The prognosis is dire, I’m afraid. It’s time for PC gaming to start a heavy drinking and smoking habit and to make a list of “Things I Want to Do Before The End.” It’s terminal cancer, and not the good kind either. It’s the kind that will most certainly kill it, but slowly and only after putting it through a protracted and agonizing battle with false cures, hopes, and pain. The cancer might even go into remission once or twice, but it will triumph in the end.
We’ve heard this prediction before, of course, and as a passionate PC gamer, I was always quick to dismiss it. PCs offered prettier and deeper games than their console brethren. After a month with my new PS3, however, I’ve decided that the end of the PC age finally approacheth, and right soon.
To be sure, I feel guilty about writing off my beloved machine. Steerpike helped me piece it together over three years ago and it still runs nearly every game with only relatively minor hardware upgrades. I do not celebrate the console’s impending victory, but I can see the forest for the trees and the little bunnies and bees, too. I’ve decided to accept it, and I present the following argument merely to help my fellow PC gamers begin their journey through the grieving process.
The first point: there are few PC-exclusive games worth buying. The most recent flagship titles like Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Bioshock 2, and Aliens vs. Predator are all available on consoles, leaving only S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat alone on the PC-exclusive island. I own or will soon own all of these games, and when given a choice, I will buy the PS3 version every time even as a single tear dribbles down my cheek upon purchase.
If PCs can claim one small victory, it’s that they are still the best platform for deep strategy titles like Civilization, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Medieval 2: Total War. I didn’t play Civilization: Revolution or Sakey’s favorite, Viva Pinata, but the reviews indicated these were merely the childish, watered-down, light beer versions of the strategy classics. OK, maybe Pinata received better reviews, but I’m convinced these are the same fools that thought Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Indigo Prophecy were anything other insect excrement.
Sadly, I don’t play strategy games all that much now. True, I have more responsibilities now than I did back in 1991 when I played the original Civilization for 12 hours at a time or when I spent the entire winter of 2007 conquering Europe in M2TW. I played so much Medieval that whenever it snows, I nostalgically reminisce about snowball fights with my elementary-school friends and opening Autobots and Decepticons for Christmas even as I quietly smile about slaughtering infidels and flanking infantry with heavy cavalry. Sigh. Excuse me…I have something…in my eye…both of them…
Strategy games require regular and prolonged play for them to be rewarding, otherwise I lose the thread of my plan and my interest wanes. Why was I at war with the Aztecs? What is this army doing in Bulgaria? What technologies do I need? But as easy as it is to blame a lack of time for changing tastes, I know now that’s just the lie I used tell myself when I was still in denial of my loved one’s impending death. We inevitably make time for our cherished pursuits, and if I have forsaken PC gaming, it’s for other reasons.
As I’ve already stated, one of these is the volume of quality gaming titles for consoles. I bought Dragon Age for the PC upon its release. I played for all of three hours before the game began locking up on me. When I tried to reload a save game, my reward was another hard lock. I spent another four hours digging into BioWare’s forums for a solution. Please understand: four hours in my life is about two nights of gaming time, and instead of spending it gaming, I was studying and attempting a dozen ways to fix BioWare’s broken game. I downloaded new drivers for my video card, my motherboard, my sound, tweaked the visual settings, and other…less savory things. Terrible things. Some users even recommended quite flippantly that I should just nuke and pave my hard drive as if this wasn’t equivalent to shooting a patient to save them from appendicitis.
The experience soured me, of course, and it was by no means the first hardware or software issue I’ve had with a new release. If I have to spend four fruitless hours troubleshooting and possibly wipe my hard drive to make a game work, then screw it. I eventually found the problem and had to disable the in-game sound to play DA. Yay. To BioWare’s credit, they released a patch two weeks later than more or less solved the issue, though it’s still prone from crashes in certain areas.
I’m sick of crashes, freezes, and troubleshooting. I’m tired of buying a new game and worrying about whether or not some permutation in my computer will make it unplayable. Consoles rarely encounter such problems, as much as I can tell. Sure, the games might have some buggy features, but they work and don’t require me to screw with drivers and BIOS and an infinite number of other crap nuggets that I barely understand.
I can hear the BioWare boards masses’ response: “Buy a new computer.” To which I respond, “F*** off. F*** directly off.” I need to spend $1,500 every two to three years plus RAM and video card upgrades so I can “ensure” a bug-free gaming experience? How many upgrades will I need to buy for my PS3 in the next few years? Zero, that’s how many, you trolling monkey-lovers.
Still…one could counter these arguments with the observation they are somewhat subjective. Some people are willing to spend thousands on new gaming machines every 12 to 18 months. Some are savvy enough to troubleshoot efficiently. This brings my argument to its most compelling part, but to get to it, I must indulge in my past.
Back in 1987 when the monitor alone weighed more than our CPUs and we had the choice of radioactive green or um…orangy orange, I began to dabble in PC gaming. These were Infocom’s classics like Zork and Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy, Starflight from Electronic Arts, and soon Sierra’s Space Quest and King’s Quest. We had an Intellivision and a Colecovision, but I scarcely touched them once we had our PC dinosaur. Nintendo and Sega Genesis came and went, but I forsook Zelda and Phantasy Star for Wasteland and Sentinel Worlds: Future Magic. Games looked and played better on PCs than on consoles through the 90s and into the 21st century, provided one was always willing to upgrade your dinosaur when necessary.
And I was willing and so I did, but no longer. Perhaps the Tap-Repeatedly audience differs with this opinion, perhaps not. Even so, I’m willing to wager that a substantial majority of hardcore PC gamers are 25 or older. We all lived through System Shock 2 and Civilization II while 8-bit systems were fuddling about with Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe II. Even while PlayStation gave me the classic Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill, I still preferred Fallout and Descent.
Here’s the rub: the teens and preteens on today’s systems have little to no incentive to make the transition to PC gaming or even shifting to real money games, through online gambling/gaming platforms. Flagship titles are not only readily (or only) available on the consoles, but they are frequently available on mammoth high definition televisions. They can play on the couch while chattering Ritalin-fueled taunts into their wireless headsets as they castrate my ego in Modern Warfare 2. As they age, parents will certainly buy them the next generation console rather than spend three times the cash to buy a gaming rig. By the time the new generation can buy their own toys, they will choose the comfort of their living room and 52-inch 3d televisions over a mouse and 22-inch monitor.
The PC’s only trump lay in its continued dominance in the real-time strategy and turn-based strategy genres, though the latter becomes more of a niche genre by the year. Starcraft 2 won’t see a console and I’m certain we’ll see countless PC-exclusive clones in the following months. Eventually, however, someone will evolve the console interface to accommodate traditional mouse-only territory, and the PC will finally meet its merciful end. If it seems impossible, recall that PCs claimed hegemony over shooters until 2001, when Microsoft released Halo upon frat houses everywhere.
I love my machine, and it loves me; that’s why it told me to remarry and be happy once it leaves this earth. After it goes, I know it will see me with my PS3 and my 52-inch HD TV and my surround sound, and I know it will finally be at peace.
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