rAge 2013: Marco’s Musings On PC Gaming
I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with an article about rAge 2013, but honestly the main purpose of the event, gaming, was the last on my to do list. Now you guys might expect that going as media I was charged with playing games and doing my bit to report on them. The truth is I only played 4 games at rAge 2013; three indie titles and Battlefield 4. There were two reasons for this: firstly as a PC gamer primarily, the Expo was very Console Centrism. Stop gaping, I’m not against consoles, I just don’t have a robust history playing with them as I’m mainly a PC gamer and many of the titles on show were prequels, sequels or being played with consoles or with controllers connected to PC’s. I’m not averse to using a controller as Bro Force was super fun using an Xbox 360 controller, but I am not as adept at using them compared to a keyboard and mouse. Secondly, and more importantly, I had another mission in mind: soak in all the PC hardware that I have mostly only ever seen through the panel on my monitor! I was entirely overwhelmed with the amount of PC equipment on show, something stores in Durban can’t hold a candle towards. I mean I can read reviews and look at pictures on the net about cases, headphones, keyboards, mice and other tech, but without actually holding them or feeling them or trying them out, what kind of informed choice can you or I or make in regards to fulfilling our gaming purpose? This disconnect is what I want to address.
Imagine a budding samurai choosing his weapon by browsing an online site. Besides the surrealism of that scenario, imagine the frustration he might endure: he has no tactile information of some of the core features like weight, sharpness or balance of the item. I mean he could read that it weighs 3.78 KG, but is it more weighted at the front than at the back? Is the balance between length and weight optimal? In popular culture films featuring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe, whenever a swordsman “reviews” a sword they pick it up from the armourers table and slice it through the air, dissecting its pro’s and con’s while they dissect an enemy. Essentially your keyboard, mouse, headset, case and any other peripheral are the same(kinda) as the Samurai armour and weapons you see Tom Cruise inherit from the man he killed.
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I guess that is where “Samurai” hardware reviews step in and try to close the distance between the product and you by trying to answer all your subjective questions with objective means. I think that is one of the main differences between gaming reviews and hardware reviews: the former has to tell you the essence of the game without actually spoiling the story for gamers, whereas the latter has to tell you everything and more or else the product will be spoiled for gamers when they use it and find out something that was not covered in the review.
This why I also think console gaming has surpassed PC gaming; only once every next gen cycle is the hardware under scrutiny and critique of gamers. Thus consoles are reviewed once, the controllers are reviewed once, the Kinect is reviewed once and they are your platform for the next few years, barring minor refreshes or updates. PC gaming hardware changes in terms of hardware more often, case in point the popularity of mechanical keyboards and the multitude of different ones. When I try to explain the benefits of Cherry MX Brown switches over Cherry MX blue switches, most people just don’t get it. The only way to understand the differences is to actually type on the keyboard, not get told that one requires 40g of actuation force and the other 50g. Experiencing hardware is the best review, and that’s one reason I think PC gaming is harder overall: it’s harder to experience computer hardware and peripherals outside of Expo’s like rAge 2013. Probably in every Incredible Connection, CNA, BT Games and DIONS there has been one or more consoles set up and ready for you to discern between the various controllers and consoles; never have I seen a demo of a Logitech mouse or Razer Keyboard in these stores, yet these are the some of the things on show at Expos like rAge, and this only once a year in SA.
So beyond it being easier to transform the lounge into a heated battle of controller’s, the console is just much easier to play games with because you are using the exact same tools for one whole generation. The Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers have basically stayed the same for their whole stint, whereas in PC gaming, mice and keyboards in the same era have changed in the way they are built and designed, even if they have retained the same overall form factor. People are debating the new controllers, yet in 6 years they will essentially be the same controllers we see now. Don’t see this as an attack console gamers, I’m not throwing around my “Master Race” complex. I’m just merely pointing out that hardware changes in the PC space more than in the console space, fact. Read positively or negatively into that. Even PC cases released in 2006 are extremely outdated, whereas the current gen console box refreshes are usually special editions with a new coat of paint or smaller form factor. One just needs to look at the Razer Ouroboros or Corsair Air 540 to get an inkling of the evolution to popular PC gaming hardware peripherals.
So what I’m going to say is basically what many others have said ad infinitum: consoles are easier for gaming because the tools they use are standardised, and subsequently they are cheaper for it. But how does this translate in the real world? With consoles, the tools you used 5 years ago are basically the same you used yesterday. You can break your controller that you’ve pummeled away on for 5 years and go out to buy the exact same one without skipping a kill streak. Doing the same with PC peripherals is not as straight forward. Firstly the Logitech/Razer/Steelseries whatever equipment is probably End Of Life(EOL) and this forces you to look at newer ranges, thus entailing research, reading reviews, looking at prices and most probably realising you don’t know jack anymore. Getting used to a new gaming mouse or keyboard is particularly challenging. I’ve felt it and you’ve felt it. This is part of the problem: PC gaming leaves people behind unless you work at it by reading reviews of graphics cards you won’t probably ever get, understanding new software suites like Razer Synapse 2.0 that you might never use, or even understanding the Mechanical keyboard Meta currently at play, even though you might never use each cherry MX switch. No, this is not building up to a confession that I’m giving up PC gaming because it’s an effort; I’m just saying that maybe there is a disconnect between keeping up with PC gaming and the way gaming peripherals are not promoted as much outside of these Expo’s, at least in SA.
So places like rAge can help make PC gaming more accessible and easier. Showcasing diverse peripherals and making it more exciting because we can actually have a look and feel the peripherals that come to shape our gaming experience. I saw cases, keyboards, mice and headsets that I would usually turn a stiff upper lip towards if encountered online, but at rAge 2013 when I saw them on display, my ultracooled CPU heart melted as I fawned over them like a kid in a candy store. I analysed and tried as much as I could, getting my opinion developed online to align with reality; something that made me appreciate and get an understanding of hardware more than any reviewer could ever tell me. Now if only we could have the same amount of demo or review sampling of high end PC equipment in stores all year round, and not only at Expo’s. That’s why even though rAge was bursting with console love, I immensely enjoyed trying out what I could of the PC parts they had. I guess one of the unconscious reasons I had for forgoing a test of the next gen consoles is because by next year sometime the PS4 will probably be set up in Incredible connection, or CNA, while other PC hardware like the Razer Edge, Cooler Master SE, or Razer Ouroboros would only be available through my monitor, or at Expo’s like these.