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Stick and Rudder: The myth of the PC master race

Jef Reahard

One of the finest games I've ever played in my life is a console-only title. Last night I finished devouring Naughty Dog's PS3-exclusive The Last of Us, and I've logged more hours in Turn 10's sublime Forza Motorsport series than I care to admit.

That said, the PC is and likely always will be my preferred gaming device, and those games I just mentioned would have better served my personal funtime goals if they'd been available on the PC. More importantly for the purposes of this particular column, the PC is the only platform that can do justice to a giant juicy steak of a game like Star Citizen.

Anvil Aerospace logoDoes that opinion make me a "PC elitist" or a card-carrying member of the "PC master race?" Nah. As I said, I play on every platform there is, and frankly there is no reason why people who self-identify as gamers shouldn't own a couple of consoles and a decent gaming PC. In fact, spreading your playtime across a variety of platforms is basically a prerequisite to being a knowledgable, experienced gamer.

Fairly or not, though, Star Citizen already has something of a reputation as being for PC elitists, even though Chris Roberts has publicly stated that he's not opposed to bringing the game to the PlayStation 4 if certain conditions are met. The perception isn't entirely inaccurate, but most of it probably has to do with SC's bleeding edge aesthetics.

If you stop and think about it, though, issues relating to graphical capability or player input options are only part of the equation. Star Citizen, both as a game and as an indie- and crowd-funded game project, is literally the antithesis of what game consoles are all about.

Console conundrum
See, consoles are designed by and for publishers, not gamers. Let me say that again in case it didn't sink in. Consoles are designed for publishers, not gamers. Sure, gamers like them because they work with no fuss and they offer a ton of conveniences. But those are side benefits. Consoles exist to keep their install bases firmly entrenched inside a given company's walled garden.

Aurora blueprintsThe PC, on the other hand, is the impossible-to-kill weed that mucks up the walled garden. It's the 300-megaton bomb that takes a thermonuclear dump on walled gardens, really.

It's easy to understand if you look at consoles from a publisher's perspective. Why has Microsoft spent so much money on its Xbox brand over the years? Is it because the company values gamers and wants to give them the grandest experiences possible? Or is it because it sees the Xbox as its entry point to eventual whole-home-entertainment domination?

So why would any well-informed gamer choose a console? That's a hard one to answer, but leaving aside exclusivity deals (i.e., that Star Wars game you've got to have is only on the Wii), convenience seems to be the main reason. Serviceable gaming PCs are dirt cheap and can certainly be had for the 500 bucks you'll spend on a new console. And the since the best consoles will never stack up to even an average gaming PC in terms of performance and input capability, it comes down to convenience and exclusives.

Aurora blueprint againLike most digital conveniences, though, the ones offered by consoles come at the cost of ownership of your content and your gaming experience. That's why console manufacturers manufacture consoles, in fact. The PC scares the shitaki mushrooms out of these companies because it empowers the individual consumer, and the only thing big content fears more than an educated consumer is an empowered consumer.

The last two console generations have largely focused on laying the groundwork for an assault on end-user autonomy, and even though Microsoft jumped the gun and was summarily smacked down at this year's E3, don't think it or any of its competitors have stopped wanting to turn you into a cloud-based renter rather than an owner. Console vs. PC is ultimately about publisher control, and convenience is the way they seduce you.

Star Citizen, on the other hand, is all about user control. Sure, Roberts and company are doing the heavy lifting when it comes to actually designing and building the game, but they're doing so in a very public way and incorporating real-time user feedback during every step of the process. It's not exactly community-driven development, but it's a far cry from the build-whatever-you-want-and-people-will-buy-it-if-the-marketing's-good model that dominates the console arena.

While some version of Star Citizen may in fact end up on the PlayStation 4 or another indie-friendly console or mobile device, it's going to be a version that is scaled down from its PC blueprint. If Roberts and company decide to add some whizbang visual upgrade to Star Citizen after it's been live for a couple of years, PC players can spend 20 minutes upgrading their hardware to match it. Console players, well, they'll be stuck until Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo allows them to upgrade their hardware.

The other reason that Star Citizen will shine brightest on a PC is admittedly a subjective one, but hey, this is my opinion column, so what can I say? Immersion is a big deal in Star Citizen, both to creator Chris Roberts and to many of the game's early adopters. And immersion on a PC is simply better than it is on a console. When I sit down in my overstuffed office chair surrounded by three monitors, a couple of keyboards, and more peripherals than I can count, it just feels right, and it's a totally different vibe from the one I get when I plop down on my couch, controller in hand.

300 blueprintWith the PC setup, there's more of a sense that I'm traveling to another world for a little while, and it's not necessarily about processor power or graphics or any of the window dressing, it's about what is actually possible in terms of input and communication and thus what is actually possible in terms of gameplay and mechanics. It's also a lot harder to get interrupted in my man cave than it is in the family room!

In a nutshell, console games are simply games. Sometimes that's enough, and I love them for what they are, but PC games, particularly ones like Star Citizen, are simply bigger, stronger, faster, and ultimately more immersive. Look at some of the crossover titles and compare what you can do on the PC version to what you can do on the console version. Fallout 3 on a console is another in a long line of action RPGs. Fallout 3 on a PC is a living, breathing world that I both star in and lord over, thanks to the ability to mod the hell out of the client and do basically whatever I want to do to the world. Heck, with a download and a few mouse clicks I can make it into a totally different game!

What today's wall of text boils down to is that the myth of the PC master race is just that: a myth. And it's one that you shouldn't buy into if you do in fact care about video games as an industry. Consoles have their place, but video games are designed, built, tuned, and modified on PCs. All those spectacular next-gen console demos at E3 2013? They were running on PCs! PCs empower you as a consumer, whereas more often that not, consoles, portables, tablets, and mobile phones do the opposite.

What ultimately matters more than screen size, CPU specs, or even content ownership, though, is what type of gaming you're in the mood for at the moment. Occasionally I'm in the mood for 20 minutes of NCAA Football, Halo 4, or maybe an hour of Red Dead Redemption co-op. More frequently I'm craving the kind of immersion and complexity that can only be found in games like Star Citizen, certain sandbox MMORPGs, and modded versions of The Elder Scrolls, Flight Simulator X, and GT Legends.

That's not elitism so much as it is personal preference, and it's really nothing more than choosing the right tool for the job. Ultimately, you can and should make use of both PCs and consoles to get the most out your gaming experience.

Whether it's interviews with Chris Roberts and the Cloud Imperium team or tips and guides for pushing your ship's performance envelope, Stick and Rudder is your inside source for news and commentary on the world of Star Citizen. Join Jef Reahard every other week during the run-up to alpha, beta, and beyond.

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