PC Gaming Ain’t About the Graphics

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Published by Jim Sterling 7 years ago , last updated 1 month ago

(This is another edition of , a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. This week, Jim’s tying in nicely with our new enhanced PC gaming coverage.)

When most people think of PC gaming, they think only of one thing — high-end PCs that cost hundreds of dollars on a yearly basis due to an endless litany of graphics card updates and increasingly resource-hungry games. While a lot of the truth of that perception has died as graphical evolution slows down, it’s still a very common idea that PC gaming is defined by its ability to run games that consoles cannot, even among PC gamers themselves.

Naturally, I have a counter to this argument. While it is indeed true that the world of PC gaming welcomes ludicrously gorgeous games such as The Witcher 2 and Battlefield 3, I think it undermines the true benefit of PC gaming to think only in terms of raw horsepower. Indeed, the PC market is full of games that just can’t be done on consoles — but it’s not always due to their graphical demands. Sometimes, a PC game is visually unimpressive, with very ordinary or even sub-par graphics. They still can’t be done on consoles though, and they are truly what PC gaming means to me.

A game that’s caught attention lately is Dead Cyborg. For an indie game, it’s visually accomplished, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be handled on Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network. Will you ever see it on those platforms? No, because it is a first-person exploration game that is also a text adventure, and it rocks a “pay what you want” model that allows the user to name its own price. Sure, it won’t justify your $500 graphics card, but it will make you glad you’re a PC gamer, if only for the chance to try a game with balls. This is the stuff that captures my imagination more than something like Battlefield 3, which is certainly gorgeous, but nowhere near as intriguing.

It’s no secret that the indie market has a far better chance of thriving on PC. Just look at Cthulhu Saves The World. Despite getting some publicity surrounding its Xbox Live Indie Games release, the title didn’t sell all that hotly. When it hit Steam, however, it made more money than its console counterpart on a level one could only describe as humiliating, and it did so in six days. There’s more exposure on PC, especially given the “evergreen” nature of the market. You can throw a game up on your website or through a distributor and it will stay there, easily searchable and sensibly categorized. It’s quite unlike a console’s digital market, where games get buried by new titles in poorly organized storefronts designed to give exposure solely to the big names, or the retail space where smaller games are often not visible on shelves at all, and underperformers go straight to the bargain bins.

Then there’s the simple fact that publishers do not control the PC market, and thus games with unique concepts and themes running contrary to the mainstream have a chance to flourish. Titles like Cargo: The Quest For Gravity or The Void may be great or terrible depending on your mileage, but the fact is they have a chance to exist, and they remain around for as long as the developer decides. These projects aren’t at the mercy of a Bobby Kotick or Yves Guillemot. Developers can take as long as they need and charge as much as they want. Strictly tiered pricing doesn’t exist. There’s no expectation that a game must cost one of three predetermined prices. Total creative and financial freedom. That’s what PC gaming is all about.

Many of you may read this and think, “Yeah, I know all this. So what?” My point is, I only ever see people talking about graphics, graphics, graphics when it comes to PC. It’s all about bigger and badder rigs to play bigger and badder games. That’s all well and good — there’s certainly something rewarding about that — but I think we need to appreciate something far more important about PC gaming, something that should mean a lot more to real gamers. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing, and we should all highlight exactly how terrific it is that we get access to unique pricing models and ballsy games that you just won’t get anywhere else. Simply focusing on the likes of Crysis and Battlefield is a mere fraction of what PC gaming is about. There’s a huge amount of benefit to gaming on computers, and you don’t need an almighty machine full of the latest hardware to enjoy it.

You already knew all that? Then celebrate it more. Prosthelytize to the heathens not about the power of visuals, but the access to experiences unavailable anywhere else. Don’t consider yourself a PC gamer, or worry that your computer is rubbish? Then look at games like Cthulhu Saves The World, Dead Cyborg or Eversion. There are so many different types of PC games and only a comparative fraction of them require anything approaching a “gaming rig” to play. Let’s move away from this idea that PC gamers are all graphics-centric muscle-flexers, looking forward only to the next photorealistic FPS. The real world of PC gaming dwarfs that to such a degree it’s laughable.

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