Low-spec gaming gave me a new appreciation for games

Image of Arthas from World of Warcraft, holding a sword.
(Image credit: Blizzard, Future)

I have only a faint memory of the first PC games I played. I recall Doom, Wolfenstein, and Duke Nukem 3D, which were not appropriate for my young self back in the late 90s and early 2000s. But I don’t have any specific moments to look back to. Those began around a decade later when I finally got a PC of my own. As a student who didn’t have to worry about anything except getting good (enough) grades, there was a whole new world in front of me. Yet, the possibilities weren’t endless.

My dad built a good PC a few years later. I remember being in awe of Hitman Blood Money and the first Brothers in Arms. Sadly, one day a power cut got through the power supply. We recurred to getting a fairly standard pre-built, which I barely got to use until my parents got divorced. My dad left me the PC and, finally, I had the liberty to install whatever I wanted to. Enthusiastic, I asked him about the graphics card, but he reminded me that it had none. All of its graphic power came from an integrated Family chipset of a mere 64MB of memory.

I started with Plants vs. Zombies and the PC port of House of the Dead 3. Both ran fairly well, so I was feeling more hopeful about the prospect of trying new games and seeing which ones the PC could handle. This was a never-ending process. My desktop got filled with dozens of shortcuts. I would uninstall the ones that were too slow or just wouldn’t open, and keep the rest, despite only playing a handful. Over time, I decided to commit to a few — the messaging app XFire helped me to gain that structure.

Communication perfection

Screenshot from Killing Floor.

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

Years before Discord came into our lives, XFire was the go-to app to keep up with friends and folks online who played games. Looking back, it was ahead of its time. You could set custom statuses so others could see what you were playing or listening to. The chat had the option to be integrated with Facebook, MSN, and others. Hell, it even had video calls that you could host on the in-game overlay. What I loved the most, however, was the social aspect of it, where you could see other folks’ activities, display the playtime of your games, share videos, and tons more.

Piracy was fairly common in Argentina back then. For people who had no means of affording the latest games, such as myself, it was the only way to experience this hobby. XFire, too, had the option to both host and join custom servers of popular games, from Counter-Strike 1.6 to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This opened a door for me to meet new people, including a Mount & Blade Warband clan that would later become a friends group that I still talk to this day, and whom I’ve hung out with in real life multiple times. Back then, sending a message in an in-game chat could unexpectedly lead to ever-lasting bonds.

We played COD and Warband a ton, and we later got really into the roleplaying scene of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, for some reason. But the popular choice every Friday night was Killing Floor. I had tried and failed to play Left 4 Dead several times after its release. But I could play Killing Floor without hiccups — at the lowest possible settings and a resolution of 800x600, that is. Back then, none of this mattered. They were the last things I would think of while grouping up with friends and playing until 4 am in the morning, whispering to my microphone as I tried to ignore the voice of my mom from her room telling me to go to sleep.

The crave to upgrade

Screenshot from World of Warcraft.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

It took me years to realize just how different my perspective around PC gaming was, in pretty much every way. I wanted to upgrade it, of course, but that took years. I kept on trying to see how much I could push things. Yet, at one point I ceased my testing spree and started to commit to specific games, aside from the usual multiplayer sessions. Fable: The Lost Chapters and Bastion were some of them. The one that stood with me for the longest time, which also serves as the perfect example of that period in my life, was World of Warcraft

I spent exactly 555 hours of my Summer break of 2010 cruising through Azeroth with an Orc Warrior and two Blood Elves, a Hunter, and a Death Knight. Durotar, the starting area for the Orcs, is printed in my memory. I’ll never forget the times I flew over to different continents in zeppelins, or the sudden escape plans I had to come up with once a group of Alliance players invaded the zone I was exploring. It quickly became a routine for me.

Of course, an MMO is not something any PC could handle, even if WoW used to be fairly accommodating for low-spec builds. The game ran at 10 to 15 FPS most of the time, depending on the area I was in, with the occasional bump to 20 FPS inside dungeons. Nowadays, I can tell how slow those framerates are from miles away, and can easily recognize 30 from 60 FPS, for example. But back then, as my eyes lived in blissful ignorance as they hadn’t been exposed to the opposite, I couldn’t tell the difference. I was too busy getting lost in a new world to notice.

The good old days

Screenshot from World of Warcraft.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Seeing the launch of Wrath of the Lich King Classic, it was hard not to feel nostalgic about that period. But many things have changed since. Friday multiplayer sessions are now a rarity while everyone is busy with their jobs or studies. XFire ceased its services back in 2015 — the same year I started writing about video games. I discovered Discord a year later, but the app was bound to hold different memories from the very beginning, forever tied to the time I began looking at games through a new lens.

The nature of the job led me to build two modern PCs that could handle most things. But the lack of restriction meant I could play anything, which quickly became an overwhelming prospect, made even more complex by the fact that I’d have to spend time with games for work purposes from that moment on, too. There is still a limitation in place, but it now permeates my schedule instead of the hundreds of untouched games I have in my Steam library. After all, I’m no longer a student who can take three months of vacation to play WoW all day.

I love my job, and I’m extremely grateful for everything that led to where I am now. But I will always recall that period of my life fondly. Not only because of the moments I’ll treasure forever, but for that naive perspective I had about games. Even with the limitations of my old PC, I learned to appreciate them for what they were, regardless of the presentation. Looking back, I now realize I’ve been wrong all this time — the possibilities were truly endless.