A Theory About PC Gaming

Posted: 02.04.08

Your brain on games

A simple proposition: most modern PC gaming requires deeper thought and higher analytical skills than console gaming, and therefore is better for the human brain.

Pretty obviously, this is a theory of mine made without scientific research but I'm willing to wager there is a neuroscientist out there who would agree with me. I look to two major components to back up this theory: game play complexity and system complexity.

Game play complexity

The most obvious difference between PC Gaming and Console Gaming is the number of control combinations that are possible in PC gaming — essentially every key on a keyboard in many PC games can be "bound" to specific game actions. Console controllers are much more limited.

The artificial intelligence of NPCs (non player characters) is another component which can make a PC game more complex. PCs are upgraded more than consoles and committed gamers tend to upgrade their systems more often. As a result, the processing power of a PC on average has been much higher than game consoles, which accomodates more complex AI. The result is more challenging game play.

Graphical complexity also adds to the human processing requirement and the need for more thought. As mentioned earlier, gamers tend to have newer PCs with advanced features. While the most recent HD console generation allows for 1920 x 1080 resolution; gaming PCs meet that and raise the ante in terms of the number of pixels that can be displayed onscreen, coupled with memory for the storage of objects, and textures, and the processing power to place them. Because of this factor, game designers have more latitude to create finer detailed visual cues and clues — pushing the human brain to think more when experiencing them.

Resource management and a number of other factors could also be used as examples but this depends on the specific type of game being played.

Software and system complexity

PC gaming, with its higher use of user generated content requires the player to be familiar with the file structure of the software being used. How do I install the mod? Where to I put the map files? How do I make a mod or map? These mods can create system and software conflicts which the user must research and solve. Which file do I delete to make it work again? Etc.

Software tweaking is another factor which increases the complexity in PC gaming. Even first person shooters, dismissed by some as "brainless twitch games" push the user to think about how to improve their experience. A plethora of configuration factors in many PC games allow the user to change their config files so that the field of view (FOV) is different, RAM usage more efficient, etc. — even more so in multiplayer modes where users tweak their config files to stabilize their server ping, data rates, frames per second, and other factors.

Hardware customization is another important element which comes into play. PC gamers often install their own components; attempt to mitigate system heat in a number of ways, and "tweak" a number of other settings in their systems, all of which requires them to become more knowledgeable about the workings of a computer and what to do when something goes wrong.


Though playing video games is mainly done for fun, and the benefit of a console is system stability and a common user experience — it is precisely these factors that limit the thought required to play the games and run the system. Add the higher complexity of the PC game play experience and wider creative latitude for user generated content, and people may want to think twice about where to spend their gaming dollars for themselves or their children.