by Mike Shea on 19 June 2008
Note on 17 June 2013: My opinions on this topic have changed drastically since I originally wrote this. Take a look at the article I Was Wrong About PC Gaming to see how I feel about it in June 2013. I am keeping the rest of this article intact for archival purposes.
A recent article moved my attention back to the whole argument surrounding console gaming and PC gaming. It's been seven years since I wrote my award winning article, Why Computers Suck. The world has changed in many ways since then but in many ways it has stayed the same. Yet one truth still holds strong. Computers still suck. Here are four reasons why.
We don't really need much more than a web browser these days. Just about any machine built in the last ten years would do most of us fine when it came to PC use. One industry continues to push us to buy better hardware and more advanced software: PC games. Games like Crysls push "hard core" gamers to upgrade their rigs with multiple high-end video cards, copies of Windows Vista, more RAM, and faster CPUs. The cost to build a decent gaming rig is still too high. Nowadays, one can buy a single Xbox 360 for less than the cost of a high-end video card and have the best gaming system on the planet.
With the huge range of computers, video cards, and now even operating systems, it gets harder and harder for game companies to tune their game with any set framerate, resolution, or game effects. Most PC games have incredibly detailed techno-jargon-filled menus to turn on and off various effects in order to meet some theoretical performance level. Console games don't have these details. A game on an Xbox 360 plays the same on every Xbox 360.
The complexity of the current computer has forced all of us to become IT professionals. 80 year old grandmothers must learn how to update their virus protection lest they become part of some horrifying bot-net. Applications like Microsoft Office get more and more complicated, changing how users use them and forcing them to re-learn anything they've learned over the years. While hard-core gamers will hold the complex interface of a computer as an advantage for games, these complex interfaces instead get in the way of popularity. Hard-core gamers hate casual gamers but there are a lot more casual gamers out there waiting for that perfect easy to play game. This is why the Nintendo DS, the Wii, and the Xbox Live Arcade are so popular. People just want to play a game, not fly the space shuttle.
It finally took Windows Vista to get most people to realize the awful the trend in computer operating systems. Ever since Windows first hit the market operating systems have taken up more space, more CPU time, more memory, and more attention than ever before. While DOS used to run in about 40k of ram, it now takes up 2 to 4 gigabytes to show some pretty beveled windows. Operating systems aren't meant to be seen at all. Applications are the only thing that matter. People simply hate PCs. They hate the bugs, they hate the complexity, and they hate having to pour money into a computer to get it to simply turn on.
Information appliances are the answer to the woes of computers. iPods, iPhones, Chumbys, handheld game systems, and console game systems are built around the tasks of our lives. Small dedicated computers can fit into the way we live instead of forcing our lives around poor performing machines designed to get us to buy more crap.
However, there is a danger lurking on the horizon. Game systems like the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 are looking more and more like PCs. They require game installations, sometimes very long ones. They are getting more and more complex with a higher overhead for operating systems and background software we really don't care about. They all try to do too much, trying to be the single machine that can do everything. In some cases, like playing a DVD, that's ok. In others, like becoming a networked hub to all of your media, it goes too far outside the scope of what we want. If console systems go the route of PCs, we're going to see another dark age in usable computing. So far, though, this dark cloud has been staved off by loud critics of long installation times and instability in console gaming.
So in the mean time, turn off that PC, grab your Nintendo DS, and enjoy gaming the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
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