My computer began breaking back in January. It wasn’t until February that I was willing to admit it. By then the problem had become so bad that no more than 2 or 3 minutes would go by in any game before the GPU would fail and reset. There was no denying it, no installing new drivers, no turning down the settings to reduce the load, no getting around the issue. I was asking the technological equivalent of a terminal patient to run a daily marathon. And so I sent my 1 year and 3 month old Sager laptop—with only the physical damage extended coverage—back to its maker for a look.
A couple of weeks, and unexpected/hidden fees later, the wholly unsurprising answer came back: My Nvidia GTX280M was catastrophically failing and needed to be replaced to the galling price of $710 (+shipping). For those not experienced in the sadistic realms of laptop repair, this is not like changing out your video card in a desktop, and for all practical purposes I was at the mercy of my retailer.
It would all be easy enough to simply chalk the whole thing up to a learning experience about the hazards of gaming laptops, but I’ve become very accustomed to the laptop lifestyle. I find myself facing a surprisingly difficult decision, not only about where and when I play games, but how gaming impacts my life.
OK, yes, I should have coughed up the $300 or whatever for the extended coverage for parts. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. I Told You So. The core of the error is probably my own. This whole thing would certainly be a lot simpler if I just accepted early in the process that laptops are basically fickle, unreliable malcontents. But, that’s not the world I live in right now.
It is strange to me then, that I have not easily embraced the idea of just abandoning my laptop and returning to the safer, cheaper world of desktop gaming. For less than the price of my gut-wrenching repair bill, I could kick my easily modifiable desktop machine up to snuff. Seems like an easy answer.
But, it’s not, and the reason why has nothing to do with technology. The laptop, in a way that no desktop has been able to do for me before, has allowed me flexibility that I’m not sure I can live without anymore. Sitting on the couch, chatting with my wife while sleepily polishing off a WoW quest, or getting in a quick five minutes in Dragon Age as the kids play happily, has really redefined the way I approach gaming. The desktop is locked away in the next room, glowing forlornly in an office we almost never use. I’ve begun to think of it as an isolating place—somewhere that makes an occasionally desirable retreat but too quickly becomes a place of exile.
It’s a nice place to visit, but I’m not sure I want to live there anymore.
And I did live there for a very long time. It was in that room that games like BioShock, Rise of Nations, Civilization IV and others were devoured. I would put on my headphones, lean in toward the glow of the monitor and close down the shades both literally and metaphorically. It is a habit I know, without question, that my wife does not wish to see revived.
Less expensive, to be sure, but to give up on the laptop experiment feels like it would represent a step backward, either from my availability to my family or more likely from my time to jump into these worlds that still attract me. Putting aside the question of money and repairs for a second, it’s a choice that perplexes me.
Spend less to get a better machine at the expense of flexibility, or spend more with the very real risk that next month something else will break—but gain back the familiar comforts of a truly “living” room. Because I am melodramatic and more than a little maudlin by my very nature, I can’t help but feel like the decision I make says something important.
Of course I realize that the desktop lifestyle can be done in moderation, that a balance can be struck. And, of course, I realize that a person can be just as isolated with their nose stuck in a laptop regardless of what room they are in. I think that’s common sense and are facts I take for granted, but I don’t think that escapes the main issue which is that, all things being equal, they are two very different PC-gamer lifestyles.
It is the choice I believe ultimately many console gamers have long-since made. There is something meaningful about being in a shared space, even if everyone in that space is doing something slightly different. I just need to decide how much that meaningful difference is worth.