& the GII
This page considers LAN cafes, aka networked computer
game cafes or even MMORPG cafes.
It covers -
supplements discussion of virtual
worlds (multiplayer games) and addiction
elsewhere on this site.
Normalisation of the online population, lower connectivity
prices in advanced economies and uptake of networked roleplaying
games have seen migration of some users to what have variously
been characterised as LAN cafes, cybercafes and game cafes.
Those facilities are differentiated from the cybercafes
discussed in the preceding page of this note because they
emphasise online game playing (eg participation in globally-networked
'reality' games such as World of Warcraft) by
a youthful audience, rather than provision of connectivity
for businesspeople, students and tourists. The 'LAN' refers
to a local area network, with multiple players interacting
with each other on that network - and with people in separate
locations, including offices, schools, residences and
other cafes - via the internet and MMORPG game servers.
LAN cafes, like their predecessor the pinball arcade,
are social phenomena. The motivation for visits by most
of their customers appears to be partly access to the
particular game, partly the opportunity for interaction
- however tenuous - with peers and partly to occupy a
'youth space' (one that is not closely surveilled or ordered
by employers, parents or educators).
One observer thus somewhat cruelly described several LAN
cafes in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne as
where the main lighting comes from the glow of computer
screens watched by kids - all wearing a uniform of cargo
pants, sneakers, t-shirts and cap - who are busy replaying
World War 2, conquering Rome or slaughtering green-skinned
crustaceans from Outer Space. The dominant smell was
unwashed socks, pizza and teen sweat. The players appeared
to subsist on Red Bull, chips and chocolate bars.
cafes are places where "you hang out" (usually
undisturbed by parents or by bothersome expectations about
personal hygiene and etiquette).
They thus attract the anxieties about feckless youth,
and moral delinquency evident in past criticisms of pinball
arcades and video games.
They also resemble the cafes of the belle epoque or earlier
- venues where Georgian aristocrats or Viennese intellectuals
How many LAN cafes are in operation? How long do they
last? Who is using them? Answers to those questions are
There is no global or national register of LAN cafes.
Authoritative directories or guides are unavailable. Many
cafes do not use large-scale print/electronic advertising,
instead relying on word of mouth. Some are short-lived.
Overall many do not "appear on the radar". There
is no authoritative industry association offering substantive
and comprehensive data; much academic research is atomistic
(with an emphasis on the sociology of gender roles, liminality
and consumer interaction or on application of theory by
Foucault and his epigones).
In Australia (based on contact with gamers, searches of
the whitepages and scrutiny of game sites) it appears
that as of early 2007 there were under 300 LAN cafes.
Most were concentrated in major metropolitan centres.
Many were small, ie with under 20 'seats'. Economics of
scale have encouraged development of a handful of sites
with between 50 and 300 seats. Turnover within the industry
appears to be large, with cessation of all activity at
particular locations and change in management as entrepreneurs
move on after disappointment.
Cultures overseas vary. It appears that on a per capita
basis there are greater numbers of LAN cafes in South
Korea (with claims that there were around PC-Bangs in
2002) and Japan, some of considerable size.
Australian cafes appear to attract broadly the same demographics:
predominantly gamers (male, in the 14 year to 25 year
cohorts) along with tourists, students and others wanting
access to connectivity for email, social
software and so forth.
As with cybercafes, the economics of LAN cafes reflect
factors such as investment, management expertise, location
Costs typically involve -
(including cabling, chairs, tables)
or lease of computers
line rental and ISP charges
of management software such as HandyCafe
(if not undertaken by staff)
or purchase of vending machines, fridges and other amenities
LAN cafes seek to minimise wage costs by offering 'in
kind' payment for staff, ie allowing employees or the
friends of employees to have free access to the network
for specified hours. In practice employee management appears
to be a challenge, with many cafes experiencing difficulty
in handling junior employees who have technical skills
(and are comfortable dealing with their peers) but lack
motivation and are prone to allowing friends a free ride.
Licencing costs are another challenge, with some cafes
experiencing difficulty paying for operating systems (resorting
instead to unlicenced copies and therefore being vulnerable
if inspected by rights owners) and game licences. Licencing
varies from game to game: some games (such as Battlefield
and Counter Strike) involve a copy per computer,
with cafes accordingly having to judge which games are
most attractive for their consumers and therefore justify
investment. The ability to pay for a high speed connection
- and thereby reduce the latency that erodes gamer satisfaction
- and to acquire/maintain high-performance personal computers
is also important.
Economies of scale can be significant, particularly in
urban centres where there is meaningful competition. A
large number of seats may allow a cafe to bring down prices,
from example $5 or $6 per hour to $2 per hour. Revenue
in some cafes is primarily attributable to charges for
time online. Others make their profits from sales of food,
drink and even tshirts or other paraphernalia.
Operation of LAN cafes poses a number of issues, several
of which featured in past moral panics about penny arcades
and other places where youth gathered.
John Springhall commented that
recent youth leisure … occupies visible public space,
is seen as hedonistic and presents problems within the
dominant discourse of 'enlightenment' … The most popular
forms of entertainment among the young at any given
historical moment tend also to provide the focus of
the most intense social concern. A new medium with mass
appeal, and with a technology best understood by the
young … almost invariably attracts a desire for adult
or government control
One issue is thus 'youth endangerment', with criticisms
that young people are inadequately supervised and can
thus come into contact (online or face to face) with older
predators or gain exposure to improper content. Most LAN
cafes do not have rigid age restrictions on entry or close
machine by machine monitoring (potentially subverted by
users swapping seats) and anecdotes indicate, for example,
instances of 14 year olds playing BF2 (a game
with a MA+15 rating).
Local government and police in Australia, Canada, UK and
US have on occasion expressed concern regarding LAN cafes
as venues for gang activity (although reports of trade
in party drugs appear to be sensationalist).
In China and elsewhere there have been claims that LAN
cafes are contributing to truancy or to cyber-addiction.
Beijing for example has sought to crimp community access
to heterodox content through public campaigns emphasising
the evils of addiction and the death of LAN addicts. Local
developments regarding 'LAN addiction' are discussed in
a 2007 presentation The LAN Game Ate My Brain, Dude:
'MMORPG Addiction' and Australian Law (PDF)
and the forthcoming paper A Label in Search of Liability:
CyberAddiction and the Law.
Responses have included -
control through recurrent inspections by police and
questions are discussed in more detail in the following
page of this note.