This conversation has been coming for a long time. Back in 2008, when the term “Glorious PC Gaming Master Race” was coined during a Zero Punctuation video, it was perhaps never intended to stick quite as well as it did. Now, six years and a console generation later, there’s a three hundred thousand strong reddit subgroup bearing the name. The in-joke scuttling under the radar has at last broken cover and now, inevitably, people are giving it something of a hard stare.
Obviously, it’s not surprising that the name has attracted some heat. Bunch of people calling themselves the Master Race, calling outsiders “peasants” – it was inevitable that there would be a response as the term caught on. The kneejerk reaction was always going to be to cry elitism, or, worse, imply there’s a racist or classist element to it all. But on closer examination this is largely not the case.
Indeed, what we are actually seeing here in the Glorious PC Master Race is not some scummy band of internet bullies. Instead, we are seeing a largely magnanimous and inclusive group, formed around a shared love of a particular gaming platform. There will always be prestige attached in such a group to owning an extravagant computer – even if the technological arms race that helped define PC gaming around the turn of the century has slowed – but there’s more to it than just this. Building a PC on a shoestring budget is considered praiseworthy, as are improvised repair jobs and the reuse of older components. The performance-for-performance’s-sake element of PC gaming has subsided as even mid-range PCs have largely outstripped the demands that games developers can make of them.
The PCMR (to use the most common abbreviation) might easily have remained a little noticed oddity, a corner of a gaming subculture that nobody paid attention to. However, in recent years something has changed in video gaming.
When the Xbox 360 and PS3 first launched they were powerful machines in their own right, and they also benefited immensely from being a fixed platform. They had no problems with drivers or operating systems (yes, I am looking at you Windows Vista), or hardware incompatibilities, and the hardware they had was – at first, at least – in some respects comparable to that of a gaming PC.
The landscape was very different for the launch of the Xbox One and PS4, though. Neither boasts cutting edge hardware, or anything close to it. When all the hype faded it was abundantly clear that the new consoles didn’t measure up to existing PC hardware. Promised resolutions and frame rates had to be fudged. Excuses were made. People laughed. There will obviously be improvements as the hardware use improves (and it took years for the last generation to really hit its stride), but there is only so much can be done. Unlike before, this hardware is already years out of date.
Meanwhile, the PC of today is the most forgiving games platform it’s ever been – lower hardware prices mean you can already outpace a new console for a comparable cost, and the Steam system implemented by Valve handles game updates and distribution while being robust enough to survive Christmas pranks. The PC will always be a more complicated piece of equipment than a console, but the old adage that consoles “just work”, and that a PC is some sort of chore to operate, rings increasingly hollow.
The PS4 and the Xbox One have sold well, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons to prefer a console to a PC – but none of those reasons relate to the quality of the games or the price of the platform any more. This generation’s console war has gone to the PC, and it wasn’t even close.
This is what feeds into the strut that you might see from PC gamers in general – there’s cockiness there, the smugness from having backed the right horse. Calling something “peasantry”, or a person “a console peasant”, isn’t about money. It’s about their acceptance of a lesser gaming experience, about being beholden to one manufacturer, subject to their whims. PC gaming maintains a degree of freedom and continuity that comes from its lack of standardisation. Steam could vanish off the face of the Earth tomorrow and PC gaming would still be a thing.
Of course, most people won’t be bothered in the least by all this. It’s juvenile, tribal stuff, but this is the culture that the gaming and console industries have fostered for so long. By cultivating legions of loyal fanboys to argue their corners and do their selling for them, the console manufacturers doubled down on the culture of hostility. In many ways the PCMR is both a product of this culture and anathema to it. There is no brand per se, there is no marketing department trying to keep everybody on message, but the identity still grew nonetheless, spurred on by watching the armies of useful idiots honking at each other.
As far as getting those PC gamers who choose to adopt the Master Race tag to get rid of it, lest it offends anybody’s sensibilities, I can’t imagine anything that is more likely to entrench the term. Of course a lot of people would be happier with something else because, as jokes go, it is a bit Top Gear, but it’s not like the term is mandatory for PC gamers, and it will probably fade back into its subcultural niche as subgroups grow and split off from it to do their own things.
But if you really want to pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight, then by all means go forth and tell a bunch of people on the Internet what they are allowed to call themselves. I’m sure that will end well.