Internet gaming is often thought of as one of those things that nerdy, anti-social Web-heads do in their bedrooms in the dead of night. However, anyone who harbours such prejudices should take a trip to The Playing Fields in Whitfield Street, off Tottenham Court Road, London. Even if you are not into computer games, it is quite fun to see a place that so obviously caters for gamers.
The Playing Fields, the UK's first gaming bar, was opened over two years ago. Edward Watson was a co-founder. "We wanted to make computer games accessible to everyone and to encourage people to play others in a social environment," he says. "We welcome people into the gaming bit as if they were friends and it is more like a sports or social club than an Internet café."
Watson's desire to create a gaming centre stemmed from all the prejudice he encountered over the years, simply because he plays computer games. "I've been a gamer for about seven years and I thought of all the times I've been ostracised as a geek with no social skills, when I'm not like that at all," he explains.
Sure enough, when you walk into The Playing Fields everyone seems to be very relaxed and chatty. There is a real community feel and it has the atmosphere of a sixth form common room. Of course, there are computers everywhere, but there is also a café-style area, a bar, table football and a couple of TV screens blasting out MTV music. It doesn't serve food, apart from standard snacks such as crisps and peanuts, but it does serve soft drinks and alcohol.
According to Watson, The Playing Fields is the premier place for gaming in the UK. "We run most of the major tournaments." A couple of weekends ago, it hosted the European Quake III Championships. It has also recently introduced a Ladies' Night. This is only an occasional event, but when the last one took place in July, Watson decided to make a real thing of it. "The staff dressed up in black tie and the women wore evening dresses," he says.
If the glamorous side appeals, keep an eye out for celebrity gamers. Sujoy Roy, the UK's first professional gamer was doing a spot of work there on my visit.
This was first published in September 2000