[Quintin Smith is Rock, Paper, Shotgun's roving reporter. He's famously easy to talk into fun stuff. Once I talked him into hitting on girls at a hyper-elitist indie-rock festival in the style of Oblivion's conversation sequences, heavily cribbing from Consolevania's review of Bethesda's game. And he got worryingly far. He's easy to talk into fun stuff because he believes in fun stuff. Hence he's the ideal man to send to investigate the enormous house of gaming fun that is Birmingham's Omega Sektor. Or so it says here, anyway. Take it away, Mr Smith...]
And now for a bit of investigative journalism. Come with me as I take you on a journey through the world of the truth. Be warned, for the path we’ll walk is paved with jagged, cutting interviews and broken hearts. If at any point you find yourself overwhelmed with emotion, I think it was Machiavelli who once said that ‘you can cry, ain’t no shame in it.’ But you should always remember that I never cried during the making of this piece. Not once. Because I am a grizzled journalist.
Here in the UK there’s been some chatter about the recently opened Omega Sektor in Birmingham, or to use it’s full, nauseating name, Omega Sektor: The Play Place. The Omega Sektor in Birmingham is planned to be the first of many and is advertised as a kind of gamer’s Mecca. The website offers hundreds of super-advanced PCs as well as games consoles, sponsorship from major game publishers, special events and tournaments, ‘guest appearances’, a chillout lounge, a VIP room, and above all- acceptance.
Everything I read about Omega Sektor made it seem an electronic milk and honey wonderland, where young and old gamers of all walks of life can come together and hold hands before blowing each other’s virtual kneecaps off. To quote from the site, “When gran challenges the twins to a game, you know you’re having a good day out.” But it all sounded bogus to me. I’m pretty sure when gran challenges anybody to anything all you know is that it’s time to help look for her medication.
All this chatter made me curious and the whole project clearly had massive financial backing, so I decided to travel up to Birmingham in the name of providing a thorough report on Omega Sektor for Rock Paper Shotgun. I also decided to pack a lunch and make a day of it, but then I remembered how horrible it is when companies try and make gaming cool and I got hit by a wave of apathy that led to my packed lunch being a bagel and a bottle of Famous Grouse.
It turns out Omega Sektor is to be found, I shit you not, on Corporation Street, just off Needless Alley and a short walk from New Street Station. And then just when I thought it couldn’t get any blander I saw the SEKTOR itself.
A blast of chilling air swept past as I stood in front of that building. I pulled my t-shirt tighter around myself and decided to that this was a place of terrible power. As it turns out I was right, because Kieron later told me that in the days before Omega Sektor he’d bought his first ever pair of Bondage trousers here. That’s some Indian burial ground type shit.
But there was no turning back now. Scared as I was, I felt the domineering tug of curiosity in my loins. Could this really be the first true refuge for gamers? The public had a right to know. And so, with more than a shade of Frank West (of Dead Rising fame) about me, I stormed into the building with camera in hand.
In my head I was expecting a scene from a Western. I imagined walking in, tucking my thumbs into my belt and watching all the regulars stop what they’re doing to weigh me up. What actually happened was I found myself alone with a single fat dude playing Kingdom of Loathing. It was a pretty bad sign. I mean, who comes to a place which has a business model of high-end computers and community spirit to play a browser game? I figured maybe he’d gotten lost on the way to Baguette World. Still, not one to be discouraged I headed upstairs to the ‘adult’ sector. This was where Omega Sektor’s three major games publisher sponsors had some pull- I guessed there might be demo pods, information on their games, maybe even access to the beta builds of stuff that was in development. I was pretty excited as I went up those stairs, let me tell you.
This is the Activision area. You can tell this is the Activision area because it says ‘Activision’. You can also tell because there are some bricks, and Activision are a big fan of bricks in games. Beyond this, the area was identical to downstairs. Moving on, I found the THQ area.
This is the THQ area. You can tell this is the THQ area because it says ‘THQ’. You can also tell because there are some toxic barrels, and toxic barrels are often radioactive, and THQ made a game once where radioactivity was pretty important.
Next up I found OS Lounge. This was my favourite room in Omega Sektor. It was because it was cavernous and completely empty and didn’t disappoint me in any way. I also liked the bean bags, because they sat there like a herd of lethargic, pudgy brown creatures.
I dropped down onto one of the creatures and did some thinking. This place wasn’t so bad. The computers were mighty beasts, with huge libraries of installed games and cost they less than £3 an hour to use. The toilets were clean and funky. There were vending machines everywhere from which you could buy a thing. Still, there was no pretending this was the community centre it claimed to be. It was trying hard enough - the staff were friendly and there was a Warcraft 3 tournament going on, but the building was far too big. The 25 or so customers present would have fitted far more comfortably into a smaller space and maybe even given it a nice atmosphere, but instead this cavernous interior let everyone retreat into their own private corner.
The weird thing was it was all very similar to when games themselves try and recreate social areas, like clubs and bars. It was a huge space, it had a strong stylistic theme, it had far too few people, the same objects were used over and over and there was too little to interact with. Problem is, Omega Sektor isn’t somewhere you just pass through on your journey to save the world or find some more angry guys to shoot. You’re just one of its NPCs.
Still, I hadn’t seen everything the Omega Sektor had up its sleeve just yet. I hoisted myself up and went in search of the super-exclusive VIP area.
…which turned out to be the same as everywhere else but with an obnoxious Call of Duty trailer on repeat.
Next stop: The Konsole Sektor!
Okay, I swear to God this room is a fucking philosophical enigma. There is no explaining how it came into existence. For it to be created someone would have to design it or lay it out, and there is just absolutely no way there exists a man or woman incapable enough. Please, let me guide you through this wondrous place.
The monitors on the left are all connected to a 360, which is in a steel cage. Each 360 has a game in, but there’s no way of telling what you’re going to get until you turn on the 360. Each 360 also has two controllers but one pair of headphones. But it’s the chairs that steal the show. You see the chairs on the left? They’re up against the wall. There is literally no way of you getting past someone sitting on one of those chairs unless you climb over them. And yet the monitors on the right, which have ample space, are all hooked up to regular PCs. You might have seen those before on your way to this room, because the building contains around FIVE HUNDRED OTHERS.
The only answer is that the Konsole Sektion of Omega Sektor in Birmingham was not created but has always existed. It’s my belief that Omega Sektor is actually a front, built around this room to try and make it seem perfectly ordinary.
This is the internet café. You know, in case you needed a PC.
In summary, don’t believe the hype. The community spirit the management of Omega Sektor is trying to foster just isn’t there yet, and there’s little of interest to enjoy except many, many PCs. Do, however, believe that this manages to be a fine LAN café. Muster up some friends to go with and you’ll have fun. And hey, you’ll even be doing your bit to contribute to that dream of a gamer’s haven. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of those in every city?