Building my first PC was one of the most fun things I have done. Building it gave some of the same joy as building Lego, but with an added layer of hey, this is a thing that will now do things. In a world of preconfigured options, of Henry Ford any-colour-as-long-as-it-is-black, building something to my whims was rewarding. Plus, I had totally convinced myself it was an impossible challenge, so to find out it was not was a nice way of dismissing a wrongly held view.
PC building is like cake baking—a wonderful demonstration of gestalt theory, or of the whole being greater than just the sum of its parts. The seamless interaction of these parts I had selected was (and quite frankly, is still) thrilling. At first I played a lot of games on this wonderful new machine, marvelling at the results of the process. Oh, the hours I spent exploring every nook and cranny of a stunning, beautiful Ancient Greece. The time I spent with Kassandra, as close to a queer icon as modern triple-A games allow, was special both because of the text itself and also the circumstances surrounding it (that is, the PC creation).1A lot of modern I suppose more-commercial media criticism ignores this point in a misguided attempt to be purely objective: The context in which we engage with a piece of media is almost as important as the media itself. It is the job of a good critic to fuse these two.
Over time, though, my joy at playing games using this new tool waned. I returned to the habits of my childhood—my past as a console gamer. And if one is required to declare their tribal affiliations, I did so as a thoroughly Sony kid. Like many people my age, the opening notes of a PS1 and PS2 turning on are forever etched onto my memory.
It’s easy to see why I returned to playing things primarily on consoles: playing games on a couch in comfort is a nicer experience than playing games on a desk. Bold claims need backing, so here’re my arguments in favour of the couch.
To remind us of the obvious, couches are comfy. They are places by both design and common use of rest, relaxation and ease. We psychologically link the couch with rest to the very same degree we link our desks with labour.2And perhaps creation, too. But creation is arguably closer to work than rest. I do not want thoughts of work to intrude on my leisure, such as what is bound to happen when one plays a game at a desk.
I contend this is true even if one has a nice, well appointed desk setup. The fact is that for each hour one works from home, one builds and reinforces a mental link between the desk and working. As much as I am a proponent of working from home, I have to admit it is a fiction that once can view the same space in two different, opposing lights: as a space for work and a space for rest. Even when I am at my most indolent, the desk is anchored as a place for work.
The couch, on the other hand, is a cosy paradise of comfort. Unlike the rigidly upright setting of a desk, the couch supports–nay, encourages–infinite postures and positions. It is a celebration of being supine! On the couch, no one knows you’re a dog one can be as comfortable as one can be. If one of the main reasons we play games is to relax, then engaging with them in the most comfortable way follows as being desirable.
The couch is also closely linked with its natural companion: the television. And as a 30-something with a reasonably-paying job that makes it a rather large, glorious television. A black void on my wall, beckoning. If I catch wind of the fact that you may be in the market for a new television, I will jam the words “LG OLED” down your ear holes with haste and excitement. This is as true a recommendation for both watching media as it is for playing games: if you haven’t played a beautiful game on an OLED then you have missed out on one of the singular treats afforded to us by modern capitalism. It is telling that Nintendo replaced the Switch’s dowdy LCD to a sublime OLED as its one update in its six-year (and counting) life span.
Playing games on a TV is immersive. The size, colours and fluid-motion trigger the part of our brains that want to be amazed and transported far more readily than even a component PC monitor. The popularity of smaller-sized LG OLED televisions as PC monitors is telling in this regard, as is the popularity of curved monitors that unsuccessful attempt to capture the immersion that a nice television provides.3“Smaller” here is cheekily relatively. The smallest is still a whoppin’ 42 inches. It is curious that the use of inches remains stubbornly persistent for displays, dicks, and sandwiches.
And here comes a bit of irony: while I rejoiced in the configuration and customisation of building a PC, the experience of tinkering and problem solving is not always what I want. Or rather, I want to tinker and problem solve in a game and not in a computer operating system. Too often the prelude to gaming on a PC is a tedious, time-consuming process of updating drivers, downloading patches, and figuring out why the cursor has disappeared, or how to get the game to run at above 5 fps. In contrast, Console gaming is simple. Turn it on, start the game and play. One doesn’t have to configure a complicated matrix of graphic settings, or read up on the top 15 essential mods, or spend an inordinate amount of time faffing around. One can just escape to a world of play.
There are, of course, experiences that are arguably better suited to being played on a PC. Some games are designed for, and hence benefit from, using a mouse and a keyboard. I don’t think I would have put in five hundred (and counting!) hours on Cities Skylines if I had to play using a controller and without access to some necessary quality of life mods. While it is not often a genre I explore, I know many crave the precision and twitch accuracy of a mouse and keyboard for shooting other players in a precise spot between their eyebrows, or otherwise find the slight lag introduced by consoles to be unacceptable. There are a genre of games that are essentially work: management games and simulators and strategy games all provide analogues for real world work, albeit with the dopamine-inducing trappings of a video game. Playing these experiences on the couch would, I think, be dissonant, even ignoring the controller vs mouse and keyboard issue, because no one thinks of the couch as being for work (similar to how people generally do not see a desk and think, gosh, that looks great for relaxing).
Couch gaming—or perhaps, more accurately, console gaming on a couch—isn’t superior in every possible category but it edges out PC gaming in categories that are important to me: convenience, accessibility and conducive to cozy, comfortable vibes. I wager that for many others these categories will also be important in deciding how to best enjoy our rest time.
The runaway success of the steam deck is a demonstration that many people think the same way I do: the couch is a better place to play and relax than a desk.4Of course the steam deck remains stubbornly unavailable in Australia, disappointing many, I’m sure.
- 1A lot of modern I suppose more-commercial media criticism ignores this point in a misguided attempt to be purely objective: The context in which we engage with a piece of media is almost as important as the media itself. It is the job of a good critic to fuse these two.
- 2And perhaps creation, too. But creation is arguably closer to work than rest.
- 3“Smaller” here is cheekily relatively. The smallest is still a whoppin’ 42 inches. It is curious that the use of inches remains stubbornly persistent for displays, dicks, and sandwiches.
- 4Of course the steam deck remains stubbornly unavailable in Australia, disappointing many, I’m sure.