I’m building a PC.

This is very exciting for me. I’ve never built one, but I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. The consoles are finally moving on to the next generation, and for the first time in a decade I don’t care. Neither machine really interests me and Microsoft and Sony’s interest in locking down the user experience bothers me much more than it used to. I suppose one could attribute this to the Xbox 360’s almost comical descent into interactive billboard over the last two years, or perhaps I’m becoming more libertarian as I grow older. That’s the usual political shift with age, right?

At any rate, it feels like time to move to the PC. In truth, to “future proof” against the coming console quantum leap from games that look very good to games that look a little bit better than that and the accompanying console ports that need a $799 graphics card to run at a 640×400 resolution,[1] I’d probably have to spend a lot more money than it would cost to purchase one of the new machines. In fact, to build the kind of PC that might get random people on the Internet to just SHUT UP, I’d probably spend the amount it would cost to buy both of Sony and Microsoft’s newest gifts to the Madden-playing masses.

I’m not going to do that though. Instead, I’ve bought the parts to put together a pretty decent machine that will run current games rather well. People in the know refer to such a build, rather worryingly considering the price, a “mid-range” PC. That’s fine. You see, the PC has a secret weapon that I didn’t care about an awful lot a few years ago but that now dominates my gaming experience: versatility. I want to play indie games and I want to play big budget games involving dragons. I want it all. I can get it all (or most of it) on PC. When the time comes I can go out and buy a new graphics card or a new processor or more RAM or whatever I want. I’m committing to having the same computer for the next twenty years essentially.[2]

In any case, I’ve been playing PC more than console for quite a while now anyway, hobbling on with my increasingly decrepit machine for the last year and a half. Cheaply available games online has been the key; I very rarely feel the need to buy a game when it’s new these days because I’m so busy with work that I miss all the interesting conversations anyway. There’s also the little issue of backwards compatibility, now a distant memory in console-land but a staple of PC gaming. The idea that the marketplace could become constrained in a manner even remotely similar to the consoles so energizes the PC base that much of the backlash against Windows 8 has been centered on Microsoft’s desire to close off the video game market within a Windows-controlled ecosystem. That and the start button. When did people start caring about the start button? I have a healthy library of video games in my Steam library and I can download whatever ones I wish once I’ve set up the new PC. Boom. They’ll just… work. The PC requires a bit of investment of time and money to start but once I have that boulder moving momentum should take over. That’s the plan, anyway.

On the podcast Bob asked me if I had a game I was looking forward to playing at high settings. I didn’t quite have an answer for him, though I suppose Total War 2: Shogun is as good a candidate as any. I might actually give Empire: Total War a shot, as my old PC rather confusingly proved utterly unable to get it up and running despite doing reasonably well with the newer Total War game. If you consider apparently sweating and wailing in terror doing “reasonably well.” The truth is I haven’t given it a lot of thought, because being able to run a game at 1280×720 has been such a huge success for so long. My Steam collection contains a significant backlog, including games that once displayed the awesome horsepower of my new graphics card back when it cost $349. I’ll get to play PC games at a high resolution with high graphical setting. I don’t even know what to expect. All I can ever remember about advertising for high end graphics cards is that there seems to be a lot of focus on hair. Bodies of water too, I suppose, but mostly hair.

Now that I think of it, I’ll probably put on a game with lots of snow and moving parts. So, yeah. Shogun 2 it is. I’m certainly not interested in buying a Lost Planet game. I’m not insane.

So far I’ve been thinking about the change in my video game experience purely in terms of being able to play games that have been tough to run on my current machine, but of course it’s more than that. In addition to the increased immersion and exposure to the intent of a game’s artists, the mild but still troubling stress of a drop in the frame rate and load times long enough to give me time to come and write a blog post will be gone. The time I spend playing games will become more valuable, which is nice seeing as my time has suddenly become valuable. I didn’t see that coming.

  1. One could bring up the Ship of Theseus here, but I’d rather mention Trigger’s Broom.  ↩

  2. I used to find people online complaining about shoddy console ports tiresome, but GTA IV has embittered me forever. ↩

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