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.
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.
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.