If there is a mecca for PC gamers, I could make a good argument for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. It’s not just a holy place because Taipei is home to many of the PC’s largest companies: Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, Acer. PC technology is a point of pride in Taipei, and it’s everywhere. New gaming laptops are advertised on billboards and along escalators, the same way Samsung smartphone ads blanket San Francisco. Random computer shops across the city mark their doors with signs for brands like Aorus and Cooler Master.
And if there’s a focal point of that mecca, it’s not the headquarters of one of those enormous companies, but rather a small shopping mall in west Taipei called Guang Hua Digital Plaza.
Inside, three floors of tightly packed electronic stores sell just about every PC component you can imagine. Cases and motherboards and graphics cards are stacked to the ceilings. Brand names like Asus and Razer are emblazoned over every merchant stall. Outside Guang Hua, a long street lined with shops (pictured above) offers even more PC gear to eyeball or try out.
One store, B18, has shelves lined with mechanical keyboards and mice for buyers to test out. Local brand Ducky is the most popular, he says, as we talk about what games he plays—League of Legends and ARK: Survival Evolved—and how there are no shops like his, dedicated to mechanical keyboard and mouse enthusiasts, in the US. “This is Taiwanese culture,” he says proudly.
The day before I flew halfway around the world to Taiwan for the annual Computex electronics show, I was sitting in the PC Gamer office trying—and mostly failing—to think of PC electronics stores in the United States. Real, physical stores that we can walk into, stocked with the components PC gamers need when we build new systems. Cases, motherboards, power supplies. Mice, mousepads, monitors. As we brainstormed, the only major store we could think of was Fry’s, an electronics department shop full of PC components and other hobbyist tech.
Fry’s is great, but PC components have to share floor space with refrigerators and barbecues and smartphones and other gear. Fry’s is the best we’ve got, but the chain only has stores in nine states. Most of the rest of the country has to make due with local mom and pop businesses, which are typically dusty PC repair shops that can replace a hard drive but aren’t stocked with dozens of case and motherboard options for discerning gamers.
That’s a shame for a couple reasons. As easy and cheap as it is to shop online, it’s still useful to be able to test out a mouse or mechanical keyboard before buying, or see how a particular case or monitor looks in person. And outside of large gaming conventions like PAX, there are few real gathering places for us to get together and share our hobby. Wouldn’t it be great for PC gaming to have the equivalent of local comic book shops? Internet communities can never quite replace the experience of being surrounded by the stuff you like, where other people are just as excited about it as you.
Taiwan certainly has online shopping through sites like Alibaba and the wonderfully named PChome. But for PC gear, at least, there’s little need to shop online, when you can see exactly what you want to buy in person. Shopping at a place like Guang Hua isn’t necessarily about getting a killer deal—the shops are mostly selling new hardware, and prices in Taiwan closely mirror what you’d pay online in the United States. Shopping in-person for physical goods is still preferred, B18’s owner told me. And that doesn’t just apply to hardware: boxed PC games, all but extinct in the US, are common in Taiwan, too.
The maze of the Guang Hua mall contains a few game shops just like the one pictured to the right, packed with everything from The Witcher 3 to mid-90s Chinese RPGs.
The hardware stores are more prevalent, but seeing boxed PC games in the wild (and in such numbers!) feels even more rare. While it’s hard to argue against the convenience of Steam, Taipei’s hardware shops really are a PC hobbyist’s dream. Why buy new parts online and wait days for them, when you can hop on Taipei’s efficient subway system (which costs about 50 cents per ride), walk into an entire mall dedicated to your hobby, and find anything and everything you’re after?