A few months ago, I ascended to the ‘Glorious PC Gaming Master Race.’ What this means in English is that instead of buying a games console, I bought a gaming PC (the very gaming PC, in fact, on which I write these words). But there are more and better benefits to PC gaming besides impeccable word processing. Pricier than consoles, gaming PCs are less for the hobbyist, more for the enthusiast. While budget rigs can be bought, owning a gaming PC says, in no uncertain terms, I Am a Serious Gamer. Which begs the following question: why did I – a gaming casual with the dusty copy of Wii Sports to prove it – purchase a high-spec gaming PC with a £270 graphics card and a buttery-smooth 144 Hz monitor?
Certainly it was a departure from type. Mega Drive, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2, Xbox 360 – if ever I troubled to write a gaming CV, employers would place it unhesitatingly on the ‘console gamer’ pile. Yes I’d played the odd game on PC (Championship Manager, Civilization), but PCs were too complicated to get into full-time. Consoles, by comparison, were the easiest thing in the world – turn them on and the games basically played themselves. But maybe that was the problem. Maybe I wanted something different, challenging, better. Maybe it was time for this gamer to finally come of age.
PC gamers are clued-up gamers. They possess cultivated tastes. When not gaming, they’ll be watching art-house cinema, sipping single-malt whisky or listening to experimental jazz from the ‘70s (perhaps I’m overreaching here). If that sounds elitist, it’s because PC gamers, simply, are. In the course of my researches (i.e. watching some YouTube videos impressing on me the superiorities of PC gaming), I realised I had stumbled into a clash of civilisations, a collision between two directly competing gaming ideologies.
You’ve probably heard of the console wars, mostly involving PS4 and Xbox One ‘fanboys’ calling each other imps of Satan for preferring one multinational conglomerate-branded box over another. So immature, so pointless, so rich in the narcissism of small differences. Well, PC gamers hate both tribes equally. To the ‘master race,’ no matter what device hums beneath your TV, you’re a ‘console peasant.’ Because console gaming, per them, is for the hordes: downtrodden pixel-poor plebeians who hold controller-shaped begging bowls and are too ignorant to realise that Sony and Microsoft are rinsing them for every doubloon they own. How can they put up with such contemptibly low frame rates? How much for online multiplayer?! Why the loading times?
Unsurprisingly, console fans don’t much like being savaged by a self-appointed gaming elite. The alleged Master Racers, as far as they’re concerned, are nothing but thundering bores, bloodless geeks, anally retentive irritants too busy comparing the length of their video cards and obsessing over frame rates to actually enjoy playing a video game. Yes, they might be able to be able to run Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1440p while keeping a locked 60, but they also dropped an amount of money on their rig that smaller nations would fancy as their GDP. Which beings me back to my chief stumbling block as a would-be PC gamer. The experience might be better, but is it worth the premium price? Because by no stretch of the imagination can PC gaming be called cheap.
In October 2015, the height of my PC-or-console dilemma, a PS4 or Xbox One was priced at around £300. By comparison, a mid-to-high range gaming PC was over £500, not including the monitor. That’s quite a surcharge to pay for smoother frame rates and prettied-up graphics. But perhaps I could view it as an investment. I wanted my rig, above all, to be futureproof. Having endured some ropy experiences playing recent games on my superannuated Xbox 360 (hello Far Cry 4), I didn’t want my eyes go through that again. PCs are upgradeable, after all. Hardware performance may fizzle with time, but it’s nothing a new video card won’t fix. Then, too, there’s the sheer profusion of games available on PC. Varied and vast, they tickle every gamer’s tastes, be they an FPS fiend or a turn-based-strategy philosopher. But I think what ultimately swayed me was the fact that this new machine would be of my own making. Not Sony’s. Not Microsoft’s. Mine.
But building a PC, let’s be frank, is no easy task. Especially when, like me, you know as much about graphics cards as your maiden aunt and think Nvidia is a town somewhere in Lithuania. Thankfully for this particular digital doofus, he has a computer-whizz Dad only too happy (I think) to swoop in for unpaid tech support. Just as well, because unaided, I doubt I could have got much beyond unpacking the mousemat. With my Dad drafted in, we soon managed to transform the bewilderment of SATA cables and RAM modules and power supplies piled on my living room floor into something that resembled a computer. And when the hour came to press the power button, there was no explosion. There was no electrocution. It worked.
Thus it was that I elbowed aside my old computer (an enfeebled ‘all-in-one’), and began getting to grips with my new rig. Windows installed, the blink-of-an-eye boot time was a pleasant surprise, but it wasn’t until I played my first game (The Witcher 3) that my jaw truly swung. At its highest settings, the graphics look thrillingly sharp, and it was all I could do not to sit there agape, luxuriating in the plenitude of pixels. Yes, I reflected, this is worth it for the sight of Geralt’s silvered tresses alone. I’m still not a serious gamer – I own gaming headset nor gaming keyboard – but PC gaming has my seal of approval. Now excuse me while I return once more to post-apocalyptic Boston. Fallout 4 isn’t going to complete itself.