As I'm writing this, more than 4000 nerds, geeks, and freaks are attending The Gathering. It's a good time for an aging nerd to take a quick trip down memory line.
The Gathering, or TG for short, is the world’s second largest LAN party. Computer enthusiast meet to play games, flex their creative muscles, show off their custom rigs, get new games1, make new friends, and generally have a good time. The very first TG was organized during Easter back in 1992. All the schools are closed for 5 days during Easter, it was a perfect time to gather the core audience. More than 1200 people attended the first TG, and in 1993 an additional 200 people visited the party.
The Gathering soon outgrew its original venue, and in 1996 TG moved to The Viking Ship just outside Hamar. The indoor sports arena was built for the 1994 Winter Olympics. With modern infrastructure and prime geographical location, The Viking Ship contributed further to The Gathering’s success. In 1996 the party was visited by a record breaking 2500 people.
1996 was also the first TG I attended2. It was the year most of my friends and I turned 18, which meant we could get our driver’s licenses. A whole new world of independence opened up. Me and two other guys filled the driver’s family car with our maxi towers and huge ass CRT monitors, and set off on the four hour pilgrimage to Hamar.
At The Viking Ship, we rigged our equipment on our assigned spots, turned our computers on. We didn’t turn them off again until the organizers cut the power five days later. Late afternoon on the first day, the main lights in the sports arena would be turned off. This marks the real start of the party, and is met with huge cheers and applause from the pale audience. There is something magical about a massive, dim arena where thousands of computer monitors are the only source of light. And I’m guessing it’s the closest thing to a religious experience for many of the participants at TG.
With a lot of noise, very little proper food, and even less sleep, The Gathering is both physically and mentally challenging. We’d usually roll out our sleeping backs on the grandstand, and try to get an hour of sleep. But that’s not easy when someone is blasting the theme from The Rock on repeat five meters from your head with his daddy’s loudspeakers.
From Demos to eSports
We went to back TG again in 1997, and probably would have attended in 1998 as well. Unfortunately, all of us were too busy learning how to effectively kill people in the Norwegian armed forces. We returned in 1999, though, but it felt like we’d outgrown the concept. All of us had turned 21, and the average age of the attendees was way below that. There was also a noticeable change in why people came to TG.
TG started out in 1992 as a party for the Norwegian demoscene. Since then, it has gradually transformed into an eSports event. This was the transformation we saw the beginning of in 1999. That year, multiplayer games, and FPS multiplayer games in particular, were becoming really popular among the masses. Quake was huge, Half-Life had been release the year before, and various mods for both games was gaining popularity. Many of the people who attended TG in 1999 was mostly interested in playing games. And that shift has continued over the years.
The demoscene and the creative compos at TG are now barely a side note compared to earlier years. At the 2019 party, there is just a single demo competition. What a shame. There are some other creative compos, but the days of the 1K intro and the wild compo are long gone. If you’re looking for an original demoscene party that is still true to its roots, Assembly is probably your best bet.
Send Your Kids!
If you’re a nervous parent whose kid really want to go to TG with their friends, you can safely send them there. It’s a non-alcoholic event, security it tight, and the people - both attendees and the volunteers - are generally very nice people. Your kid will come home as a zombie, half dead from the lack of sleep, and malnourished, but with a big smile on their face. TG is an exhausting experience, but for a computer nerd, it’s the best way you can spend your Easter holiday.
It’s too late to go this year, but keep your eyes on the official The Gathering site for information about the 2020 party. It’s also possible to get a glimpse of the action at the 2019 The Gathering by looking at the feed from this webcam.
But The Gathering is not something you can experience through a web cam. It has to be experienced first hand, and you’ll have memories for life.