PHOTOS AND TEXT BY ALEX STURROCK
e know that the Gathering sounds like some ominous, secret meeting of the Masons at a Scientology retreat in a secret bunker under Area 51, but it’s really just 5,500 teenage nerds in a massive, chilly, smelly auditorium in Hamar, Norway. These kids come from all over Europe and even Japan to spend four days playing World of Warcraft, Counter-Strike, and Quake until they pass out in a pool of their own face-grease from exhaustion. And you know what? We’re talking about the future tech millionaires of the world here, so you’d better stop laughing.
Vice went to the Gathering this year, and we were surprised to find that the fringe benefit of being on a local area network with thousands of the continent’s biggest hackers, gamers, lamers, and coders is that it’s really easy and superfast to “file share,” aka “get free shit.” The copyright laws in Norway are more or less nonexistent, so over the course of four days of the Gathering, kids can legally share 4.5 petabytes of data. That amounts to—get ready for this now—850,000 DVDs full of games, movies, TV shows, music, and porn. It’s an American copyright lawyer’s worst nightmare. As a kid who called himself H3LLZ0R (everyone goes by their screen name at the Gathering) told us, “All downloads of this stuff should be free. If I had to pay for all the things I download, I wouldn’t have very much money to use on other things.” Hmm, that kind of makes sense.
The kids of the Gathering stay awake for two-day or longer chunks by chugging energy drinks and eating gross microwavable pizza and roasted peanuts. A dashing young lad with the screen name WEXP might have had the record for sleeplessness out of all the kids we met. He proudly reported, “I think I’ve gone a bit more than 50 hours without sleep so far.” That’s real nice, parents of Norway. That kind of sleep deprivation makes you so nuts your kids may as well have mainlined liquid acid.
If you try to talk to the nerds, it’s like they’re speaking another language. We went up to a kid called Pripanza and said, “So, you like World of Warcraft, huh?” He didn’t even look up from his screen as he said, “Yeah, I play on the realm Silvermoon. I took a break from WoW for a while before the Burning Crusade expansion pack came, so I’m not in any special guild at the moment. I’d rather wait till I’m at level 70, so I can apply to a serious and good guild.”
It isn’t all just gaming either. During our time at the Gathering we saw young boys jerking off under blankets and couples fucking in the darkness while Quake obsessives stayed awake, fighting their battles into the night, pale faces bathed in the sickly glow of their PC screens. It was fucking awesome!