends. Old-timers from the show’s earliest days now bring their kids, giving the event the feel of a family reunion. “A lot of people said this is the one time a year they interact with the people they see in their digital world,” Buckman says. For these folks, some of the strongest bonds are forged by the light of a computer screen.