More and more players are switching to PC gaming these days. I’m one of them; shortly after the Xbox Series X was announced, I decided that I’d rather own a computer – something I need anyway – that can play games than invest in a new console every five to ten years.
For the most part, we who have made the switch don’t regret it.
Having a PC means that, while you have to pay a hefty sum upfront, you can just replace a part every now and then instead of buying a brand new console. If you choose to build the unit yourself (which is not as hard as you think it is), you also get the added bonus of intimately understanding your rig. If something goes wrong, you probably at least know what part to replace. If your Xbox breaks down, you have to send it in to someone who can fix it for you, or maybe even buy a new one altogether.
However, there’s also a big downside. Unlike a console, which is often found in a public space in the home, your PC is set up to a monitor at a desk. There are no backseat gamers.
Depending on who you are and what kind of gaming environment you grew up in, you may be more or less experienced with backseaters. A backseat gamer is someone who isn’t actively playing the game but is watching you play it. They may be actively engaged with the game, making comments on the story or task at hand, or they may just be near enough to hear it.
Backseat gamers were a core part of my gaming experience all the way up until I bought a PC.
Before family dinners, someone would be playing Skyrim on the television in the living room. They could talk with us as they played, and we could watch them play if we wanted. If we didn’t, we just talked about something else, did something else.
When you were playing a game in the afternoon and someone walked by to do their laundry, they’d pop their head in and comment on your strategy in Fire Emblem, or the plight of the elves in Dragon Age.
If there was a game you wanted to play but didn’t have time, you could just hang out in the living room with your homework or hobby and watch the other person play the game for you. It was like a pre-Twitch Twitch.
With a PC, that shared connection is lost.
Theoretically, could someone sit there and watch you play? Of course. That’s exactly what the actual Twitch is, after all. But the environment of a PC isn’t built for that. Monitors are too small for you and someone else – let alone more than two people – adequately enjoy the screen. Desks are usually placed in corners, bedrooms, or offices, where fewer people pass through. There’s no dedicated seating, like a couch, in front of a desk for multiple people to use. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, consoles are in public places. Even if they are in a private place, like a bedroom, they can still be shared by friends and partners.
The worst part is that it’s not easy to have your cake and eat it too.
The closest that we’ve come is the Nintendo Switch. If I want to play it privately, I use it in handheld mode or take it to another screen. If I want to play publicly, I just use the Dock on the living-room screen. It’s the only console I thought was worth it to buy, after I’d built my PC, for this exact reason. Hell, I can even use it to be the backseat gamer and do my own thing while someone else games on the television.
But if you don’t own a Nintendo Switch (or the game you’re playing just isn’t on the Switch), you’re screwed. If you plug an Xbox Series X into your television but you want to be alone, you’ll have to rewire everything. If you plug it in a private place or into your desk monitor, you lose the experience of backseat gamers unless, again, you’re willing to rewire everything.
And the best kind of backseat gaming is the kind that happens naturally. It’s the kind where someone is cooking dinner in the next room and they listen to you play, laughing at all the jokes and breaking your immersion. It’s the kind where they’re working alone in their room, but they hear you playing and decide to join you. Usually, you don’t plan for backseat gaming to happen. It just does. So why would you rewire your Xbox for that?
Maybe one day, we’ll all have HDMI cords running through our walls and HDMI splitters on every computer and television, so this kind of thing can be easily handled. Until then, though, we all have a choice to make. As more people move to PC gaming, I worry they won’t realize what they’re losing until it’s too late.
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