I can’t quit you, PC gaming.
Unlike some diehard “PC or nothing” enthusiasts, I don’t harbor any innate hatred toward consoles. Heck, my earliest gaming memory is of playing Super Mario Bros. until midnight, after my dad came home with a Nintendo tucked under his arm when I was five. I enjoyed the Xbox 360 so much that I burned through five of them.
(Stupid Red Ring of Death and disc read errors.) And sometimes—in my darkest hours, when I’ve been battling borked drivers or broken PC ports—the streamlined allure of consoles still whispers to me.
“Come, friend,” it hisses in my ear. “Embrace the dark side! We have sweets, and simplicity, and you’ll never have to worry about hardware upgrades.” And I have to admit, the idea sounds damned appealing in those bleak times.
But then I boot up XCOM 2 or one of PCWorld’s top 10 PC games of 2015—few of which made it to consoles—and that temptation instantly dissipates. Sure, consoles have their strong points, but PC gaming offers so much more. How do I love thee, PC gaming? Let me count the ways.
1. Cheap games
Not to be that guy, but I’m a family man on a budget. The less cash I have to shell out for games, the better. And PC games are far cheaper than console games, for a fine reason: Consoles are walled gardens, while game stores on the PC have to compete for your money.
The result? Origin’s wonderful “On the House” freebie program, and delectable Humble Bundles, and Green Man Gaming’s perpetual 20 percent off vouchers, and those glorious, glorious Steam sales. On the PC, publishers regularly give away superb older games to drum up interest in imminent sequels, as we saw Need for Speed, SOMA, Dragon Age, and Sniper Elite’s developers do recently. It’s great!
And before you console enthusiasts say you get free games every month, stop. You don’t. You get games with your monthly PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live subscriptions, which isn’t the same thing at all. Speaking of which…
2. You don’t have to pay to play multiplayer games on PCs
Yep, that about sums it up. Yay for competition!
3. More types of games
You’ll also find a wider variety of game types on PCs compared to consoles. Not to keep beating the same drum, but the PC’s open nature helps here, as the comparative ease with which developers can whip up a game has led to an absolute explosion of indie titles on the platform. (Steam added roughly eight new games per day in the first seven months of 2015, PC Gamer reports.)
Don’t worry about missing out on big games, either. The days of widespread console exclusives are over. Very few of the triple-A games released lock themselves to consoles now that development costs are so high and all three big consoles pack AMD hardware similar to what you’d find in a (budget) gaming PC. Not releasing a PC version of a triple-A game simply doesn’t make sense for third-party game publishers, who don’t have a stake in a particular platform’s dominance.
But the reasons extend beyond the ecosystem alone. Keyboards and mice offer speed, accuracy, and complexity benefits that controllers simply can’t match. There’s a reason the Counter-Strike and Civilization series exploded on PCs, but fizzled when they attempted to leap to consoles: Handling them with a controller just isn’t the same.
The inherent advantages of a keyboard and mouse have led strategy games and simulations to carve out a niche on PCs. Witness XCOM 2 and Cities: Skylines, two notable recent PC exclusives.
4. Play how you want to play
Which leads me to another beautiful aspect of PC gaming: You can play your games however you want to play them. Many PC gamers swear by the keyboard and mouse, but you can just as easily play many games with a gamepad if you’d like—sacrilege, I know, but I often do just that after typing for work all day. Or you can go really nuts and embrace dedicated peripherals like racing wheels and HOTAS setups. (Sims are another big PC niche for this very reason.)
Playing Elite Dangerous with an Oculus Rift VR headset strapped to your face and a flight stick in your hands truly feels like you’ve entered another universe, but the game features KB&M and controller support, too. PC gaming is all about choice and flexibility, and choice and flexibility are always wonderful things.
5. As real as you want it to be
That choice and flexibility extends to the hardware inside your PC and the gaming experience itself. Pricey multi-GPU rigs with cranked-to-4K resolutions and every setting maxed out snag all the headlines on Reddit—hey, tricked-out PCs are pretty darn sexy—but there’s no need to break the bank to be a PC gamer.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 tend to play games between 720p and 1080p resolution (which makes sense, as most TVs fall in that range) at 30 to 60 frames per second, with graphics comparable to medium-to-high settings on a PC. You can build a gaming computer that checks all those boxes for roughly $400, albeit sans the cost of Windows. Then again, Linux gaming is brighter than ever if you don’t want to splurge on an OS—or, if you compare the price of Windows to the cost of Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus, the OS pays for itself in just over a year.
On the flip side of the coin, you could drop a thousand dollars on your graphics card alone if you want eye candy that’s borderline life-like, or create a gloriously monstrous multi-monitor setup, or be slightly more reasonable and build a gaming PC that falls somewhere between the extremes. Single-monitor 2560x1440 gaming at 60fps is the current PC gaming sweet spot, in my opinion, though shooting-game fans sometimes aim for a 1080p monitor capable of 120Hz to 144Hz for faster reaction times—neither of which consoles are capable of.
But that’s what’s so great about PC gaming: You can choose any hardware setup you like to fit your preferences and budget. If you want to stick to e-sports games like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, you can even get away with skipping a discrete graphics card in favor of one of AMD’s more powerful APU options, which integrate compute processors and Radeon graphics on a single chip.
You can’t play Grand Theft Auto as a demented, fire-loving version of Woody from Toy Story on your Xbox. You can’t experience the manic joy of Just Cause 2’s multiplayer mod. Nor can you enjoy all the care, love, and polish poured into the community-created Half-Life 2 update, or bask in the thousands of Skyrim tweaks available.
You can do all that and more on a PC.
Mods make a game your own, opening up new adventures and/or fixing issues that developers neglect. They’re a massive part of what makes PC gaming great—and the overwhelming majority of them are free. (There’s the beauty of an open platform again.)
Don’t get me wrong: PCs aren’t necessarily better than consoles. They’re different. A lot of people just want to sit on a couch and play a game after a long day of work rather than worrying about updates for drivers or Windows. Consoles scratch that itch. Again: Choice is wonderful!
But between the cheaper games, hardware flexibility, and mods, the choice is a no-brainer for me. I can’t quit you, PC gaming, and I’d never want to—even if you do frustrate me from time to time. I love you for better and for worse.