Tell Me About Your Mother

Regular readers may recall an article from last summer where I mentioned some PC games I picked up from the bargain bin. At the time I wrote that article, I had started playing through one of them (Myst III: Exile) and was enjoying it.

Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing it. This week, I bought Myst III: Exile for Xbox at The Exchange. I had also bought Silent Hill 3 for the PS2, another game I already owned for the PC.

The reason is simple. I can play the console versions of these games from my couch. It is impossible to overstate how important this is to me and, I suspect, to many other people. I have never, ever, found a way to integrate PC-based gaming into my household social life.

My gaming PC is in the office. If I have guests or family over and I’m playing a game, then either they’re in my office (which is uncomfortable for everyone involved), or they’re downstairs talking, and I’m in another room ignoring them. This makes me feel bad.

I tried moving the gaming PC into the living room. Then I had a huge desk in my living room with a noisy PC, and even then I found I was still playing whatever it was with my back to whomever was visiting.

The consoles fit naturally in the media center. They play on the TV, so everyone can easily watch. I can sit on the couch with whomever is visiting and we can share the experience. If no one is visiting, I can lay down while I play the game instead of sitting in a desk chair. I can turn the games on in 15 seconds or less. If I’m playing a game where the developers aren’t retarded idiots who put stupid console-style save points in their game, I can shut the game down nearly instantly. Many games on the console are well- suited to in-the-same-room multiplayer, so I can just hand someone else a controller.

This one simple facet of the console gaming experience trumps nearly everything else for me. “But the latest PC games have better graphics if you buy this $600 graphics card!” I can play the console games from my couch. “I don’t like first person shooters where I can’t use a keyboard and mouse!” I can play the console games from my couch. “You can play user-developed content only on the PC.” I can play the console games from my couch.

And don’t talk to me about laptop gaming. Yes, some games work in that context. But most don’t. And you know it.

If other people feel the same way about this that I do – and I bet they do – then there is one thing that worries me. As the market for PC games continues to shrink, great little Indie game developers may find it harder to make money. But who knows? Maybe as competition in the console market heats up, console manufacturers will be forced to loosen their stranglehold on licensing (OK, OK, I admit it. I don’t believe that for a moment, either.) Or perhaps major publishers will simply abandon the PC market, leaving more room for the indies. But somehow, I don’t see it going that way.

In a way, this is the “media center” problem in a slightly different context. There’s no technical reason why PCs can’t replace the DVD players, Tivo machines, and even game consoles at the center of most home entertainment centers. But PC and OS manufacturers’ attempts to penetrate this marketplace have met with abject failure. Whether this reflects a lack of commitment on the part of the players, an inability to design acceptable user interfaces, or simply fear of entering a market without airtight digital rights management, I don’t know.

But it sure would have been nice to play the PC version of Myst III: Exile from my couch.