Why I never use frame rate counters for any serious gaming

After recently installing a GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card in my desktop PC I decided to start running a frame rate counter whenever I played games like WoW, Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s not something that I’ve done much of in the past, but who could blame me… I mean, here I was staring down the barrel of more GPU power and quicker frames than I’d ever had before, so it seemed a no brainer to see that new performance in action and compare the difference to my ageing GeForce GTX 1070 – a card that had more than earned its retirement.

Running the counter was really satisfying in the beginning – not only did seeing my frame rates hit 110 fps at 1080p (with ray tracing!) in WoW justify my decision to drop a cool $300 on an extravagant piece of hardware when I could have sunk that money into a long overdue bathroom renovation, but the MSI Afterburner app also conveyed a whole lot of other performance stats that I’d otherwise been oblivious to – like RAM usage, fan usage and clock speed. “This was great,” I thought. But oh, how wrong I was!

MSI’s Afterburner app has an fps counter that you can switch on to watch performance stats as you play. Shown here is a glimpse of the app’s monitoring settings for framerates.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

Soon enough, the counter turned out to be as frustrating as hell. Over time I found myself peeking at the stats more and more with an inquisitiveness that could rival that of the great Sherlock Holmes. Was my graphics card working properly? Did my PC hardware have bottlenecks? I answered these questions in the first hour I switched it on with a resounding ‘NO,’ but game after game these questions kept dropping into my head like goldfish caught in a cyclone. And yet my insatiable thirst for better performance meant I kept that darn counter on.

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The FPS counter started to bug me in other ways too. The visible presence of the stats ticking over in my field of view was also a huge distraction; and the performance graphs obscured details in my games that may have seemed trivial but in the end had a negative impact on my K:D tally in FPS games. When before in Fortnite I had a clear view of the upper left corner of my screen, now I had a figures and lines blocking out details like the glimpse of a sniper’s weapon in a window, or that elusive first sighting of a foe from miles away, that I’d normally like to keep scanning for as I got closer to.

Other details that I could so easily see sans counter now appeared muddled when seen through my counter stats, leaving me questioning what I actually had seen: Was that really a player parachuting into the field ahead of me, or did my framerate just drop from 145 to 105? Suffice to say, the FPS counter left me unimpressed.

Did I see a sniper, or just a fist full of numbers?

Dominic Bayley / IDG

Even when it did convey useful information, it would still end up wrecking my games. Once playing Apex Legends, for instance, when I noticed my framerate drop from 140 fps to 80 fps, I stopped mid-game and ended up going down a rabbit hole of adjusting and readjusting my settings to boost performance. This had the unfortunate effect of chewing up a whole forty-five minutes of my time – which was all the time I’d had to play. If mindfulness is a thing in gaming, I sure wasn’t doing it – I’d become deeply distracted, like I sometimes get after having a third cup of coffee in the morning.

It goes without saying that I’ve now hit my limit with counters and ditched them for any serious gaming. Playing counter-free and stat-free makes for a distraction-free game, where I can just concentrate on my play and the action. If you do this, your game will be tons more enjoyable, and at the end of the day, that’s going to be a bigger boon to performance than any stats will ever be.

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