PC Gaming’s “Master Race” Dominates Discourse, To Ill Effect
Raw, unbridled, sense shattering power. Gamers want it. Gamers chase it. Genre and franchise preferences may cause arguments, but these are nothing compared to the wars waged over resolutions, frame rates, and sheer visual fidelity. Every generation of gaming, companies and publishers with new products to sell light the flames anew. Sony says it’ll look better on PlayStation, Microsoft says it’ll look better on XBOX. Standing above it all, towering just over the horizon- is the PC.
Yahtzee Croshaw saw a group of elitist PC gamers back in 2008 who he insultingly deemed the “Glorious PC Gaming Master Race”. Since then, the term has taken off without irony, resulting in massive communities dedicated to PC superiority. The bulk of these individuals serve today as the perfect crystallization of the attitudes of gamers across all platforms for whom hardware has become sacrosanct and the pursuit of power has become ideology. They are the vanguards of a toxic way of thinking that drowns out countless opportunities for genuine, positive change in gaming culture.
Countless guides exist for the PC gamer on a budget, but the overarching discourse revolves around driving tech faster and farther. Having a 1080p monitor isn’t considered enough when you can have a game rendered across three screens in 4K with all the settings bumped up to Ultra and every HD texture pack loaded on, all with an ENB shader cherry on top. People literally buy enough RAM to install multiple entire programs to it directly. On some level, I get it—I have a fairly powerful rig, and the appeal of going further is not lost on me.
However, the fetishization of higher end PC models causes discussion of moderately powerful machines to be lost in an ocean of posts bragging up specs and trashing others for their platforms of choice. Whether it’s console players or Mac users, these people are deemed inferior. The XBOX 360 and XBOX One are even used as measurements of power specifically to denigrate console users machines of choice. While the dynamic of superiority vs. inferiority can be more subtle in the console sphere, it is built overtly into the “PC Master Race” scene. It’s explicitly stated on some groups, where it is said all one has to do to be a member is to recognize that PCs are “superior” in every way. Even less subtly, the “Master Race” moniker itself is borrowed from terms employed in Nazi ideology- a joke to some, but indicative of the real hegemonic thought under the irony.
The most powerful machines are also the most expensive. These toys are considered aspirational, and by extension they fuel a dialogue based on the superiority brought on by wealth. The “inferior” are inevitably the poor, a population overwhelmingly dominated by marginalized peoples. The “Master Race” becomes privilege writ large, a way to flaunt class and social status. While this may seem overly damning, consider the following image macro. Highly upvoted on Reddit.com’s PC Master Race subreddit, it depicts two black slaves from the movie Django Unchained being forced to fight to the death, labeled PS4 and XBOX One, while the white slaver from the film, labeled PC, looks amused.
It’s not accidental that PC allows toxic ideas to fester so readily in comparison to other platforms. There are two big reasons for it, which are both closely related. The first is that the PC is a tremendously open device—its components can be changed at a whim, allowing for immense personal customization. This allows those with additional income to spend on their machines to buy parts that blow away anything inside of a console, pushing their rigs to the kind of extremes idolized by gamers the world over. You can’t spend extra money to get a better PS4, but you can beef up a PC as much as your budget will allow. There’s nothing wrong with this by itself, and it’s beneficial for consumers to be able to push their wallets if they like. The problem is that these good computers then go on to become the measuring sticks in interpersonal and community conflicts.
Secondly, there’s no real PC equivalent for a console generation because of this modularity. Hardware manufacturers can put out new graphics cards and processors however quickly they can produce new models. This leads to a kind of perpetual hype cycle, wherein companies like AMD and NVIDIA try to one up each other on a yearly basis rather than on a generational basis. Every card is meant to rile up the base and their desire for more. NVIDIA’s GeForce website simultaneously calls the GTX 690 the “fastest graphics card ever built”, the Titan Black the “ultimate gaming GPU”, and the Titan Z the “fastest graphics card we’ve built”. The only reason a company has to market three separate cards as the best at any given time is to play to the irrational side of gaming culture—the kind that chews up that rhetoric and spits it as venom on the internet.
The problematic merger of tech supremacy and an ideology of personal superiority causes many more interesting conversations to be put to the wayside—projects that could lead to real change in gaming culture. Unique inputs to aid disabled gamers in joining their brethren on the internet can be added easily to an open platform like PC, but these projects don’t get half of the attention devoted to the race for fidelity. Charities like AbleGamers are attempting to bring gamers from more walks of life into the gaming community than what has been possible before through innovative inputs. The PC scene touts a wide range of control options as a major boon, but these devices that can expand their ranks to include those with disabilities are not given the same level of attention as hardware gimmicks and GPU driver updates.
Demanding graphical fidelity above all else doesn’t just hamper real world gaming diversity, but also the diversity included in games themselves. Companies like Ubisoft receive more backlash from PC gamers over shoddy interfaces in PC ports than they do over their failure to include women in their co-op games. If pressure was put in the direction of inclusion, it would do wonders for the industry—but PC gamers are more interested, generally speaking, in demanding Mantle support and 4K resolution. Developers provide, touting their own performance and the quality of their water reflections and making excuses for not including diversity. Hardware producers then get ready to churn out a new set of high performance graphics cards marketed to push those shiny new games as hard as possible. The conversation is limited to this sphere, and it continues to the detriment of all other forms of progress.
PC gaming is a beautiful thing. There is indie content in spades, there is freedom to pick and choose parts and inputs, there are fantastic sales. Not everyone who sees PC as the ideal platform has a sinister agenda or the desire to spread vitriol. They actively work to make sure that everyone regardless of class or creed who wants to participate, can. That being said, the time has come to acknowledge that a large chunk of the discourse surrounding PC gaming has become obsessed with the idolizing of tech. This is poisoning the larger community with toxic ideologies based around the glorification of wealth and upper class spending habits. This restricts the very openness and diversity that make PC a strong platform in favor of a single minded march to flaunt technical progress.
If gamers can come together to fight for higher frames per second and faster RAM, surely they can spare a moment to advocate for controllers that aid people who cannot play games with traditional inputs. The conspicuous worship of PC specs can be stopped. A problematic system that creates internal classes based on system performance can be dismantled. Publishers, developers and the world at large are more tuned in to the fate of PC than ever. In light of that, it’s important for the PC community to consider what it has been truly pursuing as it chases its empty “master race”— and who it may have left behind in the process.
Do you consider yourself a PC gamer primarily? What do you think of the community’s relationship with power? Let us know in the comments!