April 8th, 2011
Guest essay by Logan Decker, editor in chief, PC Gamer
No other gaming platform has ever enjoyed the kind of diversity of games that we see on the PC today, so at first it's tough to identify with any confidence a common thread that runs through, say, the old Infocom text adventure games, SimCity, World of Warcraft, Deus Ex, and EVE Online. And looking at their boxes, you'd never know that there was one.
It's only when you play them all -- and play them *a lot* -- that you begin to see it: the one thing truly great PC games have in common is that they're all *starting points.* The games themselves may be anything from good to wonderful to classics, but what the developer actually created is only the beginning.
Text adventure fans used the Infocom model to write their own interactive fiction. SimCity entered thousands of classrooms in order to teach the fundamentals of city planning. World of Warcraft evolved from a multiplayer game to a social phenomenon, a kind of parallel culture in the real world. Deus Ex was designed so flexibly that gamers were able to stumble upon unanticipated solutions to problems, like using mountable mines to scale a wall, without breaking the game.
Today, games including Sleep is Death and the MMO EVE Online are designed around this concept of emergent gameplay, allowing gamers to make and change the rules as they see fit. And, of course, when id released the source code to Doom and allowed gamers to create their own maps and even their own whole games, it established modding as a permanent fixture in PC games.
Sure, you can do some of these things on consoles as well. But there's not a lot of motivation to do so, or much reward if you do. And that's fine, because consoles are an entertainment platform. But the PC is different: PC gaming is a creativity platform. You can play games from beginning to end and then shelve them if you want, but that's just a portion of the PC gaming experience. The best stuff is the stuff that comes from gamers themselves -- and all the great PC games take advantage of our innate human ingenuity and creativity.
That's why Minecraft has become so popular without a cent of advertising. Because it's pure PC gaming, giving us a handful of tools and a strange, malleable world, and transforming us overnight into architects, engineers, artists, and visionaries.
Our thanks to Logan for his thoughts. Stay tuned for other perspectives on what great PC games have in common.