You can tell it's time for a new console generation because of the air of overpowering smugness emanating from craggier PC gaming forums. The Xbox 360 and its Loyal Opposition have been on the market for years now, and while developers like Epic continue to surprise us, there's no denying that in terms of raw horsepower the latest, most lovingly accoutred desktops have the edge.
It's a honeymoon period for that upstanding breed of connoisseur known as the PC Snob. I don't want to single anyone out, but take a tour of Skyrim and Battlefield 3's communities and you'll run into a specimen sooner or later. Both games are intensely scalable technical juggernauts, which reward those prepared to splurge on RAM upgrades and fancy graphics cards with sky-high pixel counts, jet-powered frame rates and bleedingly real-world lighting.
A majority of PC players take advantage of these top-end features gracefully - that is, without stuffing a bunch of screenshot comparisons down the internet's trousers - but a sadly vocal minority seem to think they're merely sticks to beat errant console gamers with. Sticks that would be longer, pointier and less grainy if said errant console gamers weren't "holding us back", the wastrels, by forcing developers to release games on out-dated machines. In today's bout of playground politics, I take issue with the self-defeating mentality behind these claims.
First off, the obligatory pill-sweetener: I love PC games. I used to write exclusively about them, don't you know, back when I reviewed for Green Man Gaming. I'm typing all this on a PC right now, a very respectable old dual core, and while I've been known to grab it savagely by the disc tray because it's struggling to load the latest OXM Breakdown, that's the way I treat all disobedient technology, including doors and house-pets. The PC isn't my daily go-to for games, but it's definitely my fallback option, the platform I dust off during Xbox 360's increasingly rare dry spells.
That's got nothing to do with the fact that it makes pretty pictures, however, and nothing to do with the blockbuster multi-plats desktop elitists tend to fuss over - the games that probably wouldn't be financially viable, by the way, were it not for consoles and their levelling of technical thresholds. I'm quite happy to see out the Mass Effect trilogy on a console, despite its relative shortage of sparkle, and the occasional sub-marketing-shot shabbiness of Battlefield 3's textures doesn't give me eye cramps. No, the PC has an enduring grip on my affections not because of what it does or how it's specced, but what it's connected to.
Games are about ideas before they're about touchable, lickable shots of rocket batteries and vegetation. Some of the most boring games in the universe are astonishingly photogenic, while some of the most entertaining - Link's Awakening on the Gameboy, for instance - run on rubberbands and sticky-tape. Ideas don't need beefy CPUs to thrive. What they need is the chance to circulate, and as the platform with the least ring-fencing, PC is best-positioned to give them that chance.
While SOPA and PIPA stay off the lawbooks, at least, it's an open ecosystem, open to a degree that Xbox Live Indie Games can't match. You can throw together a PC game using homebrew development tools, test it on your mates and upload it to a webgame portal without laying down a penny. Invest a little more, and you might justify charging for it. That's fantastic. That's more than fantastic. With no real barriers to entry save time and patience, the PC development community churns out more raw innovation on a weekly basis than most consoles play host to in a lifetime - games like Time CFUK, Coma, Beggar, Dwarf Fortress and Today I Die.