This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 385 in June 2023, as part of our Tech Tales series. Every month we talk about the ups and downs of PC hardware, with a look back on our own history with the hobby.
It’s 7pm on a hazy June evening in my atrocious student house. Supercharged by a diet rich in Tangfastics and a supermarket Red Bull alternative, we spent the first part of the evening playing a particularly destructive indoor cricket match. But now it’s time for us all to settle down and write the personal and academic development essays we’ve been putting off for 11 months. The deadline is, after all, tomorrow.
7.15pm: Hmm. Need For Speed: Most Wanted was running a bit slow just then during my pre-essay warmup car chase. And I don’t remember quite this much pornography being on my desktop, browser homepage and bookmarks. It’s probably nothing. Better get on with that essay.
7.28pm: Yep, something’s definitely not right with Need For Speed. It wasn’t struggling that much to render all the spoilers on my Audi TT last night. Something’s definitely not right. I should write that essay though.
8.45pm: No, we all did the right thing there. We were all too amped up on taurine to concentrate on our essays and to be fair that second game of indoor cricket did help to disperse some of that energy. I feel ready now, though. Ready to write a bloody good essay. Let’s do it. Let’s write an essay.
8.46pm: Oh right, yeah. My computer’s knackered.
8.47pm: A bit of further inspection reveals just how knackered. I can technically still connect to the internet—that’s a good thing. My bedroom has the only internet connection in the house, so we’ll all need to use my PC to submit our work. But while notionally connected, the internet’s operating so slowly, so glacially, agonisingly slowly, that no web pages actually load without timing out. The porn pop-ups are working fine, though.
This new development has dire ramifications for the personal and academic development of us all who dwell in 78 Triangle North. There’s a lot on the line here, and I need to get this problem fixed with enough time to a) write 3,000 words about what I want to achieve in life and how I intend to go about it (of course, I’ll need to decide those things first) and then b) let my four housemates load their insightful and well-reasoned life plans onto my PC via their USB sticks, connect to our uni’s intranet, and submit them online.
9.00pm: I’m thinking back now, and I think I know what’s happened. I was trying to download a hooky copy of a game from one of those sites. You know the ones—ASCII art of a cannabis leaf at the top of the page, some form of diss aimed at a rival hacker collective at the bottom of it, hooky download links somewhere in the middle. Like a living parable about why videogame piracy is a terrible thing, I clicked some of those links and am now suffering the consequences. My personal computer has become infected by malware.
9.01pm: I run an AVG scan. Only the free version, mind you, but it should catch any digital miscreants. It’s anti-virus software, right? That’s what it’s for.
9.10pm: Right. I can see the problem now. AVG has identified over 300 threats, and gives an ETA of eight hours until it completes this scan. I pause the scan, quarantine the threats it’s identified so far, then restart my PC and, with fingers crossed, hope for the best.
9.12pm: Yeah, that’s a lot, lot worse now. It seems I’ve quarantined some fairly vital system files from within the Windows install directory. Icons have gone missing. Windows explorer keeps closing and restarting, to the extent that it’s now impossible to even load AVG back up and give it the full eight-hour scan. It’s time to break the news to my mates: our personal and academic development is on hold.
11.45pm: That was one of the most forlorn games of indoor cricket I’ve ever been a part of.
8.00am: I’ve got a plan. With my PC out of action, the house is completely without internet access, which means none of us can Google the problem. So it’s scorched earth time: I need to reinstall Windows from scratch. The contents of my HDD are bigger than any flash drive on the market, so I need to buy 16 DVD-ROMs and painstakingly burn everything I want to keep onto them. PC World opens at 9am. While I’m there, I’ll also need to buy a brand new copy of Windows XP for hundreds of pounds because this was an OEM PC and I don’t have the master disks. Cool. Cool cool cool.
4.00pm: It’s done. Hundreds of pounds poorer, and with 16 DVDs of MSN chat logs and iTunes library files to show for it, my PC works again and our house has internet access. At long last, we can all start those essays.
7.00pm: That’s much better. Need For Speed: Most Wanted’s running smooth as you like again. Who’s for a Red Rooster?