i’ve been a pc gamer for a very long time. my first computer was a 486 dx2 with four megs of ram. that’s plenty of juice to play doom. but once i got my hands on a video card with two megs of cache, i was able to move into descent quite easily. back in those days, unless you had a null modem cable and some friends who were just as nerdy, technically minded, and eager to shoot each other in the face with rockets as you were, there wasn’t going to be any multiplayer. everything was still fresh and new and slow and full of bugs and disconnected. you had to wait days to download the shareware versions of games from your favorite dial-up bulletin boards. once the game was installed, it may not work because you might not have enough resources, or there may be a patch that needs to be installed. sometimes the video card wasn’t supported, sometimes the sound card wasn’t supported. sometimes, after a week of research and tweaking and cajoling, a game would load and work just fine. once everything was kosher though, it stayed that way until you did something to break it. in many ways, its still that way. just faster.
over time we went from dial-up with crippling, character murdering latency ill-suited for online anything to blazing fast broadband connections capable of supporting everything you can imagine as far as gaming. we went from giant pixels in mode x to widescreen, high definition graphics. we went from eight bit beeps and bloops to 24 bit super high definition surround sound audio featuring actual musicians and sound designers. gaming has never been more immersive, more engaging, or more cinematic than it is now on the personal computer. we can now download massive games in just a few hours and hopefully, with just a few clicks, we can have our game installed and running in no time.
except it still sucks. where we once had problems even getting the game to run, we now have problems keeping the game running once corporate decides to shut down the servers that either support the game play in some critical way or allow you to continue playing it at all via some sort of home-phoning digital rights management. at one point, you could go into a store and buy a disc with the entire game on it. that was the game. you went home, hoped your computer would allow you to install it, eventually got it running, then played it. now you download a game from a service like steam, let it install, watch it fail, validate the install, download gigs of files to replace the ones that were corrupted when it crashed on you, relaunch the game, play for a while until it blue-screens, download some better drivers for your video card, search for an update or patch that might be related to the problem, install said patches and drivers, then reboot the machine and relaunch the game while hoping you got all the issues out of the way. if you’re doing anything fancy like running multiple video cards (i do this, because i’m a masochistic performance monger) then god help you.
you might say that everything i’ve mentioned above with the exception of the drm bullshit and online requirements are just new flavors of the old ways. we’ve always had issues with computers. this is just more of the same. where is the news? the news is partially that it still sucks after all this time, but there is something much worse that’s happening now. the combination of always on, high bandwidth internet and sadistic american capitalism have led to a more recent development that would immediately suffer a slow agonizing death if i had my way. this development is the new culture of pay to win.
remember when games were things you played explicitly because they were challenging as well as fun? a lot of the fun, contrary to what people will tell you while fulfilling their role as ignorant lazy citizens, is in fact the fucking challenge. when i spend a week getting the bugs out of my game install, i expect to be able to launch my game, go into multiplayer, and find people there who have actually been playing the game and earning the items and inventory they possess. what i do not want to find is a swath of the fattened unwashed sporting level 10,000 characters and full powered weaponry simply because they went to an in game store and paid another $100 to max out their fucking player character. what the hell is wrong with you people? its a game. its meant to challenge and entertain you. what’s next, hiring low wage migrant workers to come over and play it for you while you stuff your fat fucking face with pizza and lard sandwiches? maybe they should also sell you the fucking achievements and trophies so you can just not play at all but look like you have been when somebody views your profile.
with all of that said, i also own a console. specifically a playstation 3, because i genuinely feel it is less evil than what microsoft has put out there; but that’s another rant for another day. the reason i own a console is simple. occasionally a game will come out on all platforms, which is pretty common now, and i will want to actually fucking play it. i won’t want to do the driver dance. i won’t want research the depths of the filthy intarwebs to find a solution to why my game suddenly caused my computer to walk out the front door and step in front of moving traffic. sometimes i just want to put the fucking disc in the slot and press start.
so why do i continue to buy games on steam and tread the insufferable path of hackery that is pc gaming? because once you get it working, there’s nothing like it. when you’ve got an expensive multi card rig with maxed out memory and a more than capable processor, you can practically reach out to your big, widescreen tv and touch lara croft’s freckled boobs while they bounce within her tattered blouse in slow, blisteringly high detailed motion. i want every ounce of graphical performance squeezed from my games with the same exhaustive diligence that grandma used when squeezing lemons into lemonade. unfortunately getting the absolute most out of your game’s visual capabilities requires something more cutting edge than a mass produced console retailing under $500 could ever provide. pc gaming will always be the cutting edge of gaming, and the price of being on the cutting edge is often your own blood and misery.