This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Futureproof: Computer Enthusiasts and the PC (R)evolution




Wallace, Steven

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation



Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



This project is a study of the establishment of the ‘PC Master Race’ identity within the larger personal computer/desktop computer enthusiast and gamer communities. This group (and its associated ideology) is traceable to the late 2000s and early 2010s and continues to be active to present. In this paper I will show that the group’s use of technical jargon and fascination with specific consumer technologies acts as a cultural mediator between larger enthusiast communities. Additionally, I posit that these ideas have origins in techno-social processes borne out of commodity computing machinery developed in the 1990s and 2000s. Here, the framework established by Donald MacKenzie, and later expanded by James S Small, is useful in understanding ‘technology’ as a contingent social process, not as a linear trajectory. Paths not taken, or ‘failures,’ are worth evaluation to understand why a given technology developed as it did. In the case of the ‘PC Master Race’ there is also a strong socioeconomic component at work – it is not simply a matter of ‘being an enthusiast’ but instead ‘being an enthusiast in the right way.’ Divining what ‘the right way’ means, and for whom, is the ultimate purpose of this project. Introduction: An unattributed image macro quips “[t]ired of looking at Bad Screen. Can’t wait to get home and look at Good Screen” The implicit underlying point being that many in the modern work force rely upon desktop, deskside, laptop, luggable, or similar pieces of computing machinery as their daily workplace, while simultaneously anticipating a return to their home wherein many leisure activities are also provided by computing machinery. Such computing machines have become a ubiquitous aspect of many people’s lives in the early 21st century. They are used for communication, business, scientific research, and other general tasks that largely conform under the umbrella term ‘computing.’ Recognition of this is neither novel nor unstudied, and represents both a significant amount of scholarship on the part of historians of technology, as well as a realization of mid-20th century technologists’ visions for the future.1 It is fair to say, the ‘Bad Screen’ is well-studied and well understood as a form of modern technology. However, what about the ‘Good Screen’? Where do leisure activities fit into the broader discussion of the history of computing machinery, and of computer science? A survey of the totality of uses for modern computing machinery in leisure would be not only exhaustive to read, but impossible to accurately compile given the myriad uses that people have found for computing machinery, especially machinery connected to the Internet, over the last twenty or thirty years. Therefore, this project is interested in only one possible leisure activity that people engage in: videogaming. A comprehensive survey of videogaming would also be prohibitively complex, so an additional series of scope reductions are necessary to further refine our topic to enthusiast videogaming from ca. 2002-2012 and the ways in which enthusiasts fashion themselves against non-enthusiast, non-expert users. This period is chosen because it is here that we see the price of self- styled ‘PC Master Race’ - an Internet-based community of computing enthusiasts who describe their mission as ‘spreading the Second Golden Age of PC Gaming.’2 Even a brief survey of the ‘PC Master Race’ (sometimes stylized/abbreviated as ‘PCMR’ or ‘pcmr’) subreddit will reveal a community of over 3,000,000 members that is seemingly obsessed with customized high performance desktop computing machines, as well as one founded on the rejection of inexpensive commodity machines and ‘gaming consoles.’3 Also striking is participants (often) waggish use of explicitly religious language when describing their experience – they do not simply ‘join’ but instead ‘ascend.’ This is also a group that attempts to directly chart its own history, citing its founding in 2011, and highlighting a number of sources as ‘foundational’ to understanding ‘what pcmr is about.’4 This work attempts to get at the motivations for the formation of the PCMR group, analyzing both their claims as a consumer advocacy group and enthusiast community, as well as the underlying technological story surrounding the gaming- oriented computing machinery which they use.