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Why I Like Playing Games at my Desk

posted on February 2nd, 2010 by jackson

I like to think of myself as above silly things like console wars, but let’s face it, we all have our certain preferences. When we were kids our preferences came from the fact that our parents would only buy us one console, so whichever one we got was automatically the best. Nintendo’s exclusives were always better than Sega’s exclusives. Sony’s exclusives better than Microsoft’s. Of course if you happened to be the kid who got a Genesis or an Xbox then the reverse became true. As an adult I’m mature enough to understand that each piece of hardware has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each deserve the same amount of respect. But I’m also a human, and I have certain tastes and preferences. They aren’t based on exclusives or brand names anymore, just my personal style. I’ve always been a PC gamer, even when I didn’t label myself as one. It was always the platform for me, and here’s why:

The PC has the most diverse and oldest available library

I can play games that came out in the 80s with no problem. If I don’t mind messing around a little bit, I can load old floppies so I don’t even have to rebuy the games. Backwards compatibility is something every console has only just recently begun to fully address.

The PC truly does everything

The PC wasn’t created as a game system, it was created as an everything system. On my PC I can post this on the internet and then in a couple of clicks be playing Team Fortress 2 (which by the way is a joke on the Xbox). I don’t care if you hacked your console and installed Linux or whatever, the PC is still the only environment where games naturally co-exist with the rest of my digital life.

PC gaming is cheaper

Last December I spent $900 on a new PC. Hey, that doesn’t sound cheaper at all! But consider the fact that I won’t have to ever spend $60 on a PC game (ignore Modern Warfare 2). In fact I have almost never spent more than $20 for a PC game thanks to Steam. In a few years we’ll all have to buy new consoles that each cost several hundred dollars, along with new controllers and online subscriptions and games. My PC will probably get a new video card costing a hundred dollars or so, and everything else is business as usual. Except for MMO’s, there are never online fees to worry about. Of course I could spend $400 on a video card if I really wanted to, but I don’t. The price scales with my budget.

The PC is where the “true” hardcore games are

I play a game like Gears of War and I have to wonder why this is considered “hardcore.” I guess because it features violence and gore? It’s one of the simplest, most dumbed down games I’ve played in its genre. The fact that we call it “hardcore” punctuates how artificial that term is. The PC is where the real hardcore business goes down. No matter how high-resolution my TV is, the distance between my eyes and my monitor can be measured in inches. Even at my high resolution I can identify every pixel if I need to. My keyboard has a hundred and four keys, my mouse can move a cursor to any point on the screen faster than most console games can display a frame. I can use my PC to play games like King’s Bounty which utilize all of these features. They load the screen full of details and use the vast keyboard and precise mouse a to allow extreme control all of the aspects of the games. The PC is the most complex machine ever created in terms of what the regular user can do.

Genres exist on the PC which cannot on any other system

Things like the RTS, the simulation, the mod, the MMO. Hell, even a regular online game on a console doesn’t compare to a PC equivalent. This alone makes the PC a must-own system for me, and it depresses me when journalistic publications don’t consider the PC as a legitimate game system. Nearly the entire adventure game population is excluded from the console ecosystem. Almost any kind of strategy game must be streamlined and simplified to exist on a console. Online play on a PC is non-centralized and focused on the users and communities, and the FPS has much more precise controls.

Indie games and user created content is at home

There’s no red tape indies have to go through to break into the PC platform, literally anyone can distribute literally anything they create. This is something that every other platform is completely opposed to.  And going in hand with that:

Brand names don’t dominate the industry

The PC scene doesn’t stop and start at the whims of the biggest brands. I hate the hype machines that fuel exclusive releases. I hate big keynotes at trade shows. I hate being told what peripheral will be the next generation of gaming, or which generic big budget title will be the must-have game. I hate having game systems which try to be trendy by adding worthless features instead of actual improvements. The console ecosystem is like a dystopic world where everything is controlled by corporations who paint plastic smiles on everyone and everything. The PC ecosystem is like the real world. It’s composed of a much more diverse group of developers and users. It’s much more focused on the existing library rather than hyping a huge title coming out in the next few months, and empowers users and indie developers to create their own experience.

Does this make the PC the best game system? Of course not, that entire question is ridiculous. Is all of this my opinion? Of course.  Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. I own a Wii and play Animal Crossing and Wii Fit regularly. Those are both games that are great on the system they were made for. My reason for writing this is because we all have biases towards certain systems, styles, genres, and so on. As someone who writes about games a lot, it makes sense for me to be honest with my audience and with myself. I’m partial to certain types of games and certain ways to play games, we all have our own partialities.

I won’t deny there are lots of disadvantages to playing games on a PC. It’s noticeably more complex than playing games on a console, managing hardware isn’t everyone’s specialty, DRM schemes can be problematic, games ported from consoles often require gamepads and rarely preconfigure the controls, you can’t easily play games on the go, and most importantly you have do your gaming in a chair by yourself rather than on a couch with your buddies. These are all issues that I acknowledge and accept. I’m more or less a power user, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy spending thirty minutes trying to make a game five years old work on my computer. A relatively new game, BioShock, had a bug causing all in-game sound to not work on my new PC I bought last month. I found a solution to it eventually, but I didn’t appreciate the time I lost trying to fix a problem like this that shouldn’t even be there in the first place. On an Xbox or PS3 I could have just inserted the disk and never worried about it. Even though the PC has its warts, however, it’s the game system I’m most comfortable with.

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7 Comments

  1. Michelle said on February 3, 2010:

    Interesting article. I’m not a PC gamer at all, (that pretty much stopped when I made the move to a Mac) but I can appreciate all the excellent points you’ve made.

    Only comment I’d make is about the genres, I honestly believe the way that RTSs and MMOs are being utilised on consoles is getting better and can only get better, while a PC is better for managing more complex controls, the way that’s handled on consoles are getting better.

  2. jay said on February 3, 2010:

    I suppose I should write something long about why I am a console gamer. Not really to prove you wrong or anything, just because it feels like you’re so right only an idiot wouldn’t be a PC gamer.

    I prefer Japanese games:
    My favorite companies are developers like Treasure, Camelot, Mikami, Suda, Ueda, etc and their games tend to be console only. I’ll refer you to my last post as it should elucidate things — http://videolamer.com/weekend-in-review

    I prefer genres underrepresented or poorly represented on PC:
    Shmups and JRPGs just aren’t the same on computers as on consoles, both in quantity, quality and often control.

    I prefer ease of use and continued use years later:
    Trying to get DosBox to work and tricking X-Com into thinking my CPU is slower than it is is a pain in the ass. I like turning on a console and being able to play immediately without any worry of what OS, graphics card, sound card, whatever I am using. As something of a retro gamer the assurance that in a decade as long as my consoles turn on I will be able to play my games is very comforting.

    I play socially more than alone:
    Even, or especially, long single player games I tend to play with a friend around. The older I get the more I find it difficult to play games alone and my couch and living room set up facilitate social gaming much better than my desk chair.

    The one thing I will easily accept the PC destroys consoles in is indie development. I’m somewhat ashamed at how little attention I pay to the scene as in theory it is really appealing. If a developer does manage to get their small game onto a console’s download service the odds I’ll buy it increase exponentially.

  3. christian said on February 3, 2010:

    Jay brings up one point that I’d like to elaborate on. I just bought X-Com myself, when it was just 2 dollars on Steam (along with the rest of the series). I know my version will run just fine, because any Steam games running DosBox have all the configuration done for you. But Jay doesn’t have that option.

    It wouldn’t be easy to do, due to the different copy protection schemes used over the years, but it would be great if gamers were allowed to register their games on Steam and then be able to download the new, compatible version. I know Valve games support this (you type in the CD key), but I haven’t heard of it being supported in any other form.

    That all being said, the fact that we can get more and more compatible, classic PC games for cheap is fantastic. It’ll make me play more PC games for sure.

    I’m still hoping that running games under Wine continues to improve. Running games under Linux would mean not having to do things like disable antivirus/annoying processes, and having a good configurable firewall.

    But mostly I don’t play on PC because my box can’t run any modern stuff :(

  4. chris said on February 3, 2010:

    I’ll play games on whatever has the genre I like. First-person shooters, RTS, sims and strategy games are for the PC while I have consoles for action/adventure, puzzle, and JRPGs.

    I have been feeling a lot of upgrade hell recently as my computer died shortly after getting Dragon Age for it. I ended up spending about $400 on new hardware, and although Dragon Age runs better, I still foresee another $200 or so of upgrades just to be able to keep running the latest games – and that’s just before the next generation of console hardware. Upgrades are nothing compared to the awful experience of spending hours troubleshooting a problem because it’s a full moon on a Thursday and the rendering engine doesn’t handle those on your graphics card.

    With Steam’s recent sales (particularly the post-Christmas sale) I’ve been snapping up more PC games, but I haven’t actually been playing the PC a whole lot more. Even if the PS3/Wii take an eternity to start up compared to the NES, they’re a sight faster than the average PC.

    Also, while I’m on the subject of PC games and others have brought up running older games, in addition to Steam there’s a wonderful site for older games at gog.com. I’ve repurchased games I already own there just to have them in a nicer, more compatible format.

  5. Cunzy1 1 said on February 4, 2010:

    All of your arguments are true but sitting at the desk at 4 o clock in the morning is one of the saddest sights. The desk symbolizes loneliness. Desk aren’t for sharing. Gaming at a desk is like asking for a table for one at a restaurant or buying six microwave meals at the supermarket.

  6. Cunzy1 1 said on February 10, 2010:

    This post has been on the front page for way too long now. Surely there’s new content no Jay?

  7. chris said on February 10, 2010:

    Jay is probably too busy digging a tunnel to someplace where there isn’t 5 feet of snow.

    And yeah, even I’ve got something for him to look over.

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