One of our favorite articles from the past year, originally published February 25, 2022.
One of the main selling points for the Steam deck (opens in new tab) for many, the fact is that it’s super portable. A gaming handheld with the power to play top games wherever you want, Valve has said. But is it really as practical to take to a pub or bar as we would like?
There are so many factors that make me anxious about using a gaming device in public. Total deal breakers, like the need to use voice commands in certain games. If you’re reading from the US, you may never have been subject to the horrible cringe that those old Nintendo DS commercials were – that is, some lady is chatting with her imaginary dogs on the bus (opens in new tab).
Yes, I won’t be. I want my public gaming experience to be hidden, unassuming, and most importantly, quiet.
When I got my hands on Valve’s coveted gaming handheld, one of my main questions was “How loud is the steam deck (opens in new tab)really?” If it didn’t drown out the conversations of people sitting next to me in a bar, maybe I wouldn’t have to hide in my windowless downstairs apartment while I Elder ring (opens in new tab) for the next month.
At the same time, I had visions of being laughed out of the bars and forever branded anti-social for playing video games on the Steam Deck, instead of yelling at sweaty men kicking balls back and forth on the big screen. Then there was always the possibility that I could have gathered some new friends by brandishing my favorite RPG in public.
“Even sports enthusiasts are gamers these days, maybe it won’t be too bad,” I reassured myself.
So, in the name of science, I took the Steam Deck to a local sports bar to see what would happen… panting. Manchester United supporters littered all floors, all waiting to claim my seat for a better view of the clammy, mud-covered athletes projected overhead. And I was just proudly typing on my little portable gaming PC.
As expected, I was closely followed by an elite team of curious friends. There we were, myself and a Nintendo Switch playing IT support technician, an ex games journalist turned game developer and a futile PS Vita 2 anticipator, all excited to get a taste of the unreleased Steam deck . Everyone took it in hand and compared the weight and ergonomics to their respective preferred platforms, and between the ‘oohs and ‘ahs there was definitely a sense of camaraderie.
The Switch liker immediately noticed the sweet UI sounds Valve has topped the Steam Deck’s menu systems with, while the PS Vita 2 hopeful was impressed with how light it got the power under the hood. Although her main comment was “It goes well with a pint of cider, but I don’t recommend it for tacky pub tables.”
That brings up one point: If it was a laptop I brought to the bar, there would be a lot more fear of spilling drinks all over my precious hardware. Laptops, despite their name, are generally meant to be used with a table, even the best gaming laptops (opens in new tab) can overheat if you muffle the fans. At least with a handheld I could keep it above the table, and away from sticky spills.
There’s always someone who makes a passing joke when you pull out a gaming laptop in a bar, too. Strangely, no comments came about the device we all stared at. The Steam Deck didn’t seem to attract much attention, and I have a feeling it wasn’t just because the boisterous pub atmosphere drowned out the high-pitched thump of the device’s fan.
It’s just a much more subtle form factor than a gaming laptop. People seem to be accustomed to portable gaming devices now, and it’s almost natural for someone to pull one out in the evening, be it in the form of a switch or their cell phone. And as you probably know, your business can feel left out.
Gaming on a Steam Deck during a social gathering turned out not to be the most conducive to a communal atmosphere.
I think my friends felt a bit ignored. Of course, you can pass through the Steam Deck while playing Worms, or play a game together Brothers: A tale of two sons (opens in new tab), but it’s not really a device meant for socializing. If anything, it’s a social shield, a little veil machine that says, “I’m here, I showed up, but don’t talk to me, because I’ve been trying to beat this boss for weeks.”
That said, when you first introduce it to a group of like-minded nerds, the Steam Deck manages to create a sense of togetherness, at least by encouraging people with different ideals and interests to come together to create something new. and fascinating to discuss.
Of course, that spirit will surely diminish once everyone gets used to the thing. And while the Steam Deck is quiet and subtle enough not to warrant public ridicule, it’s certainly not something I regularly bring to social gatherings.
But you’ll probably only see me rocking to chill on the corner sofa at the local bar, holding myself, just as a way to get out of the house. It’s a pretty spectacular little machine for that.