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The first video game I remember playing was Duck Hunt on my cousin’s Play Station. The first console I “owned” was an Xbox I shared with my brother, where my dad and uncle played Lego Star Wars more than we did. The first console I owned was a DS Lite, my first game being Brain Training.
For whatever reason, be it naivety or lack of exposure, my experience of gaming as a child was embarrassingly limited. I’d never considered that gaming was bigger than Lego video games, first-person-shooters, or Nintendogs. It wasn’t until the release of Pokémon Soul Silver in 2009 that it occurred to me that there may be more to video games. It was a painfully slow process of learning about a small area of gaming.
After years of learning more about the gaming community and living vicariously through ‘Let’s Plays’ with an increasing obsession, I decided to get a gaming console of my own.
When I decided this three years ago, I had no idea what to look for. I had my 3DS but wanted something which supported larger game files, more expansive games. Even now, after years of research, I don’t know as much as I’d like. That’s why I wanted to write this article. It’s difficult to get into console or PC gaming from an outside perspective with there being so much out there on this ever growing, competitive market. I’m still learning about gaming, so this article is what I’ve learnt so far. I’m by no means an expert, I simply wanted to find the best gateway into my sought-after interest (disclaimer over). Hopefully, the following ramblings will express as much and encourage anyone else in a similar position to mine to take the plunge.
To start my research, I went through my favourite ‘Let’s Plays’, then cross-referenced these games with whatever console they were available on. I came up with four options: the PS4, the Nintendo Switch, the Xbox One, and PC.
The Nintendo Switch was the natural line of progression from my 3DS. At the time, new Animal Crossing and Pokémon games hadn’t been announced, so taking future reiterations into account was only hypothetical. In fact, whilst there has been an increasing number of games announced for the Switch, at the time the number of games available was significantly less than for other platforms.
The Switch’s biggest selling point was its role as a hybrid console with three play modes: TV, tabletop, and hand-held. With my prior experience of hand-held consoles, the Switch would ease me into larger console ownership. Much of the Switch’s advertisement campaign also targeted mass multiplayer accessibility, where there were both options for online play and to play with up to eight people in local multiplayer. This didn’t really appeal to me. The only time multiplayer had affected my gaming experience to date had been when Mario Kart came out on the DS, where everyone at school competed to join the race of that one kid who owned the original game cartridge. So, this aspect of the Switch was lost on me, though I could understand the appeal.
From the start of this decision process, I’d coveted the PS4. I adore indie games, and with the PS4 having both PS4 exclusive games and independent game development, I was starry-eyed. The PlayStation is renowned for its succession of beloved games, including The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn etc. These games were firm favourites of mine already from ‘Let’s Play’ series, so I’d been set on a PS4 for a while. The PS4 is visually stunning too, incomparable to the occasionally squished looking games on a DS Lite screen. It made me realise that a big part of this was to get a larger screen to look at!
It’s critically known that the PS4’s performance is superior to the Xbox One, ignoring the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro competition, that is. Despite my past with the Xbox and Xbox 360, I was almost quick to drop the idea of buying an Xbox One…
But, the Xbox One is the most affordable of the consoles I was considering. It had the Xbox Game Pass, could play Blu-Rays, backwards compatibility (reviving my old Xbox games – long live The Simpsons: Hit and Run) and a controller that I was familiar with. Xbox plays an important role in what I learnt about video games as a child, like the largest, least slippery, stepping stone in this decision. I’d been exposed to Xbox the most of all other consoles; it was a staple in my house. But I found that it wasn’t the console I wanted. In getting an Xbox One, I would only be being nostalgic for the previous Xbox consoles. Which is exactly why I decided to rule it out as an option early on. It’s a solid choice, but not for me as part of this decision.
The biggest surprise of this process occurred when I was researching PC gaming. PC gaming is the least publicised of all gaming platforms – since the majority, if not all, of PC games are sold online via distributors like Steam, Origin etc. It was the platform I had to research most; I found it the most interesting of all my options.
Like the Switch and the PS4, PC gaming allowed me to access games I already loved. I was already loyal to The Sims 3, so I could easily upgrade to The Sims 4. Similarly, games that have recently been released for the Switch, were also available on Steam, such as Little Nightmares and Night in the Woods. I could try Stardew Valley, Slime Rancher, Life is Strange 2, Pinstripe, and more. A PC would give me access to many games I already favoured.
I found that the most appealing aspect about a PC was its customisability. I could get the cheapest, standard PC and it would still support the majority of the games I wanted. Then, I could use different inputs (like an Xbox controller or mouse/keyboard) whilst having the option to upgrade the PC as my interests evolved. Plus, I could watch Netflix and write essays on it too. Admittedly, this would all eventually cost me more as I stock up on hardware, but as a student, getting a PC would realistically be the best short-term financial option: the most affordable PC’s with a sufficient graphics card, memory, and processor for me starts around £250 whilst the consoles I’ve mentioned similarly start at £250 (as of the end of 2018 when I was making this decision).
By the end of this process, I found that all I really wanted was to play the games I liked and get the most out of one purchase, as any scrimping student would. Getting a PC was the outstanding option for me. I mean, if I could, I would absolutely get each of these consoles!
I am completely happy with my low-spec PC tower. It’s not a ‘gaming PC’, it can’t support large game files or open world games without a painfully low frame rate, but I can experience the indie games I love so much first hand whilst learning more about gaming. It’s my perfect gaming stepping-stone.