It's Time For Me To Be A PC Gamer Again

People become gamers by accident, usually when they're young. A school friend's console turns them into one. Or a parent hands them their first controller. It happens naturally. But being a PC gamer... as far as I've been able to tell, that happens on purpose. That's something you declare. It's no accident. It's an effort, a conscious act.

I once was a PC gamer. Then I stopped, for years. Soon, I'll start again. I'm ready.

Who a PC Gamer Is

For most of my gaming life, the no-stress ease of the gaming console suited me well. I drive automatic transmission after all, not stick. I don't have any desire to lift the hood of a car. Tinkering is barely a pleasure; maintenance is something to pay others for. I recently installed a ceiling fan and only shocked myself slightly. That was enough home improvement for me.

The PC gamer, I've observed, is the person who will lift the hood of a car. They tinker. They fix. They expect things to not run perfectly and they assume the responsibility to make them run better. The console gamer waits for a patch. The PC gamer finds one. Or makes one.

My PC Days, Pre-Nintendo

I was a PC Gamer in 1985, when, despite my complaints, my parents bought a Commodore 64. I still recall my bizarre reaction, as I complained to my mother that using a computer was "cheating". Strange, I know, but that's how I first came to think of computers. To me, they were shortcut creators. That was their power. We did word processing through Bank Street Writer and practised typing with a game that involved a wizard whose spell-casts I can still hear in my mind today.

We got a lot of games. Snooper Troops stands out, as does Test Drive and a batch of Accolade adventures. I played Spy Hunter off of a cartridge and Impossible Mission off of a floppy disc. My favourite game was LucasArts' Labyrinth, a text adventure that turned into a graphical adventure based on the Jim Henson movie. But here's the perfect PC gaming twist: We made some games. Basic stuff. My brother and I typed in programming code from Run magazine. I have no idea what we typed in, and I'm sure we never intentionally deviated from the code listed in the magazine. Nevertheless, that was as under-the-hood as I'd ever get.

The PC gamer, I've observed, is the person who will lift the hood of a car. They tinker. They fix.

I liked playing games on a computer, partially because that was the only machine we had games on. We'd had an Odyssey 2, not an Atari, but neglected it by the time the C64 arrived. Maybe it broke. I don't remember. We'd eventually get a Nintendo Entertainment System, later than any of my friends did, and soon we'd have an IBM PC, too (maybe a 286; probably a 386). My brother preferred the computer; I glided toward Mario and Nintendo. He played Microsoft Flight Simulator. A lot. Downstairs, my C64 pulled me back in because we got a modem for it. I logged into a service called Quantum Link, the proto-AOL that included Club Caribe a LucasArts-looking graphical chat room with avatars and palm trees and whatnot. The gaming diet in my home was typical. We got Tetris on the NES and we got SimCity on the PC.

SimCity became an obsession. SimCity produced the worst gaming purchasing decision of my life, when my mother gave me the choice of getting SimCity CD or SimCity 2000. The latter was an actual sequel; a complex improvement over the original. But I asked for CD, a re-packaging of the original game, but with live-action cut-scenes added in (click on the one in this article, if you dare). Thanks, PC gaming: you were making me feel stupid even back then.

We got Myst, of course, and I think I solved all of it. Took notes, even.

Minimum Specs, High Prices and the Breaking Point

Our IBM 486 begat a Pentium 1? 2? I don't recall. One of those went to college with me, along with a copy of SimTower and some helicopter sim. This was 1994, and it was the year I learned about minimum specs and started loathing PC gaming. SimTower only ran well when my tower was one story high. Add more floors and the game started to chug. The helicopter game was smooth during take-off, but not during the moment of having a missile fired at me. I'd brought a Super Nintendo with me to college as well. It did not cause me these kinds of problems. Yoshi's Island just worked and only slowed down when you hit the fuzzy enemies that were programmed to make it seem like Yoshi had suddenly become drunk.

PC gaming began to piss me off. My computer was sort of new and already couldn't run new games well. I think we bought me a new computer. Soon enough, it was lagging as well, and soon enough I was buying my last PC game. I used my computer in college to write term papers. I used my Super Nintendo as a trade-in for a Nintendo 64. I didn't hear about any PC games that were as cool as Super Mario 64 back then, and, as it's been chronicled, I totally missed Doom.

I lived without Civilization and without Quake. I lived without Baldur's Gate and without Fallout. I never played Half-Life, never touched Deus Ex.

In my later years in college I worked part-time at a magazine. The art director there was the first person I met who loved Macs. Somehow that led to me goofing off at work sometimes, playing Spaceward Ho!. This art director guy, Ken, raved about a Doom-like game for the Mac called Marathon. I had no interest. I had GoldenEye on my N64. I didn't need any other first-person shooter. The thing I liked about Macs, from the way my friend at work described them, is that they seemed airtight. They seeme hassle-free. They seemed, more or less, like consoles. So when I went to grad school right after college, I got my first laptop. It was a Mac. So was my second, and nary a game ever ran on those machines. Gaming was for my N64, then for my GameCube, my Game Boy Advance, my PlayStation 2, or, briefly, for the Dreamcast I borrowed from a friend.

I'd often hear that PC gaming was better, but when I'd do the maths, I'd realise it was also ridiculously more expensive. So I lived without it. I lived without Civilization and without Quake. I lived without Baldur's Gate and without Fallout. I never played Half-Life, never touched Deus Ex. When I only owned a GameCube, I knew enough that I was missing things to spring for a PS2 and then an Xbox, but PC gaming lived on the other side of a wall I could not afford to surmount, not with the fear that as soon as I bought a PC for today's games, I'd discover it couldn't run tomorrow's.

Fear. That's What It Was.

In my second long-term job after grad school, I made a friend who loved Fallout and who foisted a dual copy of Fallout/Fallout 2 into my hands. I don't remember which computer I tried it on. I think I had a Windows-based tower PC at the time, not for games but for word-processing, checking email and using the web. I loaded the first game, liked it, but got stuck. I'd made my hero too mediocre. He couldn't talk his way past some mean guards. Couldn't fight them too. I backed away from PC gaming again. I moved in with my girlfriend and she went out for a full Saturday once. During that Saturday I went from level 1 to level 12 as a Tauren Druid in World of Warcraft. That was the first and last MMO I'd ever played. Too much work.

My fear of PC gaming persisted. Being a PC gamer would demand too much, I had decided. Too much money. Too much time. Too much work. It was ridiculous to me that just about nothing could run Crysis. I could sleep at night without having played Doom 3. But from time to time I'd hear about a new PC game that must have reminded me of the top-down fun of those old SimCitys. A guy named Peter Molyneux concocted the likes of Black & White and The Movies, sims about being god or a movie mogul, respectively. Games like this started arriving in my mailbox from game publishers who wanted to catch the eye of someone who was now a game reporter. I had no computer that could run things well. Loading a PC game, for me, was like making a new friend, waving to them and then watching them have a heart attack.

PC gaming frustrated me, because I could not make sense of it. Search engines never produced the right solutions to my technical woes. I had the wrong drivers or the wrong graphics card. I didn't know. Maybe more RAM would help, or maybe my processor just sucked. I didn't want to guess if the game I was buying was going to work. I didn't want to always feel that, even if it did, it could run better if only my machine was different. I got an Xbox 360. It didn't give me these headaches.

People began talking about a game called Spore. It was only going to be on PC. I was a game reporter by the time it was close to release. I interviewed people who were making it. So I bought a gaming laptop — yes, a laptop, an acquiescence to the New York city-dweller's lack of space. It ran Spore — the first video game I spent $US1500 to play — just fine. Too bad the game wasn't that good.

The Allure of the Indies

As I made a name for myself as a video game reporter, the good people behind the Independent Games Festival invited me to judge indie games. They'd send me half-made works of wonderfully imaginative creators. After years of playing consoles games — after years of never having touched a mod — the first batch of indie games I downloaded to try on my gaming laptop were the rawest games I'd seen in decades. The rawest games I'd seen since those ones my brother and I typed into our C64. I struggled to get some of these games to run. Some were bad; some just badly made. But they fascinated me. I played Braid this way, more than a year before it came out. I played batches of physics games and shooters, some weird adventure games and other creations that were more abstract.

For one thrilling week per 52, I was gaming on the frontier instead of on the safe terrain of consoles.

For several years, I only played PC games once a year, when it was time to judge games for the IGF. That was an uptick in my rate of PC gaming. It gave me one thrilling week per 52 when I was gaming on the frontier rather than on the safe terrain of the Xbox 360, the Wii and the PlayStation 3.

A few years back, I had the sense not to tell the folks at Valve Software that the Steam press account that they gave me — the account that would unlock, for free, the majority of games available on Steam — was something I couldn't really use. I could play some indie games, but I couldn't run a lot of other games from Steam. Or, maybe I could. I wouldn't. I'd fancied myself a gaming omnivore, diving into games on any console or handheld, but I'd made a dietary exception for PC gaming. That was just too much. And, I must admit, I did not mind the signs of PC gaming's decline, because I knew it would leave me fewer gaming platforms to worry about. (To make matters worse/slightly-better, I did use my Steam account to redeem Bejeweled 3, which I liked very much. Defcon, too.)

Time For a Comeback

My gaming laptop is now obsolete. It hasn't been able to run any new games of note in a few years. I'd stuck to consoles, handhelds and iOS devices for my gaming since then. In these last few years, I fully lost my ability to call myself a PC gamer, something this chronology shows I let slip away, bit by bit.

I can no longer ignore it, and I now feel as if I am missing an extraordinarily exciting section of gaming. I won't ignore it any longer.

Two years ago, I should have been playing a lot of Minecraft and The Witcher. One year ago, I should have tried Amnesia. This year, I should have been playing DayZ. I couldn't play Star Wars: The Old Republic. I can't play League of Legends. I could Bootcamp my Macbook Air, but I don't think that would be the right way to dive into the world of the so very many fascinating, indie games being made for the PC.

My computer gaming diet can't simply consist of the oddly captivating FarmVille 2 that runs now in my browser. I need to try FTL. I need to be ready for Cube World. I need to play a Paradox game, at long last. And I need to be ready, appropriately enough, for a new SimCity.

There is a cardboard box at my feet right now. In it is a brand-new gaming PC. It's a laptop, space still being tight. But it's my ticket back. I don't know if I ever really was one, considering all the classics I missed, but I'm ready, at least to make the effort. I will be a PC gamer. It's finally important to me.


Comments

    I have totally been thinking this (and preaching it to friends) the last couple months!

    Yeah - I had a similar experience. It's really been steam, the Indies, and developers seeming to realise that scalability of their games are important that's made PC gaming viable again.

    That box at your feet... What's inside? I must know.

    Allow me to say, welcome to the party that is PC gaming. Enjoy your time, don't break anything and will see you on whichever field your new found gaming plethora takes you.

    The whole rant about tinkering and such is kinda moot if you bought a laptop....

    funny..I'm looking at laptops recently...

    its also funny because I became a PC gamer by accident, I had a decent computer and thourght this "bioshock" looked interesting.....I started playing and realised:

    "so you move with WASD and aim with the mouse?....hey, thats neat!"

    It's pretty much how it works, consoles are great for couch gaming, but if you want the full experience you need a PC, so many games just cant be translated into a console version without losing so much.

      Full experience of what? Sure the graphics are better but the "experience" isn't anymore "full" than a console and depending on the game, the console WILL give a better experience.

      Before the hate comes I'm mostly a PC gamer...

        The full experience of actual control, controllers have nothing on a mouse and keyboard when it comes to feeling like yoru in control (dont have a cry or flame me its true).
        The sound and the visuals are more amazing a a good PC setup than a console.
        The comminity is my biggest issue with the experience playing Xbox live multiplayer is painful with the number of wailing banshee's and morons.
        Plus shitty host systems on console games that are never optimized or allow host advantage for most games.

        Im not hating on consoles, im a collector of consoles, i own almost every one ever released, im just pointing out the facts and that is that PC gaming will always be superior. (well... un till valve release there own console)

          ^This.

    "That’s something you declare. It’s no accident. It’s an effort, a conscious act."

    Or in my case, it's cause your parents ran a home business and so you had access to PCs but not consoles. :P

      Or your dad gets you into PC gaming from about the age of 5, and I'm incredibly grateful for it. So many good times spent in WarCraft 3 <3

        You were 5 when Warcraft 3 came out? Damn it...

          Damn, I just realised warcraft 3 came out 10 years ago. Now I feel old.

    Wow, just read through and you've had some bad luck with gaming. I've never really found minimum and recommended specs to be that confusing personally, but I guess I got used to paying attention to what hardware is needed for gaming from a young age.

    At the moment I'm also mostly playing 360, rather than PC. With the release of Planetary Annihilation (or hopefully before that) I'll be back into that though, probably with a nice upgrade. Although at least my rig is pretty decent at the moment (still a year or 2 old now though).

      It is far less of an issue these days. Having a decent computer will run most released games and if it struggles you can often get away with "turning the settings down", you have that wiggle room. Back in the day however, when so much of the graphic processing was done on the CPU and and the early 3D games (actual, not pretend) used "all of the RAMs" and you were shelling out 2:1 dollars/MB of ram and your motherboard supported 2 slots unless you were really well off, then you had 4 (and this only happened late 90s). Sticks of RAM came in 64s and 128s and the idea that you would ever hit even 1gb of ram was a delusion of someone traeling through magazines and visiting retailers putting together their dream system.
      Back to my point. you had bugger all resources to work with and very very limited tweaking available for performance of games so if it didn't meet the minimum specs then it wasn't running. These days it was probably possible to run BF3 on a very out-dated system with a bit of fussing over settings. Trying to run Age of Empires II on an outdated system, the game wouldn't even boot, oh, and everything wanted working sound and adequate drivers :P

    Was the helicopter game Gunship 2000?

    my wife got sick of me spending $2k every 2 or so years to update/upgrade, that said my 4 year old pc is still going fairly strong, able to run most games I want to play (but often on a fairly low resolution without bells and whistles). meh etc etc is it 5 o'clock?

      I reckon I've dropped about 2.5k on graphics cards since the 3dfx.

      Yes, it is beer oclock.

        yeah those really hit the wallet, fried a 6800gt moded to a GTS (iirc) with a leaking h2o setup... damn that hurt.
        woot woot beer o'clock!

          Also, Riva TNT2 reporting in, first GFX card I owned, that thing was amazing, compared to my onboard S3 Trio I had been rocking for a few years

    Yeah. Macs need more games.

    I struggle to see the argument that PC gaming is expensive. When my desktop bricked I started using my (work) laptop for gaming as well and it has run everything I have asked it to (Skyrim etc) at good resolution and with a lot of the graphical doodads turned on. The only game it has struggled with is BF3 MP on high detail.

      Its not now, but it was. There's just no getting around that. There was a period at the end of the ninties where you'd buy an uber expensive graphics card (costing twice as much as an N64), and it would be useless inside twelve months. I don't know how there was a market for it.

        PC hardware overall is much less expensive than it was back then. It also didn't hurt that consoles have been dictating how good graphics can be for any cross platform game. It has really lowered minimum reqs.

      yeah i dont understand it, i just upgraded to a new rig cost me just under $1000 (most expensive componant was a new monitor $500, Samsung TA950)
      i7 980X
      UD7 mobo
      16gb ddr3 ram
      HD5870
      120gb SSD
      750gb seagate momentus XT
      couple cheapO terrabyte HDD

      Already had a good case keyboard and mouse.... but for the guts it cost me less than $500, and check those specs for that price they are incredible, just need to shop around and know what to look for.

    It's funny you bring this up. I had a c64,NES and sms I don't remember which was first. Then went anew followed by ps1. But for the last 12 year's I have been a solid pc gamer and my wrists are starting to take their toll. I'm now thinking its high time I dive back into consoles and I can't wait!

    Only became a PC gamer this year. I think a lot of console players are "ready" for next-gen, so jumping on board PC is the way to go.

    PC will always be my number one gaming platform and my upcoming Wii U will provide me a different gaming experience that i cant get on my PC.

    since the end of the 90s i havent understood the argument that PC gaming is expensive. Back then it was expensive because of the constant developments in games. these days it is less so due to the increased work effort for each step forward.
    Most people have a computer my gaming PC is my computer so that effectively cuts the price in half (unless you use a POS netbook) plus games are normally cheaper by 10-20 dollars so it adds up pretty quickly.

    IMO using a pre-built gaming laptop doesn't make you a pc gamer, custom-build or gtfo

      Totally agree. The authors problem isn't with PC gaming, it's that he's too much of an idiot to pick up a cheap PC gaming mag and spend 15 minutes figuring out how to even ORDER an appropriate machine from one of the many suppliers of cheap Tiawanese sourced computer systems.

      PC gaming is cheap. Over time, cheaper than console gaming. You need to not be a complete moron (aka buying a "gaming laptop" - an oxymoron if I ever heard of one) and you also get this amazing device that allows you to do a wide variety of things - like office/school work, your taxes, skyping friends, surfing the web and flaming people on internet forums.

      And then, when you're done with it (like I am with my old AMD 2.2 GHZ desktop), you slap a HD TV tuner card in it and turn it into a pimped out media centre.

      Sadly, when you're done with your Xbox 360 and are playing the next gen console, you'll be repurposing it as a fishbowl or planter. Yes, wise investment there.

        Nah, fully modded-emulation-box that sits under the TV.

        totally agree
        author speaks of expense. no f-ing wonder buying overpriced hardware, laptops of similar even lower specs than a tower are always much more expensive. and they end up taking up a similar amount of desk space. your purely paying for portability.

        if you get a desktop computer. most of the initial cost is for parts you can use for years, e.g. keyboard mouse, moniter, case and hard drives.

        i own allot of consoles from Sega master systems through to Xbox 360 and PS3. and in my opinion absolutely nothing compares with a high end PC game running on a high end computer.
        i mean zelda ocarina of time on n64 was prity kik ass, probly best consol game ever.
        but a consol compared with playing games on three screens in 3d (yea ive got peripheral vision. ) with true suround sound. much better graphics and quality keyboard and mouse. so much more Emerson.

        even using a gaming laptop your missing out on alot, and that gets alot more than a console.
        consoles are for have a bit of relaxed fun on the couch when your board (if you have time to get board)
        pcs (not laptops) are for real gaming.

    Why not just be an gamer, and play the videogames you feel like playing on the system that the particular game is best on?! I couldn't live without my PC or game consoles - simple as that!

    OH no. getting new PC for sim-city? I haven't heard much about the new one to give me any hope that it'll be a shining example of the possibilities on PC.

    I guess i feel the same way about consoles, apart from owning a NES, SNES and N64 and playing on others PS1's/2's and 3's and the odd bout of other consoles department stores, I've always been a PC gamer starting from a commodore64 right through all those milestone games, It would be hard to think of myself as a gamer if i didn't have that,

    I have a PS3 and a Wii... I still play 99% of games on the PC. It's still down to user preference no matter what. It comes down to the experience really.

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