Sad computer :(

Dear Computer:

It is with a sorrowful and guilt-ridden heart that I pen to you these words, words that I thought I never would myself utter: I am now the owner of an Xbox 360. It entered my home two months prior, and was gifted to me by my very sweet and kindly mother as a Christmas gift. However, that is not to say that this new console was unexpected or undesired; rather, I directly asked her for one, and had been saving money to purchase one had she not complied with my Christmas wishes. The blame for allowing a new Microsoft console to enter my home lies entirely on my shoulders.

And I am very sorry, personal computer.

Into you, I poured the majority of my adult life; money, time, hopes, dreams, and even my career. I gave up a social life so that I might know what it meant to take part in an elite raiding guild, and I gave up outstanding academic performance so that I might bask in your glow until the rising dawn forced me to slumber.

But you have changed, dear computer, and I fear not for the better. I am not entirely sure that this was your fault – but I am not in the blame-fingering business. Rather, I’m in the game-fing .. nevermind. I just play games and write about them. Following are a list of complaints that I feel no choice but to levy against you, and I present them here in the hopes that you might address some of them and return to your former glory.

Inclusive vs. exclusivity: My chief complaint, one that has existed for what seems now a decade since I purchased my first computer that did not belong to my parents’, is the nature of your economic status. You are far too expensive.

I understand that the components that make you the monstrous beast that you are do not come cheaply, either in fabrication or design. I understand that your components, when intelligently decided upon and laboriously installed, can provide a vastly more graphic-rich experience than any console can. However, even with these understandings, I feel that you still cost too much money.

To build you, Ataxia, I spent a thousand dollars. I saved money for a long time so that I might construct you, and you did not disappoint; but still, you cost me a thousand dollars, and that is a great deal of money – particularly when compared to the two primary consoles on the market now, the Xbox360 and the Playstation 3, both of which can be owned for $300.

Although the cost of the guts of my computing machine are a good launching point, they aren’t my only concern with the exclusivity of the personal gaming computer. Following close behind is the level of technical expertise required to even use the damn thing. While installing a game and playing it is, generally, simpler now than it ever has been, this is not always the case. For the non-PC-tech-nerd, getting games to work can be quite the chore; does my PC meet the hardware requirements? Check. Have my video and audio drivers been updated recently? Check. Are there sufficient system resources free to play the game after I’ve met the other requirements? Check. So .. why is it still running slowly? How come some of the polygons are stretched across the screen, and why the hell can I not connect to this Borderlands multiplayer game? Dear Ataxia, you are far too difficult to make work.

These aren’t the sorts of questions easily answered without the breaking of teeth on the vast information repository of the Internet, and although these questions are second-nature to me now, I recall with terrible clarity the struggle of a much younger Daniel not quite understanding why Red Alert simply would not run on his first computer. Archaic, bizarre methods of identifying various hardware components, the mystery behind what in the hell a video driver was, and the painful deciphering of firewall settings to enable Internet play: these were some of the greatest struggles of my early teenage years, and although I’ve grown quite adept at fixing problems, there would have been a far simpler solution –

I could have just bought a new console.

A gaming console would have allowed me to bypass all of this forced education (although I am thankful for it, I cannot help but wonder how many people were turned off from PC gaming as a result), and would have saved me a great deal of money over the years.

Sure, the games are more expensive – $10 more, on average, for a new AAA title – but at least I could have bought them used, dear Ataxia, which is something that you still do not allow me to do. I understand why – because games are much easier to copy and pirate with a computer – but this has resulted only in me spending less cashmoney on games than I would have otherwise.

Sure, I’ve /played/ a great many new games over the years – but I haven’t bought many. I’ve been a poor college student for as long as I can remember, and my budget barely affords me enough to smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink a lot of beer, let alone own new videogames. Instead, I’ve been forced to turn to somewhat more illicit forms of attaining new games – although I’d much rather have purchased used copies at discounted rates.

Instead of allowing me this option, PC game manufacturers, you decided instead to force a series of ever-larger and more invasive forms of DRM down my throat. Remember the Bioshock debacle, in which the game could initially only be installed three times – ever? Or the pain that comes with installing an old favorite game, only to realize that the CD key was missing – and therefore could not be played without purchasing a new copy? Instead of wrestling with the ethics of funding draconian DRM schemes and painstakingly charting the location of all of my CD keys, there would have been – and is – a far simpler solution –

I could have just bought a console.

I may not have this damn box anymore, but I know the disc will still work.
To this day, all I need to play an old Dynasty Warriors or Soul Calibur game on my Playstation 2 is the console, a few cables, a controller, and the game disc. I don’t have to register it, I don’t have to be online (ahem, Steam), and I don’t need a damned CD key.

Granted, piracy remains a major (-ly contentious) issue on the PC. People just don’t want to pay for stuff, but they certainly want to play stuff. But really .. I’m curious, how many fewer games would I have pirated had I been able instead to walk down to the rental store nearby and rent the game I knew I only wanted to play for a few days? The developer’s get their cut from the original game purchase, the rental place gets their cut from my rental, and I get to play the game for an evening for a few dollars. I believe they call this a good value proposition.

Alternatively, I could have purchased some of those games used. Sure, it might generally not be worth the cost of purchasing a used game – Gamestop just loves gouging their customers on them – but they’re certainly a cheaper option that buying the game new, or even over Steam. Unfortunately, DRM schemes, CD keys, and internet activation completely preclude my ability to do so.

What’s more, owning a console – which I am surprisingly more proud of owning than I thought I would be – enables me to play a much wider variety of game. Granted, the PC will likely always be the master of a certain type of game title – the MMO, the sim game, and the RTS/RPG game – but much of the industry has shifted from spending cashmoney to develop titles like these, and have instead focused on more action-oriented games that are better suited to consoles. Even some long-time PC developers, like Peter Molynuex and Epic Games – seem to be developing for consoles only.

The first Fable remains one of my favorite gaming experiences; sure, it had problems, but the thing was so damned charming

and compelling that I couldn’t help but adore it. When I saw that it was slated for release on the new Xbox only, I wasn’t terribly surprised – the same thing happened for the original game – and was prepared to wait until the port to PC occurred. Well, more than two full years have passed, and I’ve still yet to see anything about a PC port – and yet now, the game sits adoringly and well-played in my living room, where the gentle folk of Albion call me not Daniel but Salad Dodger.

Thus far, Fable 2 has been my favorite gaming experience of the last several months.

Yes, I know that I am two years behind. But you didn’t really expect a website about drinking beer and playing games to stay up to date, did you? Oh. Maybe I should work on that.

But even when console releases come to the PC, they’re often ports – and very often bad ones. I understand that not all of the numbers and lines and codes align quite perfectly, but the quality of some ports is absolutely inexcusable. Would patching in real mouse support for the menus be so terribly difficult? Final Fantasy XI was a wonderful example of this; the second-greatest strength of the PC, the mouse/keyboard control scheme, was entirely negated in favor of pressing keyboard buttons to move through menu options, on selection at a time. Although the mouse could be used, the inputs were so laggy that they were actually slower than using the console-style menu manipulation method. That this is at all excusable is astounding to me – but then, having bought both of these games, I find that I am entirely complicit, so I ought to close my beerhole.

InfinitywardPerhaps most indicative of the problems with where PC gaming has gone is the terribly sad case of Modern Warfare 2. Many of the other virtues of PC versions vs. console versions were entirely removed from MW2; dedicated servers, a console, player administration over servers, and, most importantly, the ability to mod the game. Simply put: Infinity Ward released a console game on the PC, and ensured that it played /exactly the same way as the console version/. While not necessarily a bad thing on its own, the ability for players to change the nature of the game to meet a broad variety of playstyles is arguably the greatest strength of the PC – Half-Life would have been a great single-player game, but would any of us be the same without Counterstrike? The enormous plethora of mods and new maps generated by the players in many games have ensured the game was popular and played for far longer than their contemporaries – and yet, some developers, like Infinity Ward, seem to believe that this is a bad thing. To damn the issue even further, Modern Warfare 2 was released as a $60 PC game. To get the same experience –

I could have just bought a console.

And so I did. Well, my mother did, and then she gave it to me. Street Fighter IV plays online brilliantly, with essentially zero setup time. Fable 2 taunts and charms me regularly with beauty and an abundance of cleverness. Modern Warfare 2 .. well, that game didn’t get much play, as I’m not that sort of gamer really. The thing streams music and movies to my television from my PC without flaw, and the Xbox shell operates seamlessly and without pause – something I’ve never been able to say about Windows.

So here’s the thing, PC gaming world: I still do love you. World of Warcraft is still fantastic – better than ever, maybe – and I’m looking quite forward to Star Trek Online and someday getting my hands on a copy of Solium Infernum. You’ve still got a lot of great features – but those features just aren’t unique to you anymore, and it’s a simpler, cheaper, and maybe even better choice to jump ship and invest more of my gaming time into my Xbox. I’m not pronouncing you dead – critics for years have been failing at that prediction – but I am saying you’re getting old, and maybe in need of some new support.

So please, dear computer: remember the stuff that made you awesome, and at least try and return to it. Until then, well .. you can call me Salad Dodger, and I’ll be in Albion.

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