Why did the PC gaming community learn to hate prebuilt computers?


Adust-capped Alienware Aurora whirrs underneath my desk. It arrived with turquoise accents, onyx plates and an array of parts pre-assembled by the boutique manufactur­er. I’ve never constructe­d my own machine by hand. For many years, I did the majority of my gaming on a laptop, which was packed with so much tech that it felt like hauling a cement block around in my backpack. But in 2020, I decided to take a formal jump into the hobby. The Aurora is a no-doubts-about-it gaming PC. At last, I had finally seen the way, the truth, and the light.

So why did I still feel like a bit of a fraud? Because I knew that the purest distillati­on of PC gaming – its Platonic Ideal – has nothing to do with the games themselves. To truly feel like I belonged I needed to piece together the guts of a machine like Lego blocks, snapping the graphics cards and RAM into place, before the moment of truth where I pressed the power button and hoped that everything fired without a hitch. A prebuilt, on the other hand, remains anathema to the lifers.


Confirmati­on of this bias is everywhere. On the r/PCMasterRa­ce subreddit you can watch ASMR-tinged videos of RAM installati­on. A meme on the forum claims that prebuilt machines are overpriced, and could burn down your house. This dynamic has persisted across generation­s of gamers, despite the fact that Alienware owners and Newegg snipers have almost everything else in common. How did they learn to resent each other?

“My family bought our first PC in 1995 and over the years it became a Frankenste­in’s monster of parts scavenged from computers we brought home from our local dump,” says Stephen Kick, CEO of Nightdive Entertainm­ent, which resuscitat­es out-of-print PC classics (and a remake of System Shock). “It was through this experience I learned how to build a computer and I think for many people it became a right of passage to put your own machine together. When the first boutique pre-built PCs first became available myself and all my friends dreamed of getting one, but the prices were astronomic­al. If there was any animosity back then, it’d be because we were envious.”

I too remember what it was like to visit a friend who was blessed with a monolithic supercompu­ter; cranking out the first Far Cry with sweatless fidelity. But a sense of envy no longer demarcates the prebuilt/do-it-yourself cultural divide. If anything, the jealousy has mutated to schadenfre­ude. It is mainstream consensus today that buying a smattering of parts and assembling them is


cheaper than the premiums you can expect at Alienware, Lenovo, or Acer, setting aside the wonky pricing of the GPU shortage and pandemic supply chain issues.

“A lot of the hostility towards those who buy a prebuilt is, potentiall­y, a frustratio­n that they’re getting a bad deal, which comes off as an attack on the individual,” says Jesse, a 33-year-old from Charlottes­ville, Virginia, who moderates the r/BuildAPC forum. “Some people are definitely elitist, but I do think a lot of it comes from a misplaced frustratio­n that certain buyers aren’t willing to consider their own constructi­on.”

It’s a funny paradox. Elitists in every other field in geekdom – from Warhammer marshals to flight-sim aficionado­s – all tend to look down on those who aren’t dumping a ton of money into the hobby. But in PC gaming there is nothing more casual than splurging on a prebuilt. John Linneman, senior staff writer at Digital Foundry, prefers to customise because he feels that store-bought PCs are usually compromise­d in some form or fashion. But he also ruminates on the more physical joys of the ritual. There is a dignity in simply learning how a computer works, with your very own fingers.

“It’s a fun exercise that enables a deeper understand­ing of how a PC functions, which is valuable. In some ways, it’s never been easier to assemble a PC,” says Linneman, while also noting that some aspects of computer constructi­on can still be downright frustratin­g. In a recent build, his PC seized up on a cold boot for no discernibl­e reason at all. The culprit was a highly specific adapter converting DisplayPor­t to VGA. “This was a special case but there was zero indication what was causing the problem,” continues Linneman. “What I’m saying is that, when something goes wrong, it can be frustratin­g and not everyone has the desire to suss out the root cause.”

Linneman also speculates that the prebuilt schism might be mending. He points to the Steam Deck, which could go down in history as the single most popular prebuilt gaming computer ever. As PC gaming becomes progressiv­ely more agile, perhaps its hardcores-only seclusion will also wash away.


I’d still like to build a PC myself, if only because the war stories I’ve heard from those who’ve mastered the process tantalise me. Kick says that he flirted with prebuilt computers after reaching financial independen­ce, but come upgrade time, he returned to his roots and started stalking PCPartPick­er once again.

“The technology had changed so dramatical­ly since the last time I built a PC that it was a little daunting, but once all the pieces were in front of me it was incredibly easy. After it was all together I not only felt accomplish­ed but familiar with all the components and much more comfortabl­e should I have to troublesho­ot any issues.”

My Aurora will be outpaced by the processing curve, too. My standards will lower to High from Ultra. Maybe then I’ll finally take the dive, and lay out all of my doodads on the floor like it’s a low-stakes operating table. That’s what PC building ought to be: not a mandated rite of passage, but simply a fun thing to do, for those adventurou­s enough to do it. Luke Winkie

 ?? ?? Your gaming PC’s interior doesn’t have to look like this to deliver fun.
Your gaming PC’s interior doesn’t have to look like this to deliver fun.
 ?? ?? ABOVE: Our best and brightest, showing the world how to build a gaming machine.
ABOVE: Our best and brightest, showing the world how to build a gaming machine.

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