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Video games

Cyber games get personal

New club proves we’re not just playing with ourselves anymore

MT photo: Krysti Spence
Detroit area teens get their game on while Fifth Window High tunes up at the new Club Cyber.
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Published 6/14/2006

There is a world where soldiers never die in battle, a realm where the hero always succeeds, a planet where rotting zombies swagger through streets and, most inconceivably, the Detroit Lions actually win.

This is the world of gaming, which has become a multibillion-dollar commercial juggernaut, generating more than $7 billion in 2005 — a number that’s more than doubled since 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

Programmer Brian Unger has taken note, and has introduced a new trend to metro Detroit: a gaming “nightclub.” Club Cyber in Chesterfield Township is like an arcade on Red Bull and methamphetamines. It’s a place for gamers to meet, compete and challenge others online through consoles like the Xbox 360 or super-charged PCs. The concept removes the lethargic, pizza-faced gamers from their parents’ basement (or their upscale condo) and introduces a community element.

“The idea is they play most of these games at home, building up their skills, then demonstrate their abilities in our club against their friends,” Unger says. “Players can system-link to the same game and play each other simultaneously. It’s that multi-player concept that fuels the social attraction. Now it’s about bragging rights.”

This new-age arcade concept has hit big. iGames Inc. (igames.org), founded in 1996, offers game community development to more than 600 game centers nationwide. East Lansing’s F.R.A.G. Center boasts a plethora of games and top-of-the-line PCs. It’s one of many such new-fangled gamers’ paradises that are cropping up around the state and across the country.

Club Cyber (clubcyber.net) held its grand opening June 9. A 1,600-square-foot monument to gaming machismo, it has three Microsoft Xbox systems, six Microsoft Xbox 360s and three Nintendo Gamecube consoles, along with 16 high-performance PCs with enough gusto to keep the most intense gamer in awe, with an NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT SLI graphic card and AMD 64 Athlon processor (for non-geeks, that’s really friggin’ cool).

“We have designed our PCs for the most intense gaming experience,” Unger says. “Even our resident game gurus won’t punch out and go home for the day because our PCs are so awesome.”

Gamers pay $6 per hour to play, and have the option of buying either a $30 day pass or a monthly or yearly membership.

“My computer can’t even play these games,” 17-year-old Cory Lund says. “The clubs are just way more advanced than what I can afford.”

We’ve come along way from Frogger on Atari. One of the most utilized and celebrated advancements in gaming is the ability for different players — no matter how far apart physically — to interact with each other through a broadband network. These capabilities transformed Club Cyber’s opening into a four-way, four-TV Halo 2 death-match, as dozens of mostly teenage boys gleefully bantered threats like, “I’m going to kill you!” and “Ah, I hate you, you are going to die!”

“It’s more fun to be in the same room with your friends,” Lund says in mid-battle. “Then, you can yell at them.”

The gamers can also talk in real-time to each other using hands-free headsets. With games like SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs (where effective communication is key to winning missions) the headset becomes an essential part of the game.

“The network element brings together real people as opponents instead of random, game-generated opponents,” Unger says. “It now becomes a frenzy of real characters versus real characters. It’s like reality gaming.”

“Online gaming offers more interaction with other people,” 19-year-old gamer chick C.J. McGregor of New Baltimore says.

And say goodbye to the junkyard telly from your grandma’s breezeway; each of the club’s consoles are plugged in to one of three 37-inch Ölevia LCD/HDTVs and two 56-inch Hitachi HDTVs.

“Playing at such high resolution is amazing compared to consoles of old,” Unger says. “The graphics put you right into the game as if it were a movie.”

The power of network gaming exploded into the mainstream in recent years, sparking the creation of organizations like Major League Gaming (mlgpro.com) and World Cyber Games (worldcybergames.com), both of which sponsor events uniting gamers worldwide to battle it out over millions of dollars in prize money. Even the USA Network has made plans to air MLG tournaments in the near future.

“These days it’s not uncommon to hear about a kid practicing games to compete for money that is equivalent to a healthy win at a World Series of Poker event,” Unger says.

Unger plans to host tournaments as well, and is also hosting local bands every weekend.

“Because music is such a huge part of the gaming culture we felt it was important to bring in live bands to create a complete gaming and music experience,” Unger says. (Clinton Township’s Fifth Window High and Chesterfield’s Brandenburg played for the opening.)

And it’s hardly an all-dude activity.

According to the ESA, 38 percent of all gamers are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a greater portion of gamers than boys under 17.

“In the past, the gaming demographic has been primarily males between the ages of 12 and 24,” Unger says. “This demographic continues to grow and cross boundaries as console and PC gaming becomes more popular in the home. Gamers in their 30s and 40s are becoming regular game center customers and we expect to attract more girl gamers with a special Ladies Night. Our vision is to bring together a social gaming atmosphere that will appeal to everyone.”

Parents needn’t worry about the fragile minds of their children. Club Cyber uses the National Entertainment Software Rating Board system to shelter kids from mature content. Parents of children under the age of 13 must consent to which games are acceptable for their child. The club’s administrative system governs the use of all the games according to the specifics on an account — so a kid can’t access a game without parental consent. In addition, the club doesn’t carry any games with a mature rating.

“As a parent it is important to me that we have safeguards in place to protect what young kids see,” Unger says.

Kids do have access to sustenance ranging from AMP Energy drinks to Doritos. Unger’s mainframe system allows the PC gamers to order provisions from their station — giving moms a break from serving their Warcraft-addicted teens at home.

“We’re currently planning to open multiple Club Cyber locations around the country and are always interested in exploring new opportunities,” Unger says. “Expanding is just over the horizon.”

 

Club Cyber is at 33089 23 Mile Rd. in Chesterfield Township; 586-725-6744;clubcyber.net.

Dustin Walsh is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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