For a while, I’d been trying to fit smaller independent video games into my screen time but it never seemed to work. As a rule, I don’t play games on my Mac, because it’s a work machine. Instead, most of my gaming takes place on a PlayStation 4. Perhaps it’s just me, but the idea of firing up a pixel-art 2D platformer, a sim, or a visual novel on a large TV screen always seemed incongruous. So, I ended up not playing many of these smaller titles, despite having interest in them.
When my wife got me a Switch as a birthday gift, for a while I struggled to find a purpose for it. Family skirmishes in Mario Kart were surely fun, but having avoided the Nintendo bubble growing up, I find it hard to connect to other first-party titles like Mario, Zelda, and others. I got momentarily excited about replaying Skyrim and L.A. Noir, but while the achievement of running a game like this on a handheld device is impressive, the PlayStation versions typically sport better graphics and can be played on the Dual Shock controller, which I prefer. Finally, chances are I already own a copy for the PS4, so it’s hard to justify buying the (usually more expensive) Switch port.
So, I found myself not playing the Switch as much, but still regularly picking it up from the coffee table to browse the e-store and think about all the games I could play. At some point, I got Into the Breach and was surprised how having it on the Switch opened up a whole new window of opportunity to play. The format of short, focused battles allowed me to pick up the Switch at times when I’d normally skim my Twitter timeline or aimlessly browse YouTube on a couch.
Excited by this development, I got a few more games. One of them was Eliza, an interactive visual novel about mental health, AI, and ethics in tech. Yet another game I wouldn’t play on a TV or a PC, but one that feels completely natural to open for an hour in bed before sleeping. Just this morning, I beat Celeste, which came as a surprise as I’m still on paternity leave and certainly didn’t plan to get any gaming done for the next year. Yet, playing in short stretches during baby naps proved to be a useful distraction and a lot of fun.
This is yet another reminder that context-specific devices are powerful. For many years, I’d had this dream of a single computing unit that would envelop all of my digital activities. A compact device that could be used as a desktop, a phone, a gaming console, a book reader, or a guitar effects processor. Maybe this kind of future is still coming, but so far I’ve found myself going in the opposite direction. I feel a little sad about this observation: it’s like admitting the failure of universal hardware, and also committing to wasting more money and resources on additional devices, which inevitably become obsolete. I have some hope that quality wireless Augmented Reality might change this, but that tech is still in its early days. For now, I choose analog guitar pedals, and many screens, for each its own purpose.