So you want to be a gamer. How do you go about becoming one? The answer to that question is more difficult to answer than you might expect. Traditionally, those entering the gaming world usually buy a console, which today would mean picking up either an Xbox One or PS4. While those are both great devices, most are unaware that there is another option: PC gaming.

People shy away from PC gaming for a number of reasons, the primary one usually being the high initial cost. But what most never come to realize is that what lies beyond that initial barrier is a near infinite amount of gaming potential. That’s not to say, however, that consoles don’t have their benefits.

Below, I’ll break down the PC vs console debate into several categories, and you’ll be able to make the decision for yourself.

1. Cost

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There’s no question that consoles are, initially, the cheaper option. The PS4 and Xbox One are both priced around $350-$400, while your average gaming PC might cost upwards of $800 (less if you build your own PC using a site like newegg.com). If you opt for a gaming laptop, you could be paying even more upfront.

What is important to remember, however, is that there are long term costs you need to be aware of as well. Console games traditionally cost much more than PC games. This is mainly because PC gamers have access to services like Steam, where games that are $60 on consoles regularly go on sale for 50-75% off. During Steam’s famous summer sales, you can often purchase five or six awesome games for the price of one console game.

As a PC gamer, you tend to recoup your initial losses over time, especially since online multiplayer is free on PCs, whereas it’s an additional $50-60 a year cost on the consoles. That’s not to say consoles don’t have the edge in some instances, such as if you only buy a handful of games a year, and aren’t too fond of online multiplayer experiences.

And lastly, what you also need to consider is if you use a PC or laptop for school or work. If so, buying a gaming PC or laptop is probably more cost-effective than buying a work PC or laptop and a console.

2. Performance

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Just one of these GTX Titan graphics cards are worth several consoles in terms of computing power.

There’s no getting around it: consoles are weak by modern computing standards. Indeed, any decent gaming PC from around 2010-2011 will likely be more powerful than the Xbox One or PS4. That is how they are able to sell the platforms at such a low price — the hardware inside of them just isn’t close to being bleeding edge.

Even the most average gaming PCs of 2015 are ahead of the consoles by leaps and bounds, something that is definitely evident in the games you play. More power means higher resolution, smoother framerates, better looking graphics, and faster load times. The question you have to ask yourself is whether these bells and whistles are worth the extra cost to you. If yes, then PC gaming is truly your only option. If you are someone who doesn’t really care about the particulars of a game’s graphics and performance and just wants to enjoy good gameplay, consoles will probably work just fine for you.

3. Exclusives

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As a fan of the Halo series, and a part-time PC gamer, I often find myself in a bit of a conundrum. Do I buy the Xbox One for Halo 5? Or do I wait, since buying an entire platform for one game is a bit of a waste? It’s a question many PC gamers find themselves asking, as consoles often have the best exclusive games. While PCs have exclusives of their own, none are as high profile as Halo, Gears of War, and Uncharted.

I will say however that PCs do win in one major department, and that’s in massively multiplayer online games, like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and Mount and Blade: Warband. These games simply wouldn’t work on consoles, due to both their control schemes and their network requirements.

Whichever way you go, you’ll be missing out on something. What you need to decide is which batch of exclusives you want to play more. Are you more Halo, or World of Warcraft?

4. Controls and Ergonomics

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I often hear the argument that console gaming is better because you can sit on your couch, use a controller, and play on a big fifty inch plasma TV. While that’s true, you can also use an Xbox controller with your gaming PC, giving you the exact same experience you would get on a console. You can also connect your PC to an HDTV using an HDMI cord, allowing you to game on your couch in front of a big TV if that’s what you prefer.

It is true however that consoles streamline this process, allowing you to essentially plug them in and play. Also, not all PC games (like the Mass Effect trilogy for instance) have gamepad support, so in those instances I would say that consoles win out in terms of controls. The mouse and keyboard control scheme works incredibly well for most games, but in some, it falls a bit short.

5. Customization

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As far as customization goes, the PC is king. You can open them up, tear them apart, buy new parts, and rebuild them from the ground up if you want to. With consoles, you are stuck with the same machine until Microsoft of Sony releases the next version five years down the road. With PCs, you upgrade when you want to upgrade. Of course, the cost of this freedom is your hard-earned money. Most PC gamers I know upgrade their machine every two years, though recently that gap has been growing as computing hardware has hit something of a wall of diminishing returns. Indeed, a great gaming PC from 2012 can still hold its own incredibly well even today.

But customization goes far beyond mere hardware. PC games are also far more customizable in terms of in-game options. You can tune your games to look exactly how you want them to look visually, and tweak a number of other settings that aren’t available to console users. Additionally, PC gamers have access to mods, which are essentially player-developed downloadable content that can add loads more to your gaming experience.

One game where modding works incredibly well is Skyrim. I’ve added about one hundred mods to my version of the game, and thus it’s nearly unrecognizable compared to the version I used to play on my trusty old Xbox 360. Some mods are so vast that they can add several hours of content, keeping your game fresh far beyond its natural expiration date. Even better, most modding communities stay active for years, even decades sometimes, meaning you can expect something new for your copy of Skyrim until at least 2020.

Closing Thoughts

As someone who has been both an avid PC and console gamer, I can say that your platform of choice will depend mostly on how you play. If you are a hardcore gamer who enjoys customization, modding, increased computing power, and massively multiplayer online games, then the PC is likely for you. If you are a casual gamer who wants to experience games in the comfort of their own living room, and values plug-and-play gameplay and AAA exclusives over customization and visual bells and whistles, then consoles are probably for you.

In the end, you can’t go too wrong with either choice, as either way you’ll have access to some great content. Of course, you always have the option to splurge and enjoy the best of both worlds by buying both a gaming PC and a console. But of course, that would be cheating…

Featured photo credit: Day One/Steve Petrucelli via flic.kr

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