When I sat down to write this column, I
was angry. Angry at Emanuel Maiberg for
writing his Motherboard story “ PC Gaming
Is Still Way Too Hard,” angry at
ExtremeTech’s Joel Hruska for taking it
more seriously than I felt it deserved in
his response yesterday, angry at myself
for wasting my valuable time on what
read to me as, at best, a rabid, whining
screed.
As I thought about it more, however, my
rage was replaced by something else:
pity. Because, in his attempt to address
what he perceives as problems with the
PC gaming industry, Maiberg revealed
just how little he cares about—and, in
fact, understands—a hobby I’ve long held
dear.
To the extent it’s discernible beneath his
faux indignation, Maiberg’s point seems
to be that PC gaming is too hard because
it calls for some work. Unless you don’t
want to do any work, in which case then it
becomes too hard because it’s too
expensive. In other words, Maiberg wants
to game on a PC but do so without lifting
a finger or laying out any money—which
would make it unlike practically any other
pastime that exists.
Having been building computers partially
or totally since 1987, and having built all
of my personal computers exclusively for
the last 20 years, I believe I can say with
some authority (and thus agreeing with
both Maiberg and Joel) that PC building
is easier than it’s ever been. Aside from
what Joel mentioned in his story, these
days you don’t even need a screwdriver
to do most things—you can use thumb
screws to open the case, and install
nearly every part (except the
motherboard) using a variety of
increasingly clever and capable tool-free
systems. You still need to connect the
various cables and wires, but spending a
few seconds looking at the manual will
give you all the necessary guidance. What
you don’t need to do is start sweating
geysers because you hear something you
don’t expect while installing your Intel
processor—a procedure that’s next to
impossible to botch. (It’s infinitely easier
to bend the pins on an AMD chip, but it
takes only a couple of minutes of work to
bend them back if it happens. Which it
won’t if you pay the slightest attention.)
Choosing components is fun.
The “most difficult” part of building a
system is indeed shopping for the parts,
because of the wide variety that ensures
there is something to appeal to everyone,
with every kind of budget, who may be
looking. But sorting through this is as
straightforward as zipping over to
Newegg, plugging in a couple of
preferences and specifications, and
discovering exactly the hardware that’s
best for you. You will need to compare a
few names and numbers, and make sure
some key elements coordinate (such as
the processor and the motherboard
socket, the motherboard’s and the case’s
form factors, the strength of the power
supply relative to the other pieces), but—
and this is the key—if you’re sufficiently
enterprising, it is, at best, a trivial matter.
That’s what this is ultimately about.
Building your own computer is not the
passive activity for which Maiberg
apparently yearns. It requires that you
ask yourself questions about what you’re
doing (how much money you can spend,
how much power you want, how long you
intend to keep the computer, and so on),
and then adjust your purchases based on
your answers. But this is not tough. This
is the same procedure you should follow
when you’re buying anything, from a new
car to clothes to groceries. Remember,
you are tailoring a product to your unique
tastes, not trusting other people to do it
for you.
The idea that this process should demand
no thought, no consideration, no choice-
making at all isn’t just absurd—it’s
offensive. This is the very ethos on which
the entire computer industry was founded
and which, for much of its first three
decades, underlay even the home PC
segment. You were getting a device that
could solve your problems, educate your
children, entertain you in myriad ways,
and be everything else you wanted—if you
would take a minimum of ownership over
the journey to the destination.
One of many games you’d only want to
play on a PC — preferably one you built
yourself.
Apple has almost always offered the
alternative of wonderful things if only you
give up that control and submit to the will
of someone who would never meet you,
know you, or care about you. Is it a
viable option? Sure. But to pretend, as
Maiberg does, that it’s instantly preferable
is missing the point more than a blind
seamstress sifting through a haystack for
her lost chenille: There’s a reason
essentially no one thinks of Apples as
serious gaming computers, and this is it.
When someone wants to own a portion of
your soul, whether you want the best,
second-best, or third-best video card—to
say nothing of memory, sound, and (ha!)
expandability—is immaterial. It’s not
Apple’s goal, and the company assumes
(not without some justification) that it’s
not its customers’ goal, either.
Many vendors, whether of the boutique
(Maingear, Digital Storm, Falcon
Northwest) or mainstream (Dell, HP)
variety, offer premade PCs that can get
around these problems—except, yes, you
do have to pay, and yes, more than if you
buy a console. These computers can do
much more than a console, of course,
and can game with much better-looking
graphics and dazzlingly higher
resolutions, something that serious
players will appreciate. If you have the
money but not the patience, these are
good ways to go—and, if you explore the
boutique route, chances are you’re getting
a system built by real, flesh-and-blood
enthusiasts who live and breathe this
stuff the way some people do movies or
baseball. To my mind, that’s worth paying
for.
Assembling this isn’t hard.
What you lose, though, is the soul-kissing
sense of satisfaction that really makes
building your own PC worthwhile. If you
dedicate yourself, if you take the time,
and if you proceed carefully and
cautiously, building your own PC won’t
just be survivable, it will be joyful . Maybe
it will take a few hours, but it will be
worth it. And when you’re finished, your
computer will do everything you want, in
exactly the way you want it, for precisely
the price you’re willing to pay—something
that can never be said about a machine
from Apple or any other manufacturer.
And it will deliver an unmatchable thrill
every time you turn it on, because it
exists because of you and you can
upgrade it, downgrade it, or change it in
any way, at your merest whim.
For true PC builders, this is what’s
important, and why they’re willing to
spend more time and more money: They
want their investment to mean something,
and that promise, that significance, is
renewed with every new component and
every new game in a way simply cannot
occur with a PlayStation or Xbox (both of
which are afflicted with inferior graphics
compared with what you’ll get from the
better PC video cards, by the way).
That’s the key, though: You have to do it
for the right reasons, whether because
you love games and want them to be the
best they can be, because you want to
create something from a pile of metal,
because you just want to take control
over your life, or because of anything else
real. But if you think none of this matters
—as Maiberg, judging from his writing,
does not—then sure, immersing yourself
in it is going to be hard. But if you
approach it as an activity worthy of
respect rather than grunting derision, and
something with an outcome that’s
capable of transcending mere numbers,
then it will be a snap.
Perhaps someday Maiberg will realize
this and give this storied, productive, and
valuable pursuit the due it deserves. I
sincerely hope he is able to open his eyes
and his heart and see it as I do. Maybe
PC gaming and PC building require a little
more patience than doing nothing, but
what you must expend is but a fraction of
the bounty you get in return. But sitting
back and letting others make my
computer and gaming decisions for me,
when complete control is forever just
inches away from my grasp? Now that’s
hard.


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