The year is 2012, and yet somehow Games for Windows Live is still a thing. It's a dark future, to be sure, but even so I never imagined I'd have a problem as weird as this: I need it. And I can't get it. It's hard to stay angry when you're laughing.
I'm trying to play Batman: Arkham City on PC, an excellent game that was unfortunately developed in 1408 AD, the last time anyone alive didn't know Games for Windows Live was universally hated. And it's working - in fact, it's working better than usual. It's working without Games for Windows Live. That part of the game simply never starts - I'm not asked to log in, the Home key won't summon it, the main menu option does nothing, and the game seems to function smoothly without it.
The problem is that this was a Games for Windows Live game when I started playing it, so my thirty-odd hours of progress are tied to my GFWL account. This new, otherwise excellent version of the game I've stumbled into has no memory of that - I'm starting from scratch.
In fact, it has no memory at all - I play for 15 minutes, and that progress is also gone when I next start it up. No errors and no warnings - it even leaves out the confirmation screen that normally warns you you'll lose any progress since the last checkpoint. That would, after all, imply that it had saved at the last checkpoint.
And so, with the same screwed up face I wear when punching an explosive barrel to see if that 'works', I try to manually install Games for Windows Live.
As you might have heard, PC gaming no longer warrants its own site for Microsoft. It's games, so that makes it one of those Xbox things. gamesforwindowslive.com doesn't even redirect there - it's a page of classy "sponsored listings for goods and services" like jackpotjoy.com.
So I get the GFWL client from xbox.com, install it, and get an error. This is not unexpected. The neurotic error text even seems to anticipate that I'm probably on the verge of giving up already:
"A required Windows component is disabled on your machine. Do you want to learn how to fix this problem?"
... or is life too short?
Actually, Microsoft, since this is for official PC Gamer business: yes. I care, I have time, and I'm going to try to use your support process. I'm the person you were hoping didn't exist.
I click 'Help', and immediately the program seems unsure how to proceed. After an awkward pause, it starts up Google Chrome and takes me to a blank white page reassuring me that I'm being redirected to the appropriate support page - but presenting me with another option to give up, just in case.
I get an error - this is not unexpected. It is, however, extremely funny.
They've actually taken the time to pose an Xbox avatar in a dismissive shrug. His cheerful smile says, "Oh well! Doesn't really affect Xbox!" But his empty black irises, his blank flesh-coloured sclera, glare with a deeper corporate indifference. "YOU ARE NOT MONEY." They say. "I FEEL NOTHING FOR YOU."
Apparently I've found a glitch in the system! Well done me. With all that clever probing, including but not limited to attempting to actually play the game, I managed to catch them out! Thank God they seem so cool about it. I just need to look up error code 18307F760405E4F s:mGdrKQGKMfExOFYHmj2lJg== id:d2b83066-0f9f-4ba8-a833-abf86a9a2f03 req:89e81e05-998d-4ee7-8b7a-ccd2b5e058f8 and it'll all be OK!
That's when I notice the URL. Have a look at the URL.
This isn't one error code's obtuse solution page that's missing, it's the English support page for PC gaming. It's an error. Error 18307... is that the whole support section for the PC has gone.
I found it, eventually, by Googling. It's a page divided into four sections:
Section 1: Is this really our fault? Please check. You'll find that it isn't.
Section 2: Here's a list of people whose fault this might be.
Section 3: Maybe this is YOUR fault! Reinstall DirectX.
Section 4: "Did this solution solve your problem?"
There is no support for Games for Windows Live itself, since it has never been the cause of any problems in PC gaming.
So I'm still stuck in my Games For Windowless world, which would be nice except for the Arkham City thing. I still don't know which essential Windows component I'm missing - is this because I uninstalled Chess Titans, Microsoft? Actually, don't tell me. I think I'll stay here.