Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “PC? Oh hell no. That’s way to expensive and complicated. I like my 360 just fine.” There’s something to be said for that. We’ve reviewed many a high powered, high-priced machine here at Kotaku, and even the peripherals can add up. $400 for an Xbox 360, with a network that all of your friends are already on, as compared to $1500 or more for a PC, seems like a no-brainer to most players. And in a way, it is.
And in another way, it very much isn’t.
The family computer is a household device that, by the time I was 15, rivalled the family microwave or television in importance. We never had very much money; my father got laid off and faced a period of prolonged unemployment at what seemed like the exact moment that my mother became chronically ill. A Super Nintendo, N64 or PlayStation were emphatically not in the cards.
But we had a PC. It wasn’t the best PC in the world — in fact, by many estimations, it was actually the worst ever sold — but it ran DOS and Windows (3.11) and its 486/33 processor was at least powerful enough keep the thing functioning. And with its CD-ROM drive, it was enough to keep me gaming.
Shareware discs boasting “500 games!” for $3 or less brought me to a strange but memorable series of adventure games starring Hugo. They led me to a pair of titles from a studio then known as Epic MegaGames, Dare to Dream and, a sentimental still-favourite, Castle of the Winds. I ran mazes. I played third-hand clones of Prince of Persia. I played crosswords, and Solitaire, and got eaten by a yeti in SkiFree.
Eventually I was able to beg Myst for Christmas or maybe my birthday, and from that day I was well and truly off down the path of gaming. I discovered The Secret of Monkey Island and other LucasArts games down the street at a friend’s house, and she let me borrow her discs (and manuals, and cardboard gadgets, because that’s how copy protection worked at the time) to bring home and flail over on my own time. Somehow I ended up with a $5 bargain bin copy of Buried In Time, and convinced my parents to make up the half of SimCity 2000 I didn’t have the babysitting scratch for, when I found it on a shelf at Costco.
I reached adulthood with no fond childhood memories of any Zelda or Final Fantasy game, and the time I spent navigating Sonic around in circles was all at the neighbours’ house down the street in one summer. But the computer that was my tool for writing term papers in college also brought me Heroes of Might and Magic III, Diablo II, Worms Armageddon, and even a painful number of hours of Snood. In grad school, between arduous chapters of my terrible thesis I could nip into EverQuest II or Sid Meier’s Pirates!.
Since those years, mainstream gaming has become synonymous with gadgetry. We think of Xboxes and iPhones, of controllers and Call of Duty. And yet the PC era is more affordable and accessible than perhaps it ever has been.
A family can now get a decent PC, that everyone in the home can use for internet access, homework, job-work and the million other day-to-day functions society now relies on, for under $400 — about the same price bracket as an Xbox 360 or PS3. The games too now cost less than ever before.
Over the last five years, inexpensive PC games have more or less flowed like water. Steam sales, GOG and competitors to both have made price wars work out in the consumer’s favour, especially as services begin to branch out into Mac and Linux gaming. The proliferation of indie bundles and pay-what-you-will pricing means that those who truly can’t pay can still play legally obtained, high quality games. And the internet is absolutely overflowing with low-cost and no-cost alternatives, whether Flash games or social titles that will take your time instead of your money.
Staying on the cutting edge of gaming, no matter what your platform of preference, is an expensive pastime. It takes a certain level of dedication and disposable income to be first, whether that’s paying $700 for a new PS3 or $80 plus day-one DLC costs for a brand-new game on any platform. I’ll be the first to admit that my current gaming PC isn’t my parents’ $350 family machine, and that the Nvidia GPU inside, by itself, cost more than an Xbox 360 when it was new.
The cutting edge, though, isn’t the only place gaming takes place. Mass Effect was just as good a game when I finally played it in 2010 as it was when it came out in 2007. Bastion will be just as beautiful for gamers in 2014 as it was when it launched in 2011. And between remakes and Kickstarters, re-releases and retro reboots, there’s never been a better year for the new to be old.
The PC continues to have a bad rap as the most expensive way to pick up games when, in reality, we should be lauding it as the most accessible by far. It doesn’t take a five-figure setup to dive in. Almost anyone can have a go. And far beyond exceptional graphics and sound, or the ease of keyboard control, that accessibility is the best reason by far to love what the PC can do.
Top photo: Flickr user possan