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Frag or Be Fragged

The Parker Cyber Station serves up death and destruction all night long.

The Gods of the Internet have truly blessed the geeks of Parker. They've bestowed onto local gamers a physical location where they can get their fix of virtual violence and computer camaraderie. It fell from the sky, they say, a little more than a year ago, landing with a dull thud onto an empty lot of prairie just off Mainstreet and Dransfeldt. It's in a strip mall not unlike any of the other hundreds of retail tar pits in Douglas County, a limestone facade encircled by a baffling rat's maze of interconnected parking lots. By 8 p.m., the little-used sidewalks are abandoned and most of the storefronts are dark and silent.

Except for the Parker Cyber Station. Each time the Internet-gaming cafe's glass door is pulled open, the sounds of modern warfare escape out into the quiet suburban night: rapid-fire shots, rattling explosions, knives plunging into enemy flesh and, yes, the ecstatic yelps of teenage boys.

SUVs and mini-vans pull up in succession, as guys too old for Disney movies but too young to shave leap from the back seats. They give a nod or a short wave to their parents. No one looks back. Everyone is stoked on an entire night away from each. The kids walk toward the entrance carrying grocery bags that bulge with Chee-tos, Twizzlers, Pringles and twelve-packs of Mountain Dew or whatever other caffeinated concoctions will keep them in top form. They need all the instant energy they can get.

This is the Cyber Station's monthly lock-in, where parents shell out 25 bucks a pop to have their kids take part in the all-night game-a-thon. Playing starts at eight, and the fragging (gamer speak for 'killing') doesn't stop until seven the next morning. In case they need to conk out for a while, participants are encouraged to bring sleeping bags. No one does, though. Walking in with a pillow and blankie dog-tags you not only as a complete amateur, but also as a pussy who can't hang with the real gamers.

Proprietor Darrell Moskowitz definitely has the chops to hang -- although, from a fourteen-year-old's perspective, his bristly mustache and glasses make him look more like someone's dad who might sell, like, tractor parts or something rather than run this cutting-edge digital playground. A process engineer for LAN Research, Darrell's day job has him developing computer chips for corporations like IBM and Intel. But at night he walks between the long rows of terminals watching as the gamers speak to teammates via headsets -- "Watch out, sniper on the bridge" -- and shout taunts across the room at opponents.

Darrell has been playing computer games for years; his favorite is the Tom Clancy-based game Rainbow Six. He gets just as excited about playing as he does hopping on a computer and describing how Cyber Station's thirty PCs are linked together by a local area network that allows players to battle each other in real time. "The games are interactive, and we have all different kinds," he says. "There's the strategy games like Diablo, where you have your armies and you move around and try to conquer the map. There's also role-playing games like Camelot and EverQuest."

But the most popular games by far are the "first-person shooter games," such as Day of Defeat and the infamous Counter-Strike, which allow players to see the virtual world from the eyes of their characters. Out of the thirty or so kids at the lock-in, all but six are playing Counter-Strike, which is the most popular -- and violent -- game on the Internet today. At any given time, more than 60,000 players worldwide are plugged in as either terrorists or counter-terrorists.

Nathan is one of them. His fingers nimbly clack between the key commands but then pause. Crouching behind a shipping crate, the twenty-year-old slowly raises his G3/SG-1 sniper rifle and focuses his sight on a stone archway. A bearded, bandanna-wearing terrorist suddenly darts out from the doorway holding an AK-47. With one quick click from Nathan's mouse, the man's head explodes in a trajectory of blood and his body falls limply into the dirt. Nathan bursts out in a high-pitched hoot, "Got ya."

But a moment later, he gets blindsided by a spray of bullets.

"Ahh! Anubus, you bastard!"

Nathan looks four computers down at Ryan, the Cyber Station's resident hotshot.

Anubus smirks in mock sweetness back at him.

"Will somebody please kill Anubus for me?" Nathan shouts.

The actual Counter-Strike battlefield is located on one of Cyber Station's two servers. Kind of like a pickup basketball game, anyone from a remote location can hop on to the server and join a team. One single well-placed sniper shot and someone, somewhere, is digitally dead. They could be cursing in Filipino from Internet land or sitting purse-lipped right next to you. Either way, they know that their ass just got fragged.

"Even if we had only one person in the store playing all by himself," Darrell says, "he's not really by himself. There are people in our server 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it's almost always the same people playing, so everyone gets to know each other. It's like a little community."

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