Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Straying From the Flock

Michael Zenke | 13 Feb 2007 16:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

imageI'm weak. I'll admit it. I'll own up to the phenomenal weakness that took me, feet dragging, into Gamestop earlier this week. With two played-out titles in hand for trading, my financial pinch was lessened, but it was still embarrassing: I bought Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Again. You see, I have a perfectly good copy of Oblivion sitting at my desk and installed on my PC. I've played endless hours with my Khajiit Assassin, walking from one end of Tamriel to the other. He's the Grey Fox as well as the Dark Brotherhood's Listener, and the Champion of Cyrodil to boot. And yet ... here I am, starting over again on the Xbox 360. Why? What has driven me back to stare again into the abyss? There's certainly an element of newness to enjoy. I never even broke the surface with most of the guilds, so working with the Mage Guild, the Fighter Guild, and battling in the Arena are all new to me. RPGs are also something of a palate cleanser for me, keeping me sane in the face of yet another shooter or fighting game that could make me seriously consider taking up knitting.

The real reason, though, is that I'm changing. Over the last year I've noticed a subtle, but insidious, change in my playing habits that has made me re-examine everything I like about gaming. It's disconcerting, but it's no longer something I can ignore: I'm becoming a console gamer. I've always played console games, to be sure, but I've always thought of myself as a 'PC Guy'. Half-Life tops Halo, I'd rather play Civ than Madden, and RTS titles should be played with a mouse. Not to mention I have a thorough appreciation for the Massively Multiplayer genre; not a group of games well represented on consoles.

imageThe past 12 months however, playing on my Xbox 360, I've seen a new way forward. I've enjoyed titles like Viva Pi?, Gears of War, GRAW, Rainbow Six Vegas, and Splinter Cell: Double Agent. Downloadable content, Co-op via Xbox Live, and the Live Arcade have made me a believer in that component of the console as well. In short while I've certainly enjoyed Burning Crusade and ... Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania, most of the really powerful gaming experiences I've had in the last 12 months were on the 360. Even the PS2, with Final Fantasy XII and Guitar Hero II, has had more memorable experiences than the PC platform in the last 12 months.

Partially, that's due to aging equipment. My PC is rapidly getting to the point where it needs to be put out to pasture. For the most part, though, it seems as though there just aren't that many PC titles coming out that grab my attention. While I respect the RTS genre, it's not my usual cup of tea. I've spent more than a year now waiting on Half-Life 2: Episode 2 (and its associated goodies), and you can only play so many hours of a MMOG before your eyes begin to bleed. I'm certainly not old, but life isn't as simple as it used to be.. I don't have time in the day to play a 12-hour round of Civilization III for recreation. If I'm going to have fun playing a game, I need it to be fun right away.

PC gaming is certainly not dying; this year looks to be an amazing year for "Games for Windows". Several Massive games are coming out this year, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. might finally be released, and we've got Crysis, Bioshock, Supreme Commander, and Hellgate to look forward to. Not to mention, of course, the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion. For me personally, though, I look at that list and see only a few games I really need to play. And, with a lot of games on my shelf already, I am faced with the choice: console or PC? So many titles are coming out for both platforms that it requires some deep soul-searching.

imageBottom line: I play too many games as it is. When I pop a disc in a tray, I need that game to just work. I can't spend hours futzing with drivers, settings, or hardware that doesn't feel up to it for some reason. We've reached a point where console gaming has matched PC gaming in both style and substance. The writing in console games is better than ever, with deep narrative elements coming to us in titles like Mass Effect and with games like Bioshock available in almost indiscernible versions on both platforms. Graphically as well, the 360 is a vision to behold. My PC wishes it were that cool.
This subtle change over time is deeply disconcerting; I've always been a PC guy. My friends are PC guys, and I get laughed at when I talk about enjoying FPS titles on the console. "Real men use a mouse" is the message. At one point I laughed and agreed. Now ... why would I want to use a mouse when I can hit A to duck into cover? Why would I want to sit hunched over in a chair for hours at a time when I can relax on my couch and tend to my Pi?s? When offered a choice between easy and hard, between comfortable and not, between beautiful and laggy, choosing the PC would only be a reflex. Continuing to do what you've always done is a sign of inflexibility.

Certainly, I'm not sworn off of PC titles. There are a handful of titles that I'm very much looking forward to playing, from LOTRO to Dragon Age. But, most tellingly, the bastion of PC gaming goodness Half-Life 2 is coming to my 360 this year. Along with the new content, I can recapture all of Freeman's hijinks, with two-stick control. Again, I'd be repurchasing something I already have. HL2 would join Oblivion on my pile of shame. Six months ago, I never would have considered it. Now, though ... what a difference a few months can make.

Where do you fall on this issue? Do you consider yourself a 'console' player, or a 'PC' player? Does it even matter anymore? Have you found yourself trying to decide between the console and PC versions of a game? How did you resolve that question? Take a crack at my neurosis in the comments, and let us know how you resolved this life-changing conflict.

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