This has been a fantastic year for PC gaming. Steam has gone to Mac, StarCraft 2 hit shelves, and Civilization V is just around the corner. Whether or not PC gaming is still viable when consoles have such a firm grasp on the market is something that gamers love to debate. Some say PC gaming is the only way to go, with mods (and a mouse) making a lot of experiences unbeatable. Others go down the console route, citing less expensive platforms and more developer support as the reason to make the switch. But in recent times, things have been different. Things have definitely changed. That 'thing' is PC gaming, and its identity crisis may finally be over.
I use identity crisis because for a while, no one really knew what to do with the PC. Sure it had FPS and RTS games, those experiences that were far more difficult to reproduce on console. There was the mouse and keyboard to consider, voice communication, and mod communities. But as time went on, and consoles slowly began to integrate multiplayer, voice chat, and pretty impressive graphics for a set cost, PC developers got a little confused. Gaming on a PC went from a slow trickle, to a grinding halt outside the realm of MMOs, and even then options were quite limited. Games like Crysis didn't help the situation much either, as most could hardly afford to run the game with its ideal specs at the time.
Flash forward to today, and what you'll see is something very different. Games are released on console and computer platforms, but are subtly different enough to co-exist. Team Fortress is a beautiful example due to its vast mod community and unique computer-only support, but there are plenty of other games that have made their mark. Games like Plants vs Zombies, Peggle, and Bejewelled offered quick-fix addicting experiences that consoles still can't quite replicate. Indie games like fl0w, Defcon, and Toribash provide experiences that (until ported) are unique and fun. The change in PC gaming is subtle, but superb, and anyone with an even remotely decent computer can appreciate it.
Though many independent games do make their way from PC to console, there's something about reaching them first that makes the experience worthwhile. The best part is that these smaller titles don't even represent computer-gaming's cream of the crop: PC only titles. MMOs play a large part here, yes, due to the fact that many of them never see the light of day on a console. They exist in the same vein that all PC games seem to these days; a completely unique gaming experience that can further be customized through the use of mods and socialization. Even still, games like Civilization V and StarCraft 2 put these social RPGs to shame. They provide experiences that simply cannot be replicated on the console, and boast communities that are in many ways admirable.
See, the new face of PC gaming isn't about trying to massively reproduce something that already exists. There's no need for that; PlayStation and Xbox are already fighting that war just fine. Why attempt to throw down another gauntlet in the Halo vs Killzone (or Gears vs Vanquish) war? There's no need. Instead, it's far smarter to take a style of gameplay that can't simply be done with a controller and make it into something grand. Taking advantage of these things, the ability to develop and publish with far fewer restrictions, is what will turn PC gaming from a 'viable platform' to a 'superior choice'.
Gaming has certainly come a long way from what it used to be, and the personal computer is no exception. From indie gaming, to Facebook apps, it's nice to finally see the platform I grew up learning to game on turn into something as exciting and expansive as when the genre first took off.
Intense graphics and over-the-top system requirements are nice, but even nicer is being able to say that my computer really does give me an experience that can't be replicated on console. Even better is knowing that these games last quite a while in their own right. It makes PC gaming into a real package deal, one that's had to fight tooth and nail to get to where it's at, but rightfully deserves its place.