Cold Dark Heart

Punching the Baby Seal of PC Gaming


See this baby seal?

So cute! A blobby white puffball straight out of a Miyazaki film. Oh, look! The widdle baby has rolled over on his back! He wants us to rub his belly-welly! The way he wiggles! The way he makes those precious piggy grunts!


I’m not going to rub his goddamn belly.

In fact, I’m going to punch him. I’m going to punch him right in his widdle mouth.

I don’t want to. I’m driven to. My rage cannot be contained. You fill up a glass too full and the water spills over.

This baby seal is adorable as shit.

And I’m still going to punch his lights out.

Because Crysis just locked up on me again.


Crysis is the latest offender but it still serves as a perfect example – just one more turdlet atop a steaming heap of effluence – of why PC gaming makes me want to perform violent acts upon nature’s most endearing inhabitants.

I’d given up on playing games on my PC. I’d put it out of my head. I have an Xbox and an iPhone. Both accommodate my gaming needs nicely. Neither runs me through the gauntlet of kidney punches and stinging insects, a gauntlet oft-demanded any time I attempt to install and run a game on my machine. I’m comfy with my gaming devices. Why mess with contentment? Why wrestle with resentment? In my advancing years – the antediluvian age of 34 – my patience has worn thin like tooth enamel, and all that’s left is a quivering nerve. Why tongue said nerve?

I thought I’d gotten away.

Then, two words. Say ’em with me:

Steam Sale.

You already know this, but just in case: Steam, Valve’s content-delivery client, allows you to jack games straight onto your computer. No need to run to Best Buy or Target or that shady gentleman fiddling with his privates on the corner. You can download Modern Warfare 2 and its hot, fresh maps while sitting in your underwear, licking Cheeto dust from your keyboard.

At Steam, everything I’d ever wanted was suddenly half-off or better – and that’s after the consideration that PC games are a helluva lot cheaper than anything I’d buy on the console.

I started small. Just a taste. Team Fortress 2.

I played it. It was awesome. It worked!

But that’s how they getcha, isn’t it? A little dab’ll do you. Before I could tell myself no, I was back at the Steam store, hand hovering over the mouse, jaw slackened as I perused my approximately infinite options. “Ooooh. I’ve already played Bioshock. But I want it! But what about Borderlands? And L4D2? And this indie game! And that EA release! Sweet Johnny Jumpup, bundle packs?”

An hour later (and hundreds of dollars gone), I felt like a man of excess: bloated with the mere potential of eternal amusement. Sure, I had to take out a second mortgage on the home. I had to max out the credit cards, steal some social security numbers and sell the taco terrier to a local preschool dogfighting ring. (My wife can’t read this, right?) All worth it, right? My return to PC gaming would be problem-free, heralded with a multitude of pixels. And virgins. And virgin pixels.


Fast-forward to the dozenth time that Crysis shit the bed and crashed my computer, and again I’m left asking why I invited this upon myself.

I’m left with something akin to post-masturbatory shame. Gloomy and simmering. Shame soon boils over to rage.

And now I want to punch a baby seal.


Once upon a time, it didn’t bother me.

My first computer was a Tandy 1000 SX, and even back then, getting a game to run on your PC was an adventure. You had to jiggle the knobs, crack the case, get your hands dirty by dicking around with jumper switches and sound cards. Laying on my bedroom floor, surrounded by RAM chips and old graphic cards, I felt like I was learning something: The journey into the device felt intrepid and uncharted. Looking back, I was sure that my father probably felt the same thing when he was a teen tinkering with the carburetor of a 1950s Bel Air hardtop.

To get Ultima V running, or maybe King’s Quest, you had to jump through hoops. But that was okay. It felt like a new frontier, traveling Out West to areas of the map once marked only with “Here There Be Dragons.”

Except somewhere along the way, things changed. The journey Out West became less about the thrill of the Gold Rush and more about the part where the wagons break down and the food runs low and next thing you know you’re eyeing up your buddy George and wondering what his backfat might taste like when simmered in an iron skillet.

I remember being a teen and having my car – a Pontiac Grand Am – break down because of something to do with the car’s computer. (It broke down in the middle of my first driving test, which caused the course to close for the day, which earned me angry looks from my 16-year-old peers.) After we got the car back to the house, my father tried to fix it, the only result being frustration. He eventually just pitched the tools down in the dirt and said, “You pay this much money for a car, the shit’s supposed to work.”

Gone were those happy days of tinkering under the Bel Air hood.

And gone are the days where I’m patient with my PC gaming experience.


Best (meaning, worst) example? Fallout 3, Game-Of-The-Year edition.


I had Fallout 3 for my 360, and lost weeks of my life to that game. I loved every grim minute.

I hesitated, however, buying the DLC, figuring that one day they’d hit shelves as the aforementioned GOTY edition. And it did. I was this close to buying the console version when I caught wind of a sale online that had the PC version for a bargain price. My PC was robust: a Dell XPS, above-average in terms of graphics and memory. So I ordered it.

What followed was a series of events that would make Sisyphus – with his onerous boulder-pushing – gibber and weep.

The game came with two DVDs: “Disc One,” and the jauntily-named “Disc Two.”

Disc One went into the drive. Installation went without cause for sadness or seal-punching. Never once did it ask for the second disc, so I assumed that when the time came the game would demand that I insert it. Easy-peasy.

I ran the file. Started up. Then –

Five minutes in, it crashed to the desktop.

I did some research, found out that lo and behold, Disc Two is not actually a drink coaster and that it must be installed separately.

No problem.

Except, problem. Installation introduced the whirling blue circle of doom, a cursor not unlike the eternally-pirouetting hourglass. It hung. Inert. Unchanging. Once more I returned online (the manual was no help as it was the manual for the pre-GOTY edition) and there I discovered this is all totally normal. Let it hang! It’s okay! Walk away!

I walked away. Fifteen minutes later, the purposeless blue cursor finally resolved and the DLC portion installed.

“Glory of glories!” I cried, “it’s once more time to murder mutant miscreants in the Wasteland!”

Except the game wouldn’t even load. Instead, an error: “Original 5360 could not be located.” And then something about “xlive.dll.”

Another trip to the internet, another answer.

Games For Windows Live didn’t auto-install, so that needed to be installed separately. Three hours into this process, what else am I going to do? I submitted. I installed.

And again, I tried to play the game.

And it played.

It played!

Let the angels sing! Songs from the Cherubim chorus! Trumpets! Harpsichord! Dappled light filtered through gauzy clouds! The dulcet tones of –

It locked up.

That’s where I tapped out. Any time I try to play the game, five minutes in, it crashes. Sometimes to desktop, sometimes the whole computer lays its fool head down and goes to sleep.

You were me, you’d punch a baby seal, too.


It’s not just my desktop. It’s my wife’s, too. And my laptop.

Crysis crashes about 25 percent of the time – for a PC game, not a bad ratio. Sometimes it just forgets my graphic settings.

Left 4 Dead 2 works pretty well, honestly. Of course, nobody can seem to get their microphones to work: it’s all just wordless staticky belches.

Red Faction Guerilla occasionally yells at me about “failure to authenticate.”

Saints Row 2 tries to give me epilepsy by flashing the screen. Not always. But often enough.

The Sims 3 worked great … until I got the expansions. Now it’s sluggy. Boggy. Like a fat guy in rubber hip-waders slogging his way through a boot-sucking mire.


It’s great that PCs offer their owners –

*does some quick math*

– one bajillion options. A million brands, a billion hardware options, a zillion-trillion software options. You know what? I heart options.


There exists, however, a tipping point.

That tipping point occurs when these options make it impossible to create programs that encompass the bulk of said options. Over-complexity lurks in the system. Our options have created an endless maze, and in it we are lost.


I’ve heard the criticism.

“Man up, Nancy. Learn to troubleshoot. Can’t you read a manual?”

I can. And have. And won’t anymore.

Let’s turn the tables.

Got a car? Do you like it? Let’s say you mount a GPS on the dashboard, and now five minutes into every excursion, the car shuts off. Happy? No? Not excited about expensive technology failing you?

Learn to troubleshoot. Can’t you read a manual?

Thirty seconds into the brew-time on your coffee-maker the device instead sprays hot java on your balls, searing them to the corduroy. You don’t like that? Not a fan?

Learn to troubleshoot. Can’t you read a manual?

I could sell you a washing machine that works for $100 – or, for $20, I could just send a guy to your house and collapse your trachea with a cricket bat. We cool?

Learn to troubleshoot. Can’t you – well, you know the drill.

Fact: I want my shit to work. I bought Angry Birds for the iPhone, and you know what it does? It works. Same with any game I bought for my 360. The games work. No tinkering. No new hardware. No draconian DRM that demands I be online at all times and sacrifice a bleating goat. Console and iPhone games work.

You know what console games don’t do?

They don’t make me want to punch a baby seal.

That’s it. I’m done. Game over, man. Game over. No more PC gaming. I feel like a monkey in a Skinner Box who keeps getting shocked every time he stabs the “snack” button. You can take your PC gaming and stick it in your USB port.

Fuck PC gaming.

Until Civilization V comes out, at least.

I mean, I’m only human.

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and freelance penmonkey. He’s written for the pen-and-paper RPG industry for over 10 years, and is the developer for Hunter: The Vigil. He is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His website and blog is Terribleminds.

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