15 Reasons PC Gaming Beats All

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How about an epic PC versus console gaming smackdown, in the tradition of end-of-year numbers lists?

I spent part of 2008 taking polite shots at PC foibles like Microsoft's halfhearted Games for Windows initiative, the functionality and game support travesties that plagued Vista for the better part of 2007 into 2008, PC gaming's dwindling stable of A-list exclusives, and the short-term-gains mentality that's increasingly dropping eggs in low-risk baskets labeled "World of Warcraft" and "The Sims."

So here's my last minute about-face defending the PC as a viable games platform, and a friendly rejoinder to Techradar's "12 reasons console gaming beats PCs."

1. PCs are scalable. Sure, it's a glass half-full or half-empty proposition, because component upgrades often vandalize (and scandalize) your wallet. Question is, would you rather have a platform that can play nearly anything, past to present, contingent on do-it-yourself propensity? Or be locked into a restrictively governed molding that's only changed out once every half-decade or so?

2. PC games are endlessly manipulable. Another "your mileage may vary" point, because tinkering's not for everyone, and plenty of people just want something that works. On the other hand, if you've only played Far Cry 2 on a console, you've been prowling around in visuals that only shadow the game's tricked-out PC sibling. And while stuff like NVIDIA's PhysX is accessible on NVIDIA-derivative consoles, don't expect Mirror's Edge to ever look as gleefully dissolvable on a PS3 or Xbox 360 as its physics-enhanced PC version. Also: Two words = mod scene.

3. PCs ape consoles in emulation. Here's a point often missed. PCs can be nearly any past-tense console, by hook or by crook. Miss stuff like Rare's Wizards & Warriors? The original tag-team Mario Bros.? Mega Man? Berzerk? No need to track down a moldering Atari 2600 or original NES, or Edward Stratton III's original Tempest arcade box. Just find an emulator and a stack of ROMs, or a Flash or Java site like PlayNES.net running scads of these in ostensibly legal emulation (including save-state options!) and you're golden.

4. PCs can be anywhere. If you're living in the 1970s, you think computers still hunker in lightless basements, or converted linen closets, or musty shag-carpeted attics. I've never parked my PC anywhere other than a desk/armoire/piped-and-fluted-hybrid in a living room within cabling distance of my Dolby-fied flat-screened piece-de-resistance. Swapping between a desktop LCD and your larger living room variety is a snap, not to mention that doing so offers more audio/video playback options than any of the console manufacturers.

5. Keyboard and mouse beats all. We've yet to see an interface as intuitive and broadly commanding (and that's including Nintendo's vaunted Wiimote and nunchuk).

6. PCs do gamepads, surprise! Take that, all you blinkered QWERTY mockers. Got an Xbox 360 controller? Plug it into your PC and games like Dead Space and Gears of War adapt instantly. What's more, I dare anyone to invoke a console's comparably foggy web browser and tap out a response to this point, cycling through detached-panel ASCII symbols and frantically pulling triggers, one tedious sequential character at a time.

7. Consoles go kaplooey, too. I'll see your "blue screen" and raise you a "red ring" or two (or 33 percent of total, if those early estimates were accurate). Leave your pity for PC gamers at the door, because consoles are just as prone to bellying up when something short circuits in quality control. (Because, hate to break it to you, consoles are PCs too!) And memo: Game-breaking creepy-crawlies and PC-style firmware updates and patches have consoles on the hook these days, too.

8. Consoles could vanish tomorrow, but PC gaming is forever. Planning to solve for the unified theory of everything while lounging on your sofa in front of you new 50-inch plasma power-gobbler? Chances are, not so much. Feng Shui your heart out, you still need a place to spread the tree-ware and focus without distractions. Vive la PC! In the end, PC gaming soldiers on in part because the business-to-casual range of our daily activities remains wildly PC-centric. "And it plays games too?" There you go.

9. PC games are stylistically unbounded. It's like the Irving Berlin song: Anything consoles can do, PCs can do better. There's nothing consoles offer that PCs (and PC games) can't, and we're talking strictly one-way negotiation. Anything that requires fast-switch precision movement's out the window on a 360, Wii, or PS3. Real-time strategy games are a tangled mess on consoles, and while certain tactical third-person shooters work well enough, a decent mouse/keyboard gamer will repeatedly roast anyone wielding a pair of comparably clumsy thumb-sticks. Don't get me started on the complete lack of console support for serious simulations and wargames.

10. PCs are the creative heart of video gaming. This is where the grandest, wackiest, coolest, hippest, least predictable stuff in gaming's happening, folks. Hands down and bar none. Don't believe me? Then you need to try more stuff like Crayon Physics, DCS Black Shark, Synaesthete, Fret Nice, and for goodness sake spend some time with Iron Dukes. (Want some more? See my February 2008 feature on "Award Winning Indie Games.")

11. PC games cost less. I'm not saying it makes a lick of sense (it doesn't) but Epic's Gears of War cost 60 bucks when it debuted on the 360. When it hit the PC with brand new content, that price dropped to $50, and that's still the going rate for PC A-listers. A $10 delta may sound trivial if you only buy a few games a year, but even two games a month is pushing $240 -- enough to fund a new Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii every 365 days.

12. Online PC matchmaking is free. I realize it's only Microsoft dragging its base through the mud here, and analysts claiming Xbox Live offers something unique are simply wrong. Still, it's worth mentioning that online PC matchmaking and multiplayer are, and always have been free. It's not a luxury item, it's not a special service, it's not a value proposition -- it's an entrenched and completely reasonable customer expectation.

13. Piracy ain't just a PC problem. Console piracy rates barely scratch the PC's reportedly onerous numbers, but the former's aren't exactly waning. The more people playing console games, the more the scene laser-targets each console's proprietary padlocks, the more increasingly end-user-friendly workaround hacks and mod-jobs and firmware-fooling pre-insert ROM disc tools flood the market. While there may be cash to have short-term by switching gears, abandoning the PC over piracy rates may turn out to be yet another iteration of the "grass-is-greener" myth.

14. PCs excel at family-hotseat-group-play, too. First of all, You Don't Know Jack was working the lines long before the likes of Scene It!. Second, sure, there's stuff like Buzz Quiz and, you know, Amercan Idol Encore 2 on tap, but they're still a tiny fraction of the broader number of family-friendly party games you can pull up (many for free) and play on your PC, whether piped through an office monitor or jacked into your Dolby/plasma master-lounge-center.

15. PC display screens trump living room TVs. The old anti-CRT/NTSC argument is finally weakening now that HDTVs with 1080p have a foot in, but I'll still see your 1920 x 1080 max lines of resolution and raise you 3840 x 2400 while you're waiting for market momentum to clumsily foist the Next Big Thing on entertainment centers (while online entertainment providers ironically bleed the life out of picture quality by compressing the heck out of on-demand digital video). Okay, so picture quality's not as big a deal these days for non-videophiles, and graphics bickering is pretty 1990s. Still, I needed a 15th point, so there you go!

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