Some of the interviews I’ve conducted throughout my Ph.D. have revolved around gaming platforms. What follows here is an abridged snippet of the part of the thesis which introduces PC gamer culture, by talking about how it’s discussed and portrayed online. I’ve done this to contextualize the specifics of PC-gamer culture and how it’s seen from outside.
When looking at how people discuss platform preferences, a couple of major themes emerge;
- economic (which platform is most cost effective and has cheaper games)?
- technological (which controls are best? which machine has the better graphical capabilities? can it run previous generations of games?)
- social (can I play with friends I already know, where is the machine located?)
there are examples out there of extreme elitism. I’m not going to link to it here (the ethics of covert forum observation in academic research are a bit murky) but one 2010 thread on a PC-gaming-specific forum illustrates this. The original poster asks whether console gamers as “less sophisticated” and draws historical parallels between console gamers and “barbarians”. They associate the “console crowd” with the worst instances of rudeness, immaturity and racism in online gaming, and associate PC gaming with a stoic mentality. When I say “stoic” I mean that saving up money and amassing technical knowledge on builds and spec is viewed as being more moral; an act of self-improvement and delayed gratification. This is evident from the fact that those who have bought pre-built Alienware gaming PCs are sometimes placed in the same category as the “unsophisticated” console gamers.
This is obviously an extreme example. Various websites do upload opinion pieces or FAQs outlining theories of the PC’s superiority. While many forum users do engage with these debates, just as many are completely indifferent and often see these sort of articles or forum posts at deliberate attempts at starting flamewars (in the case of gaming sites; in order to increase traffic).
One 2011 Destructoid article suggested that the PC platform had higher revenues from games software that year, and that PC gamers were spending, on average, twice as much time playing as their console-only peers – showing a relationship between higher investments of time and money. In some of the online discussions about gaming platforms, PC gamers express a sense of betrayal toward the games industry, perceiving themselves as having invested more time and money into an industry which, in turn, caters primarily to the more limited tastes of the console audience, with risk-averse practices which favour the production of a few more popular genres over creativity and experimentation.
In a series of articles on gamer types, David Houghton (2007) describes an archetypal gamer type – the“PC “snob” – who believes that “complicated technological issues are the only way to earn the right to play a game” and therefore only plays games with “bleeding edge hardware specifications”. Houghton’s article attempts to explain how someone comes to be this sort of gamer;
“It may be that his parents didn’t want him wasting his time playing video games, and so sneaking a copy of Doom onto the PC they bought him to do his homework with was his only option for a long time, leading to a lifetime of repressed console jealousy. Or it’s entirely possibly that he’s always been a diehard techie at heart, and that gaming became just one of his uses for the machine he proudly built with his own two hands. He may even simply be an over-achiever, finding insufficient satisfaction in merely mastering a game, and thus feeling the need to make the actual process of gaming a challenge in itself.”
In its original context, “glorious PC-gaming master race” was meant to sarcastically describe this same set of tastes, where complexity (in terms of hardware and game mechanics) becomes a stand-in for fun. The phrase and its associated images (above) originally came from Yahtzee’s review of PC game The Witcher (2007, CD Projekt RED/Atari):
“… Witcher is very much a PC-exclusive game, which are typically designed to be as complex and unintuitive as possible so that those dirty console-playing peasants don’t ruin it for the glorious PC-gaming master race. The first warning sign is that the manual is thick enough to beat goats to death with, and then once you get into the game the interface is just a few steps shy of Microsoft Access in terms of friendliness […] If disliking this sort of shit makes me stupid, then call me Retard McSpacky Pants, but I’d rather be stupid and having fun than bored out of my huge genius mind.”
The glorious master-race meme went on to be repeated in other publications and artworks (Plunkett, 2012; Oh, 2012) as well as finding its own subreddit, which has around 170,000 subscribers at time of writing. In the case of the subreddit, the phrase lost most of its intended critical irony and is instead used to earnestly describe the supposed technical, moral and intellectual superiority of PC gamers over “console peasants”.
In some ways, PC gaming communities hark back to the pre or early-internet period of the 1990s, when geekdom was seen as some sort of elitist, esoteric cult (Kelty, 2013, p102). I think what we see when we analyse the tastes of the self-proclaimed master race, isn’t really entirely about gaming. In the same way that certain groups believe that consuming a particular type of art or literature (usually the kind which is particularly obtuse and difficult to enjoy) is associated with “self improvement”, having a hobby which requires more legwork is seen as being less lazy and therefore more moral.
 (e.g. techradar.com, 2008; thegamescabin.com, 2012; social.bioware.com, 2012; pcgamer.com, 2012; n4g.com, 2013)
Destructoid (2011) “PC gaming comeback” http://www.destructoid.com/pc-vs-console-gaming-infographic-pc-is-making-a-comeback-212611.phtml
Kelty, C. (2008) Geeks and Recursive Publics: How the Internet and Free Software Make Things Public’ in Beyond Habermas: Democracy, Knowledge, and the Public Sphere. Emden, C. J. and Midgley, D. (eds.) pp99-115. Berghan Books.