Learning to let go of framerate anxiety made me love PC gaming again

Original image via EntertainmentBuddha.com

Original image via EntertainmentBuddha.com

Hello. My name is Dave Meikleham, and I’m an addict. It has been three weeks since I last opened the Fraps counter on my PC. No wait… I just cracked. It’s now 17 seconds since I obsessively checked a certain framerate-monitoring app. Please forgive me.

Let me level with you: I have a debilitating fps problem. It started when my passion for PC gaming was reignited some four years back. Ever since, I’ve spent a truly ludicrous amount of my painfully finite income buying cutting edge GPUs to chase perfectly smooth performance. First it was Nvidia’s GTX 690. A (semi) sensible upgrade to the GTX 970 followed 18 months later. That card was then ditched when I got a 4K display and plumped for the 980 TI… swiftly followed by another one. Last year, I caved and assaulted my tattered savings account by splurging on a GTX 1080… then two 1080s.

As privileged, oh-so-obnoxious first world ‘problems’ go, this one’s a doozy.

Hardware dissatisfaction

Despite spending a small fortune on hardware upgrades, I’ve never been fully able to enjoy gaming on my hefty rig. Due to my frame-counting paranoia, the experience of playing most technically demanding PC games boils down to watching mild fps dips, messing around with overclocks, before eventually quitting said game because I can’t *quite* nail down a perfectly locked 60 frames per second 100 percent of the time. It’s maddening… and obviously, just plain mad. 

Thankfully, I’ve reached a breakthrough. Recently I decided to sell my second GTX 1080, and in doing so, I’ve finally rediscovered my love for just playing games on my PC. Ditching my obsession with Nvidia’s infamously finicky SLI—the process of running two graphics cards simultaneously, in case you’re not up on the horribly techy lingo—has done wonders for abating my fps-chasing neurosis. Can I still play Far Cry Primal at 81 fps at 3440 x 1440 resolution on my ultrawide 21:9 monitor? Nope. From here on out, I’m slumming it at a mere 52 fps in those slightly busier caveman-murdering scenes. Oh the humanity! 

Even with a GTX 1080, I can’t quite constantly hit 4K/60 fps on The Witcher 3.

And you know what? I could care less. The wrong-headed anxiety that went into chasing the 4K/60fps dream just wasn’t worth it. Sure, my beefy rig could handle most games at that ludicrously lofty resolution/framerate combo, but it was the few games that fell agonisingly short which fuelled my obsession, ruining my enjoyment in the process. 

Just take The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. One of the greatest games of all time, right? The razor-sharp, pithy dialogue; those vistas; the seamless sense of time and place; realtime beard growth! Despite these amazing production values, I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in Geralt’s sweeping adventure. Why? Because every time I crossed the busy city squares of Novigrad, my framerate would ‘plummet’ from a locked 60 fps to sporadic moments of 54 fps. That’s right: I stopped playing one of the best PC games of the last decade because my crippling fps anxiety couldn’t tolerate the occasional six measly dropped frames. Send help.

That’s right: I stopped playing one of the best PC games of the last decade because my crippling fps anxiety couldn’t tolerate the occasional six measly dropped frames.

It wasn’t just The Witcher 3, of course. This deep-seated fretting over a Fraps counter spread to many games. Because SLI scaling is such an afterthought in so many games, that second $500 card barely registered most of the time. Battlefield 1 would frequently drop to 57 fps, Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s taxing Geothermal Valley hub area refused to run at a locked 60 frames regardless of which settings I lowered, while no amount of graphics card tag teaming could prevent fugly, niche deer-stalking sim The Hunter: Call of the Wild from moments where it dipped into the high 40s. Something had to give.

And then it happened. I turned off my Fraps counter. Actually, I purged any program on my PC that went towards monitoring my graphics cards’ performance. MSI Afterburner? You’re cut. EVGA Precision? Cut. Nvidia Inspector? Gone. GPU-Z? I like that kid’s hustle… still, CUT. The sheer lunacy of anxiously watching two little numbers occasionally dip on the top left of my screen finally broke me. Why obsess over squeezing out that extra 1-3 percent performance through haphazard overclocking and Nvidia Control panel fiddling when I could simply tune out all that noise and give, y’know, the actual games a chance to shine.  

Argggghh! It may not look like much, but The Hunter is super demanding to run.

Taking a breath and finally abandoning your obsessions can be deeply cathartic. My favourite scene in David Fincher’s Fight Club is when Tyler Durden nihilistically talks Edward Norton’s Narrator into crashing a car so his neurotic chum will, “Just. Let. Go.” Actually, it’s my second favourite scene—nothing tops that epic Pixies-fuelled finale. Now, I’m not endorsing setting up underground fisticuffs networks, or letting your hatchback careen into oncoming traffic. What I do endorse is ending an obsession with trying to achieve that fabled ‘ultimate’ high-end performance, and just enjoying games based on their own creative merits. 

It’s been such (an admittedly light) weight off my shoulders. Not only did I recoup a tidy sum on my horribly underutilised second GPU, but at last I can throw that frame-checking monkey off my back, and make my peace with tiny technical blemishes. I don’t care if enabling Geralt’s HairWorks costs me 7 frames per second; let those dreamy locks flow! Oh, Prey is suffering tiny stutters every so often, is it? Pffh, I’m just going to enjoy turning those skittery Mimics into gloopy piles of sadness. 

No matter what level of hardware you own, you’ll never achieve perfection. Accept it. Some games have tiny optimisation issues that are never fixed, while others will always stutter no matter how much GPU grunt you throw at them. Can squeezing an extra few frames out of that new shooter be a rewarding meta-game in itself? Occasionally. Yet when the act of overclocking and frame-counting starts to dominate your PC gaming experience, unless you genuinely find that more fun than the games themselves, it’s time to step back. 

If you’ve suffered with this obsession, take my advice: switch off your framerate counter, forget minor fps fluctuation, and simply enjoy your game running perfectly well a mere 95 percent of the time. I may suffer the odd relapse, but my framerate fixation is nothing like what it once was. Hell, the old me would have bought a GTX 1080 TI trying to claw back those extra six frames in Novigrad, but not now. 

So take the advice of Brad Pitt and his stupidly chiseled abs: “Just. Let. Go.” 

Editor's note: since writing this article, Dave has had a relapse and upgraded to a GTX 1080 Ti to achieve his 4K, 90 fps Witcher 3 dreams. Recovery is a long road. Please keep him in your thoughts.