Horizontal gaming – the pros and cons of consoles

Welcome to my ivory tower. Imagine if you will a high backed chair, more of a throne than anything else. And there I am seated upon it, and I’m smoking a cigar. I swish the brandy around in the glass and chuckle to myself, illunated only by the glow of my quad core monster-bastard machine. Meanwhile outside, far below, the masses are, well, massing. Bumping into each other yapping about their Street Fighter IV and Halo 3.

It is I, the PC Gamer Snob, always eager to laud my powerful processor over anyone who dares game on a television. When ports are released it will be I who announces first in a loud booming voice that gaming has been dumbed down, to cater for those small minded consolians. Because PC Gamers are smarter, stronger, faster than their couch potato console counterparts. Amiright?

To find out, we must descend below the jump, into the lands of more reasoned debate.

I’ve been thinking recently about the real differences between PC and console gaming, not from a technical standpoint, but from a psychological one.

When I sit down in front of a console my expectations are very different to those I have sitting down for a session on my PC, and this means that I can end up forming a different opinion of a game depending on where I played it. Experiences I find fun and satisfying in one setting just seem empty and a bit rubbish in the other.

Whatever you do with your PC, you’ll have a more formal relationship than you will with a console. You’ll be sitting upright with keybpoard, mouse, monitor, speakers all carefully arranged in front of you. The mouse must always be in front of the PC facing the screen, and the keyboard will always be nearby. The PC holds you in place and draws you in completely. It’s designed to absorb all of your attention.

In contrast I do most of my console gaming in a state that I’d describe as ‘almost horizontal’. Lightweight wireless pads mean you can play upside down and still break the net in Fifa. You’ll be on some soft couch-like thing and you’ll be leaning out, not in.

The games that work better on a PC are more involved because more is required to satisfy the PC Gamer’s higher levels of attention, this means sharper graphics/sound and more complex gameplay. By contrast the console gamer is willing to accept something shallower because he doesn’t demand to be completely engrossed in the experience.

Being in front of a television naturally evokes a more passive state of mind learned from many hours of non-interactive television watching. So when something like the latest Prince of Persia comes along it meets widespread approval by the console press but is loathed by their PC counterparts.

Prince of Persia, for those who haven’t played it is – how to put it kindly – a bit light on gameplay. That is to say it’s basically a rhythm game. Press A or Y at the required points and you will win. In fact even if you don’t press anything you can’t lose, because you can’t die. The game is, however, eye-meltingly gorgeous, boasting some sublime animation and beautiful environments. The console gamer relaxes into the imagery and allows themselves to be carried along, as though briefly living a fairytale. The PC Gamer glares at the screen, somewhat insulted by the fact he’s been pressing nothing but the spacebar for the last  hour.

It’s the difference between leaning in and leaning out. It’s a mental attitude. Mods, tweaks, graphics drivers, UI customisation – The PC Gamer sees the nitty gritty insides of a game and has a greater appreciation for the mechanical meat and bones of a title. By contrast most console games are ready meals, put them in and watch them go, lean back and let the experience come to you. Absorbing a gameworld in this passive way can sometimes paper over cracks in game design, allowing for a more convincing experience even when the game is flawes.

Multiplayer then also differs a lot. The PC just doesn’t do local multiplayer. It can of course, but it just doesn’t feel right. The screen and the set-up is devoted to one person only and when you start sharing keyboards or jacking extra controllers into spare USB slots you just know that it’s not what the PC is for. The PC stillprovides epic opportunities to play socially of course. VOIP technology has come on the extent that you can have a conversation with someone while playing without a lot of awkward lag and inteference, and there’s no doubt that it provides great social gaming potential, espcially if you know the people on the other end of the line, but it’s still quite a removed feeling. Your still in your personal world with your own screen, attached to another person by one slim vocal link.

Turn on the console, hit the couch with some friends and  you’ll have a great social experience. The same passive approach to console gaming is ideal for group fun. The game becomes something to occupy and entertain in the background, chat and banter can occur naturally over the sound of the hadoukens. I have great times on TF2, and have met some fun people over headsets, but nothing really compares to friends and a copy of Fifa.


Ludo, just now realising that Left 4 Dead LAN is in fact superior to everything, out.


3 Responses to “Horizontal gaming – the pros and cons of consoles”

  1. March 9, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Not sure if you’re aware: I get the entire post in the RSS feed (there is no jump). If you rate how effectively the cash is rolling in with websitey hit thingies, you might be gettings the wools azbazzled overs yours eyes.

    Also, lanning around a table or throughout a decent-sized house is great fun. Consoles are PCs that you can’t do anything with. It’s like an mp3 player that you buy, but only certain pop songs come out for, and you can’t turn up the volume.

  2. 2 Ludo
    March 9, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Hmmm, interesting, didn’t know about the lack of jump in RSS feeds. Fortunately we don’t make any cash from this, it’s all fer the love o’ games!

    Yeah the modability of the PC is an endless boon. I’m trying to make a TF2 payload map at the moment, and it’s just great fun, and the SDK kit with the Hammer editor is all completely free, and a really powerful bit of software.

    Might write something about mods soon actually, we’ve reached a stage where whole new franchises are being born out of popular mods, as with the original Team Fortress, and whole careers are being generated for amateur mappers being snapped up by Valve.

  3. March 9, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Unless, of course, those pop songs are freaking amazing and only available on that mp3 player.

    Considering the hours-of-use compared to the dollars-spent, game consoles still dominate the price of movie tickets and concerts.

    Besides, if you know what you’re doing, you -can- turn up the volume on certain consoles. Homebrew for the Wii, for instance. And now that Netflix is on X-Box Live, that’s turning into something much more important than it was before.

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