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RANT: What’s with this “Couch Gaming” defense?

By Jason Perini | 18 February 2010 | Editorial | , , , | 16 Comments   

No intimate gaming zone!

So, Alan Wake, developed by long-time PC stalwarts Remedy (Max Payne 1 & 2) and published by Microsoft, has been officially confirmed as not coming to the PC. The real logic behind this decision is just that Microsoft wants more exclusives for their console to sell more Xboxes. As a business decision, there’s not much to be said about it other than exclusives are inherently harmful to gamers (something I go into more detail on in the “one console future” discussion from this week’s podcast). However, what they actually said was not the truth, but rather an excuse that pushes a bizarrely popular lie that has been internalized by far too many gamers: that console “couch gaming” is the correct way to play every game other than a tiny niche of PC-specific games. It all stems from this statement:

Some games are more suited for the intimacy of the PC, and others are best played from the couch in front of a larger TV screen

I hear this argument often in console vs. PC wars and I don’t understand why people don’t push back on it more often. For a good number of people and a good number of games, this is entirely false.

I’m not talking about all those people who hook up their PC to their HDTV. I’m not talking about people who don’t have a gaming PC. And I’m not talking about people who hook their console up to a computer monitor at a desk. I’m talking about the fallacy that “relaxed, on the couch” is somehow better for this kind of game. A statement — “I just prefer relaxing on my couch” — so often, with utterly no one stating an opposite opinion.

I think back to a few years ago when I was living with my parents: my PC was in my room where I could close the door, pull down the shades, and (if need be) put on headphones. The big-screen television was in our well-lit, open to the rest of the house, living room, where family members would frequently pass through to get to the kitchen.

If Microsoft’s statement was about colorful party stuff like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Rock Band, or even about single-player, cinematic, over-the-shoulder-viewing-friendly fare like Uncharted 2 it would make sense.

But Alan Wake is a resolutely single-player, immersive, psychological thriller/horror game. That sounds exactly like an “intimate” experience. That sounds exactly like something that should be played with the lights out, no distractions, on the edge of your seat, nose pressed up against the screen. The antithesis of a “couch game”.

I’ve seen this argument so many times with similar games — people saying it’s no big deal that Bioshock’s PC implementation is flawed, or that Dead Space 2 is console-exclusive; that people don’t like the “isolated”, “anti-social” nature of PC gaming. But these are games about being alone, cut off from humanity, utterly immersed in a very bad situation: these ARE isolationist, anti-social games!

I’m sure there are gamers who live by themselves, or who have big-screen TV and couch combos in an isolated game room or something. But I’m sure there’s an even larger number of people who have set-ups like the one I described above, where couch gaming implies frequent distractions, a social atmosphere, and a relaxed play-style. Why are such people not arguing with Microsoft that their consoles are in fact the wrong way to play a game like Alan Wake?


  1. Posted by PC-Marine on 21 February 10 at 2:23pm

    Totally agree with you. I raged pretty hard when I first heard about that. Well, no Alan Wake then :|

  2. Posted by KBoogle on 21 February 10 at 2:30pm

    You need to ask why people are not arguing on this point? And by people I assume you mean the image of those great uneducated (and unwashed) masses? Surely you know why. all those “people” are not smart enough to think of such an argument themselves. They must be pointed at it, and only then they will take it up in a fanatical zeal until someone smart counters it with another argument and all of a sudden they will be lost again like a trail of ants who’s path was suddenly blocked.

    And the “smart” people? They don’t really care. They know arguments like that are a waste of time.

  3. Posted by Heliocentric on 21 February 10 at 2:32pm

    But if i don’t play horror games in the living room how can i hide behind the couch?

  4. Posted by Pl4t0 on 21 February 10 at 3:37pm


  5. Posted by Bowlby on 21 February 10 at 4:51pm

    You are so incredibly right – and, yet, it doesn’t matter.

    The Eurogamer comments section had a field day with this press release, as I imagine many other commentators/websites/forum-goers did. It’s crap PR, is all it is, because it’s such a pathetic excuse of a lie. As you say, Microsoft want the game as an exclusive, and that’s all there is to it.

  6. Posted by jackflash on 21 February 10 at 8:29pm


  7. Posted by solipsistnation on 22 February 10 at 3:35am

    I have a PC in front of the couch, with a decent-sized (21″ or so) monitor to which is attached not only said PC but also my Xbox360 and occasionally my PS2. I have no actual television, just this monitor. What with my wife and our 4-month-old child often sharing the couch with me (as it’s the most comfortable place in the house), there’s no intimacy either way, for PC OR console games. Well, there’s the intimacy of close family sharing an experience (usually the experience of the baby throwing up on us or the couch or some combination of the above), but the intimacy of PC gaming? Not so much. Nor, really, the wide-screen cinematic experience implied for console gaming.

    So, you know, their argument is crap no matter which way one approaches it. Not that you didn’t know that, but there’s more ammunition for you.

  8. Posted by R.James on 22 February 10 at 4:17am

    If it’s Microsoft talking, it’s guaranteed to be PR bull.
    They don’t know how to sweet talk like Activision does…wait.

  9. Posted by Paul King on 24 February 10 at 7:21pm

    Absolutely right. Of course there is no choice but to accept Microsoft’s decision that it wants more Xbox exclusives. And the stated reason is just the dishonest crap you suggest.

    But for some people PC gaming is the main reason to remain with Windows and not jump ship to one of the alternatives. No doubt such individuals are a small % of the Windows population. However I suspect they are above averagely tech savvy and therefore have an influence on the computing choices of their peers which is disproportionate to their numbers. Microsoft should be concerned that always doing the dirty on PC gamers accelerates the currently glacial drift away from Windows to some kind of tipping point at which not running windows is no longer an exotic thing. Then they will have a problem. And it will be a self inflicted one.

  10. Posted by mckinnley on 25 March 10 at 9:59am

    the main thing that annoys me about that argument is that whenever i play a pc game that should be played with a controller i just plug my 360 controller into it and then go over to my 42″ TV. it’s really not that hard, i played through the first dead space in full 1080p (something the consoles couldn’t do) four times anti-aliased with my 360 controller while sitting on the couch, it was great and i had a fun time. but people still come up with this strange argument that they don’t like pc gaming because they prefer a controller over a mouse and keyboard…. um…. then play it with a controller? it’s really not that hard to plug it in. hell if you prefer a ps3 controller you can even use that to play your games. you have a choice. i think people are so used to restrictions with the consoles that they think those same restrictions apply to the computer.
    personally i prefer a choice, and in order to get a choice in how i play my games the pc is the only way to go. maybe eventually console games will start allowing mouse and keyboard support if they player chooses, but unfortunately right now the only game that allows that (that i know of) is UT3 for the ps3

  11. Posted by Dave "Boris" Orosz on 25 March 10 at 12:12pm

    I agree with you, but more so the issue seems to be that most people don’t have their PC hooked up in their main living space and are unwilling to move it every time they want to play a game. I know that’s the main reason I don’t play PC games, even though I could hook it up to my TV and play from the couch. There’s a consumer laziness that will, in most instances, make those who primarily play on consoles never switch, despite the fact they could frequently get the games cheaper on the PC with higher resolution.

  12. Posted by asdas on 05 May 10 at 6:55pm

    PC isn’t meant to be played on the TV. Sure you can but it’s inconvenient.

  13. Posted by Dave "Boris" Orosz on 05 May 10 at 7:38pm

    How is a wireless keyboard inconvenient? If your living room setup includes a PC connected to your TV then it’s completely convenient.

  14. Posted by nick on 13 May 10 at 9:45am

    “Dead Space 2 is console-exclusive”


  15. Posted by James on 16 June 10 at 11:42pm

    Eh, I think it can be convenient.

  16. Posted by Obie on 18 June 10 at 5:08pm

    The biggest point that people ignore when looking at console vs pc is the interest of developers and not just publishers. Single player PC games are the easiest to pirate and play without making any money for the creators. The most obvious example of this is “Spore” and for Alan Wake I see no difference. Consoles will always be favored by developers and publishers because of this reason, and it’s impossible to overcome.

    And who’s fault is it? Anyone who has ever pirated a game ever. It’s the sense of entitlement that is destroying your precious PC gaming experience. And I’m fairly certain most of you have contributed to this problem. So stop bitching already
    Number 1 on the list is exactly what I’m talking about

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