Barely awake and blinking from a suicidal sweeping of curtains, I sit at my desk as always and fire up my PC. Just like I do every day. It gets used for the lion’s share of the clock and is only left cooling in peace long after I have decided on my course of leisurely action for the night. Which almost never involves my PC, which sits forlornly in a darkened corner while the Xbox boots up.
It is solid, dependable, and underused. Not underused for work – plenty of that gets done on it, but rather, the main purpose for which it was bought, which was gaming. Like a toaster who toasts, therefore it is, my PC was constructed for the purposes of running the sort of games which have regular PCs slumping back onto fainting couches and fanning themselves while someone loosens their corsets. This little powerhouse was constructed to a top spec after I decided that my ageing and overrated Alienware laptop just couldn’t handle greedy games such as Sims 2 and Oblivion (and burned hotter than the centre of the sun). I was thrilled when it arrived over a year ago and I rigged it up, all shiny and virgin new.
For a short time, gaming was its life, doing what it was born for until slowly, that purpose faded and it became a repository for pictures, invoices, design work, pornography, and the general detritus which fills most PCs. Instead of doing what it did best, I used it as a work horse and rode it hard. As if to taunt it, while it plods round the mill, strapped into Xara or Photoshop, shelves of games line up above it, looking down, their unwrapped bodies flirting with the plodding creature. Old games, new games, games with boxes as thick as my wrist in alluring packaging. And I never freed it from the bonds of labour and gave it its head to run, to play as it was meant to, to embrace those willing, nubile discs and spin them to climactic heights. And I think in my paranoiac fog, that it swore revenge.
In its own way, the PC has begun to fight back. Sucking in more dust than is credible, it seems determined to kill itself to spite the work which rests in its memory banks. The groan of fans grows on a daily basis, while the unit wheezes, white dust lining every port and vent. I can only glare. It is doing it on purpose. It knows that it takes me forever to unplug everything, wrestle the side panel off without losing my fingers and then use the dregs from our last air canister to jet blast its insides. So I fold my arms. Go ahead, go on. Jump, take the pills, pull the trigger, choke yourself on dust, see if I care. But I do – my bloody book is on there along with a ton of unsaved invoices and product descriptions which will rend my soul in two and disrupt my work irreparably if they were lost. And it knows it. So I find myself on a Sunday morning, the day where I should be firing up a game (on the Xbox) and immersing myself in a far off place, blasting the blades of a dust-choked fan in between intermittent sneezing fits. It takes over twenty minutes to get the side panel back on, but at least I am rewarded with a purr as opposed to an octogenarian moan. The attention seeker got what it wanted and the Xbox is as yet, untouched.
What can a PC do though in the face of such abandonment? After all, once a prolific PC gamer, I jumped ship and took up with the Xbox, with whom the passion never seems to die. I can tell you now, as the dust bunnies hop on to burrows new what it can do. Be as bloody minded as possible. Make my jaunty intermittent return as difficult as it can. Example: Thief – a much lauded stealth series and one which I have long planned to play. I installed it, read the manual, (natch) and told myself that I didn’t just hear a ‘yeah right, that’s what you think’ in the white noise from my battered speakers. Refused. The PC is too powerful, too fast and the game loops from the main screen back through the intro sequence in split seconds, meaning that no button press, or mouse click can save it and I have to CTL-ALT-DEL out. The disc was led on and then ultimately rejected. Hours later and my anger at a peak; my only attempt at a solution was to download DosBox, blink at it in a confused fog a few times and then turn my PC off in disgust. Point one to the metal box and comforting hugs from my sympathetic Xbox instead.
Sims 3 – The game that hates me as much as I hate it, but play it I will. Except that I won’t. After much wrestling with patches and versions (something the Xbox handles with the charm of an oiled concierge), I finally got stuck into playing. Everything was going smoothly and the PC seemed to get along fine with it. The false sense of security, as was no doubt intended, led me to neglect my saving duties and in a moment that my PC must have been looking forward to since I first shunned it, I got a blue screen. An actual fucking blue screen of death. I didn’t even think that you got those anymore. The mansion that I had spent hours meticulously constructing died before my eyes and my PC yawned and rebooted itself with a ‘What? Something amiss? You weren’t doing anything important were you?’ look on it’s gappy face. Game set and match, smackdown, Pwned, spanked, sorted, subbed, bitch slapped, broken, defeated. I understand now.
We look at one another. I look at the shelves full of fantastic games, unexplored games, classic games, and old favourites. Why did I ever give them up? I can’t remember now. I narrowed my own gaming horizons because it was easier and when I did try to pry them back open, I paid for it. PC gaming is fraught with difficulty, patching, glitching, the interruption of Anti Virus software, and yet it has given me some of the best gaming memories and most loved games in my all time favourite list. It deserves more respect – after all, the Xbox isn’t without its own temper tantrums and issues. So the dawn of the third age begins and this box of gently churning metal should no longer sit alone in the night. I have a lot of catching up to do and so far, the tentative ceasefire is holding.
Next week: how my Xbox red ringed itself, green screened, and then vomited circuit boards over the carpet in temper at my epic PC gaming marathon.