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The PC vs. Console Debate is a Non-Starter in 2020

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Another generation, another flame war between console enthusiasts and the PC Master Race. At least, that’s what the Internet can lead you to believe. With the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X just a month away, it’s time to discuss why the never-ending argument between PC and Consoles is a non-starter, one that obfuscates the true advantages of both systems.

Graphics don’t Matter…That Much

Let’s start with a simple observation: video games are fun to play, no matter their graphical fidelity. From the days of Pong on the Atari 2600 to Super Mario World on the SNES and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64, great games don’t have to have excellent visuals in order to be remembered as classics. Too often, the debate between consoles and PCs is often predicated on this one observation. PCs are considered superior because their graphical capability often far outstrips that of consoles, especially toward the end of the console’s effective life span. 

The recently-released RTX 3080 will dominate the custom RDNA 2 GPUs present in the PS5 and Xbox Series X. However, this power will come at one disadvantage: cost. At an MSRP of $699, the 3080 costs nearly $200 more than the PS5 with a disc drive and the Xbox Series X, while costing nearly $200 more than the Xbox Series S, which offers 1440p gaming at a mere $300. Additionally, users who purchase the 3080 will need to build a suitable gaming PC that won’t bottleneck the rest of the system. 

The RTX 3080 dominates the Xbox Series X and PS5, but at a greater cost than the consoles themselves.

Thanks to AMD and their fantastically designed Ryzen series of CPUs, that has become easier. Nevertheless, even a modest gaming PC with a 6-core, 12-thread processor, 16 GB of RAM (with 32 GB being a better option for most gamers), and an NVME SSD will come close to $600, if not more, without the GPU. That’s a steep price to pay, especially as the global economy heads into another recession

What PCs do offer over consoles is display flexibility. While consoles are usually built with a display spec in mind, (e.g. the GameCube was built with 480i or 480p in mind and the PlayStation 5 is built with 4K in mind for most players), PC owners have a choice in how they can build their system. They can tailor how they build to what resolution they are aiming at and what games they want to play. 

Take my current build. With just an Nvidia GTX 960 2GB (an aging card released back in 2015), my options are limited on how far I can push most games. Yet, as an avid Overwatch player, my GPU supports running a 1080p, 144Hz panel for Overwatch while still allowing me to use my Ultrawide 1440p panel for content creation and media consumption. Despite not having upgraded my GPU in over a half decade, I still have access to most of the new PC monitors and can take advantage of them if I choose to. That flexibility makes PCs a compelling option. 

Modularity: Blessing and Curse

That also applies to one of the PC’s greatest strengths: modularity. Modularity allows for even modest office computers to be converted into decent gaming computers if the right steps are followed (as I did with my machine, which used to pull duty in a computer lab at my alma mater.) YouTube is filled with videos of content creators taking old Dell machines, recycling center finds, and eBay bargains and turning them into cool gaming rigs. That sort of flexibility is an incredible strength of PC hardware, lowering the price of entry for budget gamers.

The same could be said for higher level gaming systems. Picking the right CPU, RAM, power supply and storage when building a computer can often be good enough for high resolution and high framerate gaming for years down the line. While GPUs don’t last quite as long, mainly due to the consistently great gains that come with each product release, a good GPU can still get you four or five years of gaming if you don’t mind lowering quality settings and adjusting expectations as the card ages (as my 960 can attest.) Additionally, if you run out of space on your PC and you don’t want to delete any games, buying another hard drive and slapping it into the system is usually enough to fix the underlying issue, at least in most situations.

Consoles are great for those who don’t like tinkering around inside of computers.

Yet, this ability to adapt is a confusing and intimidating prospect for those not used to working on PCs. I’ve lost count of how many Reddit threads, YouTube videos, and hardware forums I’ve perused over the years in order to understand what to do in a given situation. The prospect of messing something up and losing possibly hundreds of dollars due to an accident is scary and unappealing to most people. After having lost data once during a move from an HDD to an SSD, I have to say that I don’t disagree with those who find computer hardware too risky or difficult to bother with. After all, as comfortable as I am around PCs, I have a mechanic do all the routine maintenance on my car because the thought of messing something up is too intimidating for me.

Consoles have almost none of the same issues. Without modularity, they can focus on being all things to all people. Their standardized parts means that there is little to no variation between units. Sure, revisions happen that may improve cooling performance or fix bugs that are bound to crop up, but consoles are covered under warranty, with teams of experts at Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony available to fix them should an issue emerge. They feature easy-to-understand user interfaces and don’t require updating drivers, troubleshooting, or installing different storefronts (i.e. Steam, the Epic Games Store, the Microsoft Store), in order to install games. 

Additionally, buying physical games on console allows budget gamers to sell their old games in order to finance new purchases. With the rise of digital games, this will cease to be a compelling option as consoles gradually phase out physical media. Nevertheless, it is a boon that can cut down the cost of play for some gamers and allows for those without good internet to enjoy modern, AAA games as well.

It Really Doesn’t Matter

At the end of the day, both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. Neither is truly “better” than the other. As the owner of both a gaming PC and a Nintendo Switch, I could not imagine having to choose between them. The Switch gives me access to all of Nintendo’s new first party titles, their backlog of classic games via Nintendo Switch Online, and a slew of third party games that I can play on the go. Sure, the third party games usually don’t look too great and often run at 720p and 30fps, but it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make for playing on the go and having a physical copy of a game that I can sell if I don’t like it. My gaming PC gives me access to PC exclusives like Hearts of Iron IV and games that are at their best on PC, like Overwatch. With Steam, I can keep my games even after upgrading to new hardware, something not always possible on console, and I can get games for relatively cheap during Steam sales. Additionally, a powerful gaming PC with plenty of screen real estate works well for doing research and writing, something I do a lot of as a PhD student.

I suppose the real lesson to draw from this comparison is that there is no superior option between console and PC. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I believe they are both great options for playing games. So, the next time a member of the PC Master Race or your Xbox buddy, Bill, tries to convince you that their platform really is the superior option, remember that we’re all here because we enjoy one thing, playing video games, and that the platform you play them on is just that: a platform. 

Although a gamer since before I can remember, there is not a better definition of me than these three words: Christian, moderate, and learner. I am steadfast in my Faith, my Beliefs, and in my Opinions, but I am always willing to hear the other side of the discussion. I love Nintendo, History, and the NBA. Currently a PhD Student at Liberty University.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. youarenotanorc

    October 18, 2020 at 11:29 pm

    Meh. The upshot of the article is that PCs are better for a number of quantifiable objective reasons … but cost too much. To contribute to that point, the spurious idea that “great graphics don’t make great games” was advanced, but bizarrely used decades old console games (Pong, Super Mario World) from back when PC gaming wasn’t even a thing instead of, say, Breath of the Wild, considered the greatest game of its generation despite running on the 720p Wii U as opposed to, say, games that offer ray tracing.

    Here is the reality: an “off-the-shelf” gaming PC from the likes of Dell Alienware, Asus ROG, Razer or MSI can be just as “simple” as PlayStations and XBoxes allegedly are. (Also, while Nintendo consoles are simple to get going, you greatly overstate the simplicity of PlayStations and especially XBoxes). You just have to pay more for them. Your unwillingness or inability to pay $4000 for a system that is preconfigured with an RTX 2080 Ti (4K at 120Hz), 32 GB DDR4 RAM, a 10th gen Intel Core i9 and a 2 TB SSD absolutely does not negate the experience for those who are. And that is an extreme example: legit preconfigured 2K 120 Hz laptops can be had for what an iPhone 12 Pro Max or Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra costs.

    Still more than a XBox Series S but you alluded to this yourself: no matter how cheap consoles are it is still a sunken cost. By contrast gaming PCs are productivity devices that can more than pay for themselves. Even an entry level $650 gaming PC has enough horsepower for programming, audio/video editing, 2D animation or just regular 9 to 5 corporate middle management work. Meanwhile with a top of the line system, the sky is the limit for your economic potential so long as you are willing to work as hard as you game on it, especially if you are willing to consider entrepreneurial or contract work. (The “modularity” you speak of … one set of SSD for work and another for gaming.) By contrast, unless you are an esports pro or streamer, the best console hardware on the planet won’t earn you a dime back.

    And that makes the upgrade cycles for your gaming PCs easier to swallow: if you also (or more like primarily) use your gaming PC as a work one, you are going to need a new one every 3-5 years anyway. Also, even after you upgrade, your old gaming PCs can still have 5-10 more years of use for less intensive applications – including many work tasks – as well as being upgraded with newer internals or even resold. By contrast what are you going to be doing with your PS4 or XBox One Slim in 5 years? Long story short, where a console is purely an entertainment device, a gaming PC can be an investment in your present and future.

    Bottom line: not being able or willing to financially realize the advantages of PC gaming and trying to restrict yourself to what you can accomplish on a budget is not a true argument against PC gaming.

  2. Anon

    October 19, 2020 at 12:21 am

    Graphics don’t matter … that much.

    For many console players, it actually does. This whole generation PS4 and Xbox One X fanboys were masturbating in each others eyes about the resolution of their game. Same with previous gen.

    Modularity is a curse … I still do not understand this. Because it is harder than just buying a console? I guess but it’s like saying that buying a closet from IKEA is not worth it cause it is just too hard to put together. It really is not. In fact, it has become so loved that consoles are trying to emulate this with mid gen hardware upgrades.

    Consoles try to be more PC and in some respects that is great. SSD finally. Maybe even 60fps again. But that just reminds me every time why I ditched consoles this gen. They are more and more like PCs but just not nearly as good as an actual PC.

    That said, the exclusives really sell consoles and in that regard, PS and Switch have some really great ones. Sorry Microsoft but if you have a PC, there really is no reason to buy an XBOX.

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