Attention internet: PLEASE STOP SAYING THIS PHRASE! I can already hear the chorus of “but it’s just a harmless internet joke” or “It’s just about PC Gaming, don’t be a libtard”. Do I really need to explain why this phrase makes me uncomfortable, and has since it first appeared around 2005? I will anyway.
During the hayday of the first XBox and second Playstation in the earliest days of Myspace and Facebook, there was an alternate, earlier internet culture that lived in forums. Sometimes it would be the forum of a specific gaming or news website, sometimes it would be grim grimey places like Something Awful and 4Chan. It is in these places that the term PC Master Race started to circulate, and it’s never gone away.
“PC Master Race”, to be perfectly clear, has zero connection with Political Correctness. In fact, PC Master Race is one of the few Nazi-related catch phrases from the internet that is NOT pejorative: proud Personal Computer devotees have been labeling themselves as members of the PC Master Race for over a decade, originally to shame the owners of Game Cubes and Wiis for being “less evolved”, “lower lifeforms”, “lazy consumers”, “technologically challenged”, or even just poor or basic.
To understand the privilege gap inherent in this term, we only need to look at the cost and upkeep of the two machines: ‘consoles’ are about $300-$600 dollars, and will generally work out of the box. A gaming personal computer might cost upwards of $1,200, needs regular upgrades and maintenance, and demands you spend half of your time fixing problems when it stops working. There is a meritocracy myth at play, where your proud PC user is very self-impressed with their ability to not only afford the costly equipment but also devote themselves to the maintenance of these machines.
Much like the Hot Rod days of years ago, except this time the ‘Hot Rod’ is a computer: an interface for changing the world or escaping it, depending on how you use it. These self-important PC users will proudly proclaim their “Master Race” status on internet forums to let console gamers know who is in charge: this is their turf, and you won’t have a good time if you question them. This war between console gamers and PC gamers was raging for several years, by the time Gamergate occurred in 2014 and united the community behind one vile cause.
In short, Gamergate was a months long attack on several female game developers and journalists (including game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, as well as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian) who criticized the overt sexism and manipulation in games development and marketing, and the gaming community did not take kindly to this. They went so far as to send death threats, and they would even witchhunt people who criticized them within their own ranks, with games journalists losing their jobs over speaking out in defense of the women who were mercilessly harassed (search for Moviebob + Gamergate for a peak at this madness.) The console and PC gamers united in this case, but it was even earlier that Steve Bannon realized the efficacy of this population. (As mentioned in the book “Devil’s Bargain” by Joshua Green.)
Steve Bannon joined the company ‘Internet Gaming Entertainment’ in 2007, a company founded by Brock Pierce (child actor in The Mighty Ducks, now infamous for his involvement in cryptocurrency). This company paid Chinese gamers to ‘farm’ for gold and items in World of Warcraft, a PC only game. These gold and items would then be sold to western players for real world money. But in dealing with these gamers directly, on an international stage, Steve Bannon could see what the PC Master Race was capable of when compelled to act. Denial of service attacks, doxing, hacking and interfering with public systems… Bannon had tapped into the anarchic Anonymous culture, where masses of impulse driven young men could be persuaded to change course with the right encouragement. These are the same young men who originally claimed to be PC Master Race.
If you’ve read all this, you might be thinking “well, I love my PC, so I’m PC Master Race, it’s not a big deal, just a lighthearted thing.” Just remember you’re willingly attributing to yourself a term of Nazi origin, that not only reflects your privilege but connects you to the movement that elected Donald Trump. The term “PC Master Race” in now indelibly tied to online White Supremacy, that’s to 4Chan’s /pol/ board and the connections it built with white supremacist leaders. And keep in mind there are still people in the world who don’t have a computer, or internet, or even basic access to the news. This is the ‘digital devide’, and when viewed through this lens, the term “PC Master Race” reeks of privilege and authoritarianism.
Consider China: the latest development in Chinese culture is a ‘social rating’ system. Inspired by the U.S. credit rating, this allows the Chinese government to monitor your social network usage, rate you based on the content you share, and allow or deny certain privileges based on your pro-state score. They’ve announced that access to local trains will be denied if your score is too low. (This system was developed for the Chinese government by Blizzard-Activision, the same company that designed World of Warcraft.) Think about how poor credit rating affects US citizens, then imagine what it’s like in China where they don’t even have to disguise it: it exists purely as a form of privilege control. In a civilization that rates you based on your digital social network usage, you won’t be able to afford not using it, much like it’s difficult to afford living in America without credit. In China’s case, you’ll find yourself without social clout. And at the top of this system are the network administrators and coders nessecary to keep this system humming.
This is what I think of when I think PC Master Race: a group so impressed with their provenance over machines and code that they expect and demand privilege commensurate with their importance and devotion to the machinary they run. More and more, the PC Master Race won’t just have a computer at home (and on their cash register at work): the PC Master Race will become network administrators and programmers, becoming more and more involved and entrenched in the machines that will run society in the future. Our financial markets are almost entirely run by software, from a technologist’s point of view it only makes sense to migrate as much of our government and society’s underpinnings to digital automation, and when that happens there will be a great devide between those who are subject to the machines, and those who are master to them: the PC Master Race.
Today it’s a lighthearted term, much like Pepe the Frog was just a funny mascot once. Today Pepe has been commandeered by the authoritarians of the alt-right, and as tech becomes ever more prevalent in our everyday world, soon “PC Master Race” will become a much heavier term. In the meantime, maybe we could stop associating ourselves with facism and convincing ourselves that it’s just an ironic turn of phrase.