Straying From the Flock

Straying From the Flock

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 Piñata, 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 Piñatas? 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.


I've mostly played consoles in my life, although in the past few years I've gotten into PC (mostly looking at older titles, though). Lately, though, I am playing virtually nothing but handhelds. Hacked my PSP firmware to play PS1 images, and I ripped a few Playstation games that I had been meaning to get around to. I've had more marathon sessions with my DS lately than I have with my PS2, despite the considerable number of console titles in my "Been meaning to get to" stack - and most of them, I've done while sitting in the same place I'd be sitting if I were playing a console.

Much to my surprise, I find that the exact same game with the exact same loading times and control system often seems more fun when you play it on a handheld (even ignoring the suspend features). I think this has something to do with the depth and complexity of the games.

It used to be, PC was where you'd go for games with a lot of depth to them, and console for the shallower ones, and anything that you could play in ten-minute bursts was on handhelds. This was just a matter of logistics. A keyboard and mouse make a more powerful input device than a controller, and a monitor can display more information than a TV screen, so the games that involve more information going to and from the player required a PC. We use our television for extended passive entertainment, so the games that are less cerebral and slower-paced ended up on the televisions. A quick and simple game can be played anywhere, so they got put on handhelds. If the game uses a network, you'd put it on the network-capable hardware; if it was for a group of people, you'd put it on the hardware that a group of people can use at once. Simple enough, right?

I would say that this trend peaked around 1996 or 1997. The PC games released at and around 1997 had the most meaningful depth of any PC game. The console games of that time were the most suited for parties and marathon gaming sessions. The handheld games were already simple and quick, though Pokemon was reversing the trend. (Pokemon, in fact, was sort of prophetic of where I'm going with this). Since then, all of our gaming hardware has become more PC-like. Our consoles and our handhelds are network-enabled. Screens have gotten bigger and sharper. We've solved many of the UI problems that limited the bandwidth between game and player, and also added more buttons.

Increasingly since 1997, consoles have been able to do the things that you used to need a PC for. And, increasingly since 1997, consoles have been used for the types of game that you used to play on PC. With the exception of Goldeneye (and I don't think that game's 1997 release is a coincidence), first-person shooters were entirely played on PCs, simply because of the console interface. These days, Halo outsells everything, and the PC version is considered the inferior one. Console games as a whole have gotten more complex and PC-like, and a lot of development shifted from PC to console. Unfortunately, the only new gaming-related abilities that PCs developed in this time were incremental improvements, so nothing rushed in to fill the gap for a while.

Something else was happening in the mean time, though. Handhelds got more buttons and bigger screens, too. A lot of the games that you used to have to put on console due to their complexity could now be put on a handheld. This is just an example of the games going to the medium to which they're suited best. In other words, a lot of games that were being put on console actually feel better on handhelds, once the technological barriers are removed. The style of the games hasn't changed much since 1992, though they certainly look and sound a lot better; they just fit more naturally on handhelds. Why is that?

I think it's the size of the screen. When you park yourself down on the couch for a gaming session, the game dominates the room and everything in it. Whether it's a home IMAX or a ten-inch black-and-white thing, fifty years of interior design have made the TV a central element wherever it is. If you're in front of a TV, the TV is in charge. You can change the channel, but it's still showing something. You can turn it off, but then there's no more reason to hang around that room. A TV screen dominates. If you are playing a game on a TV, then you are committing yourself to that TV.

This seems kind of contradictory to the whole idea of games, which is that the player is in control. Sure, sometimes there's no problem committing yourself to the TV. However, doing this carries an implicit agreement. In exchange for your undivided attention, the TV agrees to entertain you fully. Putting a really deep and engaging game on your TV is just another way of getting that entertainment.

When that game isn't very deep, however? The TV's entertainment standards are awfully high. For a while, shallower games were able to get by on a TV by becoming prettier, but players soon got wise to such tactics. So, the shallower games moved on to the handhelds. That's not to say they're objectively shallow; heavens, no. They're only shallow in comparison to the PC games that are moving into console territory. They're just shallower.

A handheld does not have the issues that gaming on a TV has. If console gaming evolved from watching TV, then handheld gaming evolved from reading a paperback. It's much politer than a TV. It only takes as much of your attention as you're willing to give it. If you want to set it down, you can pick up right where you left off. Unlike a TV, you are in charge in the relationship between you and a book. The trade-off? The entertainment is much less dense. It's shallower, in its own way. On a TV, you have words, music, and moving pictures. In a book, all you've got is words and maybe still pictures.

Handheld gaming is the same way. The entertainment is not as dense, but you're in charge of it. The game isn't as deep, but you're playing it on no terms but your own. Once the user interface for handhelds became sufficient for the shallower console games, they moved right over. These shallower games simply didn't have the entertainment density to fill a television. If you try them on a TV, nine times out of ten you're going to feel like the TV isn't living up to its end of the bargain. On a handheld, you've got the densest little entertainment source that ever fit in your pocket.

And as for myself, I just prefer shallower games much of the time. Or I don't like all the cruft that is brought along by the deeper ones these days, anyway.

As for why PC games are going to consoles, well, that's simple. Aside from typing, consoles can now do virtually anything a PC can do. When you go to play your deep, complex game, why would you use a chair and screen designed for working, when you can do exactly the same thing with a chair and screen designed for entertainment? Games were put on PCs because the PC was the only thing with a sufficient interface, but gaming on a PC is really just a hack. A workaround. If you're spending all day at a work machine, you might as well figure out some nifty things to do with it, right?

Man, when I have a choice, I'll spring for a PC Game any day of the week. It's (usually) a cheaper box, easier to patch and update, and I'm just at home with a mouse in my hand and a keyboard to type on.

That being said, I've been spending unholy amounts of time playing Twilight Princess. There's nothing wrong with enjoying a good console game, but if you think that the PC is lacking in titles, I think you're missing Dawn of War, Day of Defeat: Source, Battlefield 2 (or 2142), and of course the upcoming Crysis, TopWare's Two Worlds, and Hellgate: London.

PC gaming is great I just hate the thought of having to sell a kidney to get a rig capable of running stuff that a console will pretty much run flawlessly. Some of these new games require a video card that almost costs as much as a 360 in Australia so it makes it a little hard to stomach at times. I too used to be a PC gamer but since my computer would be considered a old age pensioner by todays standards consoles just seem like a more appealing option.

Yes you pay a little more per title over a PC game but you dont have to shell out a few thousand dollars every few years just to play new games.

I only recently found that I have changed as well in regard to consoles vs pc and I find myself leaning more and more to the console side of things. They are in my eyes cheaper, they take less time to get up and running and the games are becoming as good as there pc counsins.

Those are just my thoughts..

I'll agree with the money issue as well.

I've been a console/handheld gamer for as long as I can remember because my parents would NEVER fork out for a PC that could play anything beyond minesweeper.
Now that I can buy my own stuff I would rather spend $5000 on 3 consoles and enough games to last till the next round of consoles comes out, than on a gaming rig that might last me 3 or 4 years before becoming too dated to play the newest stuff.

I'm not saying I don't like PC games, and haven't spend silly amounts of time playing various RTS's and FPS's with a mouse and keyboard in the past, but my current laptop can do absolutely everything I could want it to, except play the latest games, and for every supreme commander that comes out there are usually 4 or 5 good console titles that I want to play, so the trade off becomes an easy decision to make.

I like to do the majority of my gaming at my PC. It's most comfortable to me in its position in my house (my room). I don't have the interference of other people and I can just get sucked in and enjoy it. I've been dividing time between Heroes of Might and Magic V, Dawn of War (Dark Crusade) and replaying Call of Duty 2. I like to play on the Wii in the living room, but it's a different gaming for me, I like playing with the audience there, and the games that I can do that with and be cheered on while playing are the ones that take up my time there. Surprisingly Zelda fits on this list, as do Wii Sports and Excite Truck. Wiiplay is shaping up pretty well too. Haven't touched the Marvel game yet, but I expect I'll enjoy it, though I think it's one I'd prefer to play alone. (at my own pace) In the times between my DS keeps me extremely happy with titles from Mario 64DS to Yoshi's Island DS to Zoo Tycoon or FF3. A little Big brain / brain age works well too.

I'd say I go 80% PC, 15% Console, and 5% Hand-held now. The choice for me depends on how social I feel and where I am.


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