Look at your television. Look at where it’s positioned in your house/apartment. Look at what’s surrounding it: furniture: sofas, chairs. Silently pointing in its direction. This is the modern living space: all things gaze upon the television. It is the centre of your living space. Immovable. It’s heavy. It’s a burden. It’s an argument waiting to happen. You wouldn’t risk moving it by yourself. You’d ask for help. Your television might even be mounted; physically, irrevocably bolted onto the walls of the house you living in.
When you play a video game on that television you are saying something. You are taking control. That space you share with your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/roommate/children/friends: it now belongs to you. And they have to watch while you play. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. About the reasons why I’m often so hesitant to turn on my console and play a video game. I’ve been thinking about how I’m far more likely to turn on a handheld instead.
I’ve been thinking about that pressure: that feeling of knowing I am about to be watched, how that affects how I play, how it affects my willingness to play. At the moment I am enjoying handheld games almost exclusively. It fits my habits well; slots into my schedule perfectly. That’s the ‘traditional’ reason for enjoying handheld gaming over consoles: the convenience. I’ve been playing Majora’s Mask during my short commute, playing Grim Fandango on the Vita in bed before falling asleep. The accessibility of handheld consoles, the ability to simply flip them open, or turn them on at a second’s notice, the ease with which you can play – it’s appealing. So appealing in fact that, if I can choose, I’ll always play on handheld as opposed to a traditional console.
Handheld gaming is always on your terms. It’s play that bends and shapes to the player’s will. It asks very little of you.
Console gaming, on the other hand, asks so much of you. It asks that you turn on the console. Asks you to commandeer a public space solely for your own entertainment. Asks you to sit in this one specific spot. Asks you to download updates. Asks you to stop what you are doing and specifically do this one thing for the next hour or two.
The key word, I think, is ‘commitment’. Playing a console game requires a commitment. It demands this of you: “I am engaging with this thing. I am going to sit down, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and I’m going to play video games”. Handheld gaming is the opposite: “what is it you’re doing right now? Why not play games while you do that?”
I think that’s why, given the choice, I will always play games on my handheld console. I played Super Smash Bros. on my 3DS, I played Hotline Miami and Fez on the Vita. Games I am currently playing: Majora’s Mask on the 3DS, Grim Fandango on the Vita. Both are games that I started playing on consoles, but never finished.
The simplicity of handheld gaming, the accessibility of it. The flexibility. Consoles sit at the centre of your world and refuse to bend to your will, handhelds clutch onto your life like a barnacle. They’re available when you need them, at a second’s notice. They don’t inconvenience those around you. You are not being selfish when you play a handheld. You are not being watched. You are not being asked to make a commitment. You are simply playing a video game because, right this second, you have time to play a video game.