Life as a Low-End Laptop Gamer

In the gaming community, the PC’s reputation is that of a high-end, boutique gaming system. Top of the line, on the cutting edge of what can be pulled off (technically speaking, at least) in video games. The gold standard against which consoles never dare compete. For at least one person, however, the PC does not represent such things to him.

Some people may drive Teslas or BMWs; his car is a 2015 Toyota Corolla. Some people may live in mansions; his home is a one-bedroom apartment. Where numerous gamers have custom-built desktop PCs that double up on Nvidia Titans or better, his PC is a Toshiba Satellite C55-A5310 laptop. From three years ago. Which cost $400 at the time.

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That person is me.

My laptop is indeed, to put it into technical terms, a piece of shit. I won’t attempt any dodges about being ignorant and naive about the level of performance I was buying myself into, that I somehow did not realize that I would need to invest significantly more money and/or buy (or, even better, build) a desktop instead of a laptop to get potent gaming performance. The truth is, I was fully aware of all of that when getting this thing.

It was my Christmas present from my mom, and for the sake of not being a kindness-exploiting spoiled brat, I was not about to bust her wallet wide open with some super high-end system. Even $400 for a gift was seriously pushing it. The other option, paying for it myself, was also a tall order, since at that point I was a graduate student with no source of income strong enough to justify plopping down multiple hundreds of dollars on a computer.

Thus, I had to search on a budget. Fortunately, being majorly into World of Tanks at the time, my criteria for a satisfactory laptop was simple to research and easily attainable within the cost of a typical game console: “Will it run WoT on the lowest-possible graphics settings at a smooth framerate?” (30 FPS minimum, 60 FPS preferred)

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The laptop I had before was so underpowered that it literally averaged 10 to 20 FPS even with everything turned all the way down. Considering how WoT on low settings is not graphics-intensive at all, that is a genuinely remarkable feat. Those gameplay-affecting low numbers had gotten real annoying, so regardless of how easy it would be to improve on it, anything that could perform better was a godsend to 2013 Me. Hence, the very first thing I did upon receiving my new Toshiba was to install and play WoT in order to verify that it played smoother as hoped.

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It did. I was happy.

Three years later, after a little history with this machine, I still am.

Granted, that isn’t to say everything has been perfect. Given years of hindsight, it’s obvious now that having such modest, narrow, and admittedly shortsighted goals for a laptop significantly kneecapped my gaming options. The biggest downside of all is that my laptop is manifestly unfit for modern AAA gaming. That fills me with pangs of regret sometimes, and were I to get a newer system in the near future, it is something I would take way more into consideration, especially now that I’ve got a decent job lining my pockets. On the other hand, though, it doesn’t sting so bad considering that I could always turn to the Playstation 4 to get my fill of that.

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Plus, for the most part, there is plenty that I still get the chance to experience. Video gaming is a far wider world than the big-budget graphics-intensive titles at its forefront—in large part thanks to the prominence of indie developers and niche publishers like Devolver Digital—offering multitudes of games that do not require V8 engine equivalents of CPU processors or graphics cards to run well. Games that even my laptop can run perfectly fine. Additionally, even though my Toshiba Satellite is a weak little machine, it is still a PC, meaning there are plenty of options for tailoring the gaming experience to my liking, particularly through USB devices and other related hardware.

These things have collectively allowed this humble laptop to come into its own as a versatile and essential part of my gaming life.

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How so? The best place to start would be the additional hardware, because it does much to expand what this laptop can do. First, there is an HDMI cable that hangs out of the side port of my living room TV. Second, I sometimes borrow a USB hub from my brothers when the occasion warrants it.

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Third, some keyboard and mice. Yes, the plural mice—one is a SteelSeries Rival optical mouse for personal use when using the laptop normally (I’m sometimes allowed nice things, too!), while the other is a cheap wireless Logitech mouse that’s useful for navigating the computer while plugged into the TV. The Microsoft keyboard is also wireless for the same reason.

Finally, some controllers, which come from a diverse group of sources. One of them is a GameStop-branded wired 360 pad purchased on the cheap, due to being the once-definitive controller of choice for PC gaming. The next two are Playstation 4 DualShock controllers, which are basically co-opted from their normal PS4 usage. Fun fact: As long as I’m willing to use my phone charger’s micro USB cable with the second controller—USB connection is required to use it on PC, yet buying an individual DualShock 4 does not include another cable for some stupid reason—both of them can be used at the same time. Resourcefulness at work!

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The last of four controllers is my most recent acquisition, a Steam Controller. Though occasionally flawed and baffling, it is rather dreamy. Tweaking controller settings for specific games is a fun little game in and of itself, and I’ve especially fallen in love with those two back paddles; they have made the controller THE optimal way for me to play Downwell, among other things.

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To recap, that’s one HDMI cable, one wired mouse and one wireless mouse, one wireless keyboard, four game controllers—two of which were bought mainly for another game system—and the occasional USB hub (not pictured) when USB port real estate is scarce. It helps to make my measly laptop THE most versatile gaming machine that I own, bar none.

Gaming on the big screen? Plug in an HDMI wire, a controller, and (optionally) the wireless keyboard and mouse for navigation, and the laptop handles it just fine! By changing the laptop power options so that it doesn’t go to sleep whenever the lid is closed, the laptop doesn’t even need to be open to make it work, making the jump from laptop screen to TV screen and vice versa relatively seamless.

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Superhot, Pit People, Downwell, Videoball, and Broforce thus become playable on a TV from the comfort of my couch. However, I am also not forced to depend on an external screen for gaming time; they are just as easily playable on the laptop monitor, which does a lot for portability. Additionally, the laptop screen makes keyboard-and-mouse controls possible, so games like Enter The Gungeon, Mini Metro, the Hotline Miami series, and Luftrausers can also get added to the mix.

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That is a wide variety of titles whose degrees of quality range from good to 2016 Game Of The Year, which all happen to have one crucial thing in common: My rickety laptop plays ALL of them without much issue. Well, “without issue” given one caveat. I am occasionally forced to cut way back on the graphics settings to get decent performance. That would a completely understandable deal-breaker for many people, but it’s a compromise that I personally do not mind making.

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Being a laptop adds convenience and mobility to what I’m able to do, too. Just this past week, I got in some quality play time with Downwell while my girlfriend put on some Parks and Recreation on our TV. The week before that, Pit People made the late and hours-long wait at an airport while traveling for work infinitely more bearable; the airport just needed to provide me a table with electrical outlets. On past travel trips, the likes of Platformines have been good companions whenever there was downtime in hotels far from home.

Most surprisingly, it is even the local multiplayer game system of choice in my home, with the Wii U being the only thing that comes close to it. My girlfriend and I frequently get visits from my two younger brothers, who live close to our apartment. When we hang out, my laptop has plenty to keep us entertained, especially given the ability to connect it to the TV. Even the variety of controllers that we have works to our benefit, since we have different controller preferences. My girlfriend, for example, likes using the Xbox 360 gamepad above all else.

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Through this laptop, we’ve played copious amounts of four-player Gang Beasts. We’ve worked together defusing bombs in Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes. We’ve dispensed chaos, hilarity, and salt (mostly from me, I confess) in four-player Broforce. We’ve attempted to coordinate our efforts towards running an efficient kitchen operation in Overcooked. We’ve royally screwed each other over via increasingly absurd combinations of obstacles in Ultimate Chicken Horse. These all, once again, happen to also be games that my laptop can handle, even if some graphics tinkering may be necessary.

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Then there are the multitudes of party game offerings from Jackbox Games, which are in a whole category of their own. I have the original Quiplash, Drawful 2, and all three Jackbox Party Packs for the four of us to play, and they are investments so well-spent. Just start up one of the games, plug the HDMI cable into the TV, load up the jackbox.tv website on our phones, and we’re all set for at least an hour (if not two) of top-notch fun. The recently-released Party Pack 3 has been especially generous to us in the last couple of months, with Trivia Murder Party being one of its bigger highlights, and Fakin’ It being quite possibly the single best thing that Jackbox Games has put out to date.

There was also this one time when my girlfriend and I held a housewarming party with some friends and coworkers, with one of our choices for entertainment being Quiplash XL, and during one round almost every player named themselves “Liz” which made the entire living room roar with laughter. Good times.

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Come to think of it, that is as good of a summary of my experiences. “Good times.” This Toshiba Satellite is as far from a powerhouse gaming PC as can be found. I am most assuredly not part of the PC Master Race. But neither of those things matter so much. Being a good fit in my life far eclipses a thirst for technical superiority; by that measure, PC gaming over here is good. Damn good, even.

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