So you want to get into PC gaming. That’s great news! PC has proven time and time again that it is the most versatile video game platform.
You can play a massive swathe of games on PC through various storefronts, downloads, and even emulators of previous consoles.
You can use just about any controller type you want with (almost) any game you want, and you can use mouse and keyboard as well, which is one of the best options for aiming in shooters.
You can also dump physical games to your PC and keep them safely stored.
But all this good news doesn’t mean that PC is an accessible gaming platform to newcomers.
In fact, some gamers play on PC specifically because they want to dig into complex settings, options, and mods (modifications for existing games, usually free).
Also, unlike gaming consoles, every game sold isn’t guaranteed to work on your specific PC because specific PC components have a massive range of designs and capabilities.
This is why so many PC gamers dump literally thousands of dollars into their builds, so that they can play any game on the market with impressive performance and picture quality.
So do you actually need to spend thousands of dollars to get into PC gaming? No, you don’t. Just bear in mind that if you have a lower-end machine or a basic laptop, you probably won’t be able to play huge, AAA video games with good results or even at all, but we’ll expand on that in the section on specs.
To sum up a very important idea here: don’t let other people make you feel like you aren’t “allowed” in the PC gaming space or like you aren’t a “real gamer.” Those claims are elitist nonsense.
The PC platform’s flexibility is one of its greatest attributes, and it’s important to be welcoming to people who are just getting their feet wet.
So as long as you have a computer and an internet connection, you can get into PC gaming.
Just a quick note: when we say PC we mean a PC running Windows. Some of what we’ll cover here applies to Mac computers as well, but very few PC games are designed to run on Macs.
Other than that, there are a few crucial free programs that will be a huge help to your gaming journey.
Before we get there, however, let’s talk about hardware.
Know Your Specs
‘Specs’ refers to the specifications of your PC. This includes the operating system you’re currently running, which can be identified via a very specific version number, but when people talk about specs for PC gaming, they’re usually referring to the hardware components that each PC is using to run games and other software.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with PC parts, the key components in most PCs are the processor, the GPU, the motherboard, RAM, and storage of some kind.
Budget PCs (just about anything under $600) rarely include a dedicated GPU, instead using integrated graphics as part of the processor.
GPUs are one of the most sought-after parts for PC gamers, as the GPU is very important for how games look on your PC.
And at the time of writing, new GPUs are extremely hard to find due to supply chain disruption and scalpers, leading to incredibly inflated resell prices online.
That said, this probably won’t be the easiest or most cost-effective time to build your own gaming PC, and if you’d like advice on the topic, there are thousands of other articles and videos online that can give you more details.
So if you’re brand new to PC gaming, we’re going to assume you already have a computer of some kind, whether it’s a desktop or a laptop. And we’re also going to assume that this computer wasn’t specifically designed for gaming.
If you do happen to have a capable gaming PC in your possession, then feel free to skip ahead a bit.
But basically, your computer’s specs determine which games you can run and how well you can run them.
This is important to talk about near the top because it’s good to have realistic expectations about what kinds of games you’ll be able to play right now.
For example, if your computer doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card, and if the processor is not very recent, then you probably won’t be able to play huge AAA games released within the last five years or so.
Studios like Id Software, Rockstar, and Naughty Dog produce big-budget games with impressive graphics that tend to get talked about a lot in the gaming community.
If your PC isn’t all that fancy, you should cross these games off your list. Otherwise, you’ll spend $60 to play one of them, only to find out that it crashes upon startup or runs at less than frames a second, with low-def video output. So it’s best to rip that Band-Aid off right now.
But there are still literally thousands of games that you can easily play on a budget machine. In fact, if you want a taste of AAA work, simply pick games that were released from large studios about 10 years ago. Chances are you’ll at least be able to run them, even if not at maximum quality.
When you’re shopping for PC games to download (very few PC gamers bother purchasing physical copies of games at this point, except as collector’s items), you’ll find system requirements listed somewhere on the page.
This should really be your first stop when you start to seriously consider buying a game.
Find the recommended hardware listed and compare it with your own hardware.
By the way, if you want to look up the makes of the key components in your computer, open the Start menu and type “Device Manager,” which will take you to a somewhat intimidating screen that lists all of the components and peripherals your PC is working with.
You can find names of your CPU (and GPU, if applicable) here.
Now, you don’t have to have the exact hardware that each game recommends, but keep in mind that just because you buy a game doesn’t automatically mean that it will work on your system.
One of the best ways you can test out your computer’s capabilities is to just try out lots of different games of different types and from different years, ideally through a subscription service, which we’ll be getting to later.
Also, if you want to play more complex 3D games, the download sizes of these games will be fairly large, depending on each title.
Check your internal storage drives to see how much free space you have for game downloads.
We recommend having at least 500 GB free on larger drives and at least 200 GB on smaller drives.
Note: you can also technically purchase an external hard drive for games storage. This is an economical option for sure, but keep in mind that you’ll always have to have that external drive connected when you’re playing any games installed to it, and the speed at which data can be loaded from an external drive most likely won’t be as fast as internal drive load speeds.
“Do I Need a Fancy Mouse and Keyboard?”
No, you really don’t.
We know that any Google search for gaming PCs or even just PC gamers will turn up all kinds of RGB-heavy products and expensive computer mice and keyboards.
But none of these expensive options are actually necessary for PC gaming. In most cases, they’re simply built with higher-quality materials, especially with regard to keyboard key switches.
But we would say that your peripheral purchasing decisions should be based on your own comfort and preference.
For example, does your keyboard feel uncomfortable to use? Do you find yourself accidentally hitting keys often or having to press too hard for a key to register? That’s a bad sign, but even a relatively cheap third-party keyboard (think $20-$40) can be much more pleasant to use without requiring hundreds of dollars to put it in your hands.
As for mice, comfort should, once again, be the priority. If you get wrist pain often, you may want to look into ergonomic mice which change the orientation of your hand, making long sessions much more comfortable.
It can also be nice to have a mouse that offers different DPI settings (the sensitivity of the mouse’s optical sensor), although DPI can often be adjusted within PC settings, too.
If later on you’d like to save up for a crazy anti-ghosting keyboard with 68 additional, assignable keys not found on standard keyboards, that’s great, but when you’re getting started, it’s really not necessary.
Regardless of your gear, using WASD for movement in PC games can be difficult for newcomers, in which you might want to remap those keys in games, use a controller instead, or you can use this great little life hack:
If it bothers you that WASD aren’t well-aligned with each other, order an external numpad and assign those keys instead. At the very least, they’re aligned with each other and are more comfortable to use.
We should also touch on controller compatibility here, as controllers are just better for certain types and games and for certain players.
As we mentioned at the top, PC is laudable for its versatility of control options.
Let’s say you’re playing a game on Steam. Steam itself is compatible with just about any controller that has a USB connection. (Bluetooth is a bit hit or miss, at least in our experience.)
That means you can buy an XBox controller, a PlayStation controller, or a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller and they’ll work either through Bluetooth or when connected via USB, as even contemporary wireless controllers include a USB connection for charging and pairing purposes.
You can also use console controllers from previous console generations, as long as they have a USB connection.
You can also use third-party controllers designed for these consoles or designed for PC.
Annnnnnnd on top of it all, there are even a number of adapters out there that will allow you to use even older console controllers with your PC.
Since many PC games that support controllers offer PC remapping in-game, you can customize buttons and sticks in order to fit your preferences and whatever controller you’re using.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every PC game, on Steam or otherwise, will support the use of controllers. You’ll usually be able to find this information on a game’s store page.
Brand new console controllers for current systems can be pricey, but they’re generally of high quality, offer rumble, potentially gyro, and a pleasing weight. Or shop around for these same controllers used and save a decent chunk of change.
Set Up a Steam Account
Steam is the single largest PC gaming storefront, established by a company called Valve, who are responsible for some of the games we’ll be recommending later in the guide.
Steam has a browser and desktop version. We recommend downloading the appropriate version of Steam for your operating system.
Steam is 100% free to use. You just have to, you know, pay for the games you want to buy.
Even beyond its basic job of selling games, Steam actually has a number of great features for gamers, including community and friends features that make it easy to talk about games and play them with your buds.
When you buy a game on Steam, it will always be connected to Steam. You can’t buy a game, download it, and forget about Steam forever.
In a way, this means that you only have access to your Steam games for as long as the storefront exists and is supported, but on the plus side, it also means that you don’t need to have all of your purchased games downloaded to your PC at the same time.
You can easily uninstall and reinstall games as needed, though slow internet connections can sometimes make the download process laborious, especially when certain games require a download of more than 100 GB.
The Epic Store follows a very similar model, though they don’t have as many games available as Steam. They do, however, have some exclusive games.
Another great option for purchasing PC games is Good Old Games, or gog.com.
GOG is quite different, as it lets you download games for good. Once you have the files, the game is truly yours.
But ultimately, Steam is the most popular PC games storefront, and that’s not very likely to change anytime soon.
One more quick Steam tip before we move onto sales: take advantage of the Steam store’s wishlist feature. As long as you’re signed in, you can add games and DLC to your personal wishlist.
This may seem unnecessary, but once you get a feel for just how many games there are to sort through, you’ll want to keep track of the ones you’re interested in.
Also, high wishlist numbers can be a huge help to small developers, as they can leverage those numbers to bring in more funding and maybe a publisher, too.
Also also, once you place a game on your wishlist, Steam will send you an email when one or more games go on sale, unless you tell them not to.
There are a few different ways to get PC games for cheap, or even for free, but that’s a subject for later on.
In general, no matter which games storefront we’re talking about, older games tend to be cheaper, almost always.
Many games over 5 years old receive permanent price cuts, dropping the retail price.
A good example is Doom (2016) which has been permanently marked down to $20, and when it goes on sale it drops even more!
PC games go on sale whenever the devs want to put them on sale, so keep an eye out most of the time if you want to get some deals.
But we specifically wanted to mention Steam Sales. The Steam Sale is a biannual event that usually takes place in early Summer and in front of the holiday season.
These sales are absolutely massive. Expect for a substantial number of your wishlist games to go on sale all at once.
If you’re gaming on a budget, Steam Sales can be a great chance to get lots of games for relatively money, and it can be fun to splurge every once in a while, especially if you need to build up your PC gaming library.
XBox Game Pass for PC (not even sponsored)
But Steam Sales aren’t the way to get access to lots of PC games for cheap. It was inevitable of course, but we now have video game subscription services, and the one we want to highlight here is XBox Game Pass for PC.
Game Pass was originally a service specific to the XBox One console, but it was somewhat recently extended to PC users as well.
For $10 US a month, you get access to hundreds of games.
This is good news for all PC gamers, but it’s especially good news for new gamers who might not have a very capable PC.
The selection of games offered through Game Pass rotate over time, but there does seem to be a consistent mix of AAA big-budget games, slightly older games, and indie games.
Remember what we mentioned earlier about testing out different games to see what your PC can handle? Game Pass makes that so much easier and also far less expensive.
Once you’ve signed up for Game Pass for PC (which offers a one-month trial for $1, by the way), you’ll have the option to download as many games as you can store.
Again, slow internet will mean slow downloads, especially for the larger games, but this is one of the single best opportunities to see what your PC is actually capable of.
Try to download a variety of game types, at different download sizes.
In general, big-budget games and newer games are larger and more difficult to run, with the exception of recent indie games, which tend to be small and simple, on the horsepower side.
In fact, we’ll say right now that if you’re mostly interested in playing indie games, we can basically guarantee that your PC is capable of running most of them without an issue.
Outside of Game Pass, indies also tend to be priced much lower than AAA games, too.
Try Classics, See What You Like
Now we’d like to talk about the long process of getting to know what kinds of games you like.
Now, if you’re already an experienced console gamer, then you’ll probably already have a pretty good idea of what you’re into.
But if your foray into PC gaming is also your entrypoint to gaming in general, then it’s probably going to take some time. And that’s a good thing!
The early stages of gaming, when you’re discovering your tastes and maybe even morphing those tastes bit by bit based on what you’re exposed to, are extremely exciting and also just a whole lot of fun.
At some point, you’re going to come across games that just click with you right away, and this is just one of the best feelings around– finding something that just plain makes you happy.
You can go about this discovery process any way you want to, but we’d like to make a suggestion: sample some classic games across different gameplay categories.
Even if you don’t like each specific game that you try within a given genre, you’ll still get a taste of what that genre is like in action.
Having one or two genres that appeal to you right away can be a big help when looking around for other great games to try.
For example, let’s say that you really connect with puzzle games. From there, you can start looking around on storefront and online for what people consider to be some of the best puzzle games of all time, or new puzzle games worth checking out.
Selecting specific genres makes it so much easier to narrow your search, and it also cuts down on the intimidation factor.
And while there are way too many gameplay genres to include all of them here, we’ve picked out some staple categories and some excellent games that fit into each category.
FPS (First-Person Shooters)
This reboot of one of the most famous FPS games from the 90s did just about everything it needed to do to revive interest in the franchise and capture/modernize the feeling that the original Doom gave to players when it was first released.
It’s comically violent, fast, and pretty in an ugly kind of way.
A famous FPS from Valve, Half-Life 2 is a beloved entry in the Half-Life series, and though originally released in 2004, it’s still a lot of fun to play.
It is still considered by some to be one of the best FPS games of all-time.
Upon release, BioShock broke new ground with its intricate and thoughtful storytelling, deconstructing Objectivism via a fascinating underwater city of supposedly exceptional individuals.
At heart, it’s a horror shooter, but one with interesting characters and decent dialogue.
Final Fantasy VII
A classic of turn-based combat and a seminal entry in the undying Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VII may not look all that great when compared to modern games, but it’s one worth checking out.
The gameplay can be slow and repetitive, but every victory feels great, and the story’s twists still have the power to shock, especially if you’re playing it for the very first time.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Moving to real-time combat, The Witcher 3 is technically an action game on the surface, but like the next game we’re going to talk about, it’s really more about characters, storytelling, and the development of your character.
It’s possible to steer the story and specific situations through conversations, and as a massive open-world adventure, you get to decide what you’d like to do next.
And if you’re into hardcore fantasy stories, The Witcher series has got you covered.
Fallout: New Vegas
Even if you’re not that into games, there’s a good chance that you’ve at least heard of the Fallout series.
Set in an alternate future where nukes rogered the planet right up, survivors belong to various factions or, like your character, wander alone in the wasteland.
Fallout: New Vegas is set in former Las Vegas, so get ready for lots of sand and empty space.
But Fallout is famous for letting you carefully shape your character and get involved in compelling stories as much or as little as you want to, and New Vegas is simply one of the best entries in the series.
Developed by just one person, Stardew Valley is a farming sim game and a life sim game that millions of people have fallen in love with.
Based heavily on the Harvest Moon game series, Stardew is an easygoing game with lots to do, and it can all be done at your own pace.
The Sims 3
The Sims series has been running for decades now, and The Sims 3 is, in many ways, superior to the more recent entry, The Sims 4.
It’s a life sim game where you guide a number of “sims” through their little, sometimes complicated lives.
Build them a house, send them to school or work, and watch as they find love and hate among the other sims.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3
Roller Coaster Tycoon is a classic management game series, and the third game, released in 2004, is one of the most accessible, for sure.
You can manage your own amusement park and place buildings and attractions to make guests happy, or to make them miserable– it’s your call.
But one of the most exciting features is getting to ride many of the rides, including the roller coasters, even the ones you design yourself.
Braid in an incredibly famous puzzle game that might look simple at first but which requires some serious out-of-the-box thinking.
It’s challenging, but like any good puzzle game, finding the solutions is immensely satisfying and motivates you to go after the next one.
Another classic game from Valve, Portal is a first-person puzzle game where you use a portal gun and the game’s physics to get yourself through a series of test rooms.
Throughout, there’s a wonderful story to uncover, and it even received some elaboration in the game’s sequel.
World of Goo
World of Goo is another puzzle game that’s all about the physics.
You have to use goo creatures to achieve various level-based tasks. It’s very goofy on the surface, but it has a lot to offer players, even after the initial playthrough.
Weirdo Indie Games
One of the most abstract games that we’ve mentioned here, Katamari Damacy is about reforming the stars by rolling up basically every item, person, and animal on Earth.
Katamari uses a unique control scheme where pushing both sticks stimulates the feeling of rolling a big giant ball.
Silly fun, and the first game got a wide-release remaster that you can find on Steam.
This is a game that many consider to be a precursor to the modern era of indie games. Developed by just one guy in Japan, Cave Story is an action adventure game whose controls might not be the best, but it does deliver an excellent story, wonderful music, and some lovely pixel art visuals.
Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon is a twin-stick shooter/roguelike, and if you end up liking one or more of those elements, then you’re going to be treated very well indeed by the contemporary indie gaming scene.
It’s a hard game, but every run is a joy.
The Emulation Issue
We have to imagine that there are at least a few longtime PC gamers looking over our shoulder while we write this, and they probably wouldn’t let us finish this article without at least mentioning emulation.
So emulation is the process by which video games designed for other platforms, most often other consoles, can be played on a PC via fan-made software that reverse-engineers the systems they’re based on.
Emulators themselves are not illegal, nor is emulation itself illegal. However, emulation has become strongly associated with video game piracy.
People who pirate games online that work with these emulators can essentially play massive libraries of games for free, provided they don’t get caught.
Emulation is also used by people who have legally dumped their game copies to their computers.
Emulation is also used to preserve games and offer other players the opportunity to play old games that aren’t available anywhere else besides their original consoles.
There are many, many reasons why emulation has become a tempting option for so many PC players, among them the fact that emulators can allow players to play games that were never actually released in their region when they first came out.
Emulation is also an appealing alternative when large video game companies, such as Nintendo, simply fail to make their old games available in any form.
It’s simple and legal to download emulators, and it’s very easy and not legal to find and download ROMs of retro games online.
Depending on your perspective, it’s either wonderful or terrible that emulators offer so much value to players, outside of official video game publishers.
As a new PC gamer, you’ll need to decide for yourself whether you’d like to support emulation and maybe even become a member of the emulation community.
Well, we’ve finally made it to the end of our guide for those new to pc gaming, wondering where to start.
So far, we’ve talked almost exclusively about ways for you to play games on your own, but gaming can also be a social activity, both playing the games themselves and just talking and connecting with other people who love this hobby.
If you’re interested in the more social side of gaming, we highly recommend finding Discord communities to join up with.
Discord is a free piece of chat/community software that hosts a huge number of virtual communities.
Some of these communities are open to anyone who’s interested, and others are accessible only via invitation.
Will Discord be the top dog in this area forever? No, almost definitely not. But for the time being, there are just so many people using this software to create communities with so many different specializations.
Finding a community could go a long way toward smoothing your transition into more frequent and fun PC gaming.
The End Part
We made it! And we sincerely hope that this brief guide has given you at least some useful information to keep in mind as you start your journey into PC gaming.
If you feel like saying thank you, give us a like on this article, and maybe hop on over to our YouTube channel, where we talk about games and other media all the time.
It’s a small community for the moment, but we all love sharing interesting entertainment with each other.
We even stream over on Twitch on Thursdays at 6 PM PST, so come on down and join the conversation.
Until then, happy gaming!