For most people, the terms “video game” and “computer game” are interchangeable. You know, they’re games in which players interact with images displayed on a screen for fun and entertainment. So is there any real difference between computer games and video games? Let’s see…
PC games have always been commonly referred to as computer games since they are played on personal computers. The first computer games were puzzle games, card games, digital board games, Chess and strategy games. The earliest graphics were very primitive; in fact, one of the more popular games was Zork, a text-based game. The VIC-20 home computer (circa 1980s) let you program your own simple games by typing in the code, which inspired a whole generation of programmers. Today’s computer games are much more visually intricate, with video cut scenes taking up a big part of the game. I think this is what helped blur the line between computer games and video games. Modern computer games are more like an interactive movie, not to mention they can be real-time simulations and realistic VR games.
While PC games are played on computers, video games are played on consoles, an independent setup of hardware. Video game consoles, tracing their linage back to Atari and Pong, are designed with the living room and TV in mind. The success of the arcade game Space Invaders started the trend of console manufacturers trying to get exclusive rights to arcade titles, with advertisements for game consoles claiming to bring the arcade experience home. Like the classic arcade games, console games have a game controller (joystick) instead of a keyboard. Early video games used to have primitive graphics, too, but now you can play pretty much the same video-intensive games on consoles that you can on computers.
Pros and Cons
Consoles are fixed with whatever hardware they came with, which means that a console game five years from now will be using hardware five years old. But it’s relatively easy to upgrade a computer according to the required configuration of a newly-released game. So if you like building computers, this is the way to go, because then you can buy the latest games and install a new graphics card if needed for better performance. However, that means PC gaming can get expensive, and computers also cost more up front than consoles. A quality gaming PC is going to set you back about $1000, and even the cheapest gaming PC is typically priced over $500. Comparatively, the price of a console ranges between $300 and $500. The downside is if you want to play the most current games, you’ll have to buy a whole new console when the next model comes out.
A major advantage of computer games is that they can be more complex, the interface more elaborate, the controls more detailed, and the movement more precise, due to the superior control scheme of a keyboard and mouse vs. a game controller. The combination of keyboard+mouse gives a much larger range of motion for the gamer, making the games much more versatile in what you can do. Moreover, computers are multipurpose machines that can also be used for word processing, surfing the web, or binge-watching Netflix.
Traditionally, console games could only do one thing – run games – although the newer consoles are more advanced media machines that can also let you access popular streaming apps (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video), browse the internet, and even play DVDs/Blu-Rays. Other advantages of consoles are that they are more portable, less expensive, and have an easier learning curve for new players. Console games tend to be more expensive and don’t go on sale like Steam titles do, but there is a big market for used console games. There is basically no market for used PC games due to DRM and most of them being downloadable titles. (Even if you buy the boxed version, usually you just get an empty box with a download code rather than a physical disc.)
Consoles are a worthwhile option if you don’t want to invest a ton of money up front, or if you aren’t a technical-minded person, or if you just want something basic for the family room, kids play room, or basement rec room. (You can set up a computer with a big screen in the family room, too, but maybe you don’t want everyone else in the house getting their grubby hands on your expensive gaming computer.)
Both consoles and PCs allow you to play multiplayer games, but in a different way. Console games are easy to attach a couple of controllers and play side-by-side with a friend on a split screen. Although it can theoretically be done on a PC, it would be a lot of trouble to hook up two keyboards and two monitors, if you can even find a game that lets two people play together. PCs have a distinct advantage in online multiplayer games, though. To play console games online, you usually have to pay for a subscription service. On a computer, you just have to pay for the game on Steam and then it’s free to play with other people.
What’s Best for the Developers
Small developers seldom have the budget to create two different versions of a game. This means that most indie games are made for PC, thanks to the Steam download service which lets independent developers sell their wares without a traditional publisher or even a physical product. Since computer games can be profitable while selling far fewer units, the game designers are much more likely to focus on a niche, and are more willing to try something different. That’s why PCs have a much wider selection of games available than consoles. On the other hand, many console manufacturers have their own exclusive franchises, to try and get more people to buy their particular console.
Still, nowadays you can usually get the same big-name games on both platforms, and even titles that were once console-exclusive are now showing up on Steam. That’s because the large game developers aim at reaching the widest possible audience. Some say it’s at the detriment to all platforms, since they each have their own strengths and catering to the lowest common denominator means the games have to be dumbed down to one-size-fits-all. A cutting-edge gaming PC can display much better graphics than a console, for example, but if they’re not built into the game because it also has to be compatible with consoles, that’s not really fair to the computer owner who wants to see what his high-end graphics card can do.
What’s Best for You
As this article shows, each option has its pros and cons. Your preference will depend on how much money you have to spend, what kind of games you like to play, and how much of a computer geek you are. Now I have to admit, I used to be a PC snob. I thought the PC gaming platform was the best in every way, and I couldn’t understand why someone would ever want to play on anything less. But over the years I learned that it doesn’t matter how you game, we’re all gamers whether it’s computer games, console games, or even mobile gaming. I even went out and bought a Nintendo Switch! Maybe you too will find a reason to have both.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, based on all that’s been stated above, what is the difference between computer and video games? Well, I think we may safely say that all computer games can be called video games, but not all video games are computer games. That’s because a gaming console isn’t so much a computer as it is a media player.
What is your opinion on the difference between PC games, video games, computers and consoles? What do you prefer and why?