HARK! Fellow video game enthusiasts! I am here with an innovative new console, the finest handheld that boutique pop culture design firms have to offer! It comes with a crank and a black and white LCD screen, calling back to the Tiger Handhelds or Gameboys of yore.
What does the crank do, you may ask? Why, it cranks a wheel that breaks all the bones of discourse and discussion, our capacity for keen insights into the nuance of design and its capacity for good… or bad! Who knows! Let’s find out:
The truth is that it doesn’t matter if it meets an arbitrary standard of effective consumption (profit) or the notions of Pop Culture. Is this a vinyl record, or a freshly gentrified restaurant in the hottest part of town? It depends on who you ask, thus very subjective and contextual. The inherent fate of such a device is to be subject to months of hot-take debate, in a long whodunit game of Clue where we try to figure out who killed Art in the ballroom with the funko pop.
Yes, it’s an experimental platform to tinker with new input concepts… yet we can (and do) experiment like this on the PC all the time, what with Alt Control jams, or even lovely talks at our very own Gamemakey Debate Conference. Especially when accessibility in games is the issue du jour (rightfully so, long overdue), and we live in an era of incomprehensible modularity, is it so much to ask for this consideration in hardware created by design firms noteworthy for their forward-thinking, future-proofed concepts?
Oh, but how ever will we make money? How would you ever expect to go up against business geniuses, the likes of My Uncle At Nintendo, or other such titans? It isn’t for that, rather emphasizing an affordability element that one could, as a manufacturer, leverage into a delightful artistic Raspberry Pi for the masses, a Game Maker’s Toolkit as it were. An OLPC for game development, if you will. It could be the Game Maker’s machine for those who normally find themselves outside the gates, locked by cost of entry and you-must-be-this-famous-to-rideisms. Yet, the counter-argument inevitably turns to one of consumption, of economies of scale, of how this will ever play Fortnite, a contrarian, disruptive, bad-faith gesture that comes off as acerbic and misguided as anyone defending the yellow elephant as though these critiques were personal attacks on their own character. We should judge the platform for what it is, and what it could easily become, rather than what it never had any intent of competing with from the start.
It’s a puzzling contradiction of intent, of design priorities, and of the social good that could manifest from the intelligent deployment of open, affordable hardware with the potential to inspire creative minds abroad, in places we normally gloss over or neglect to mention. We are here to open the doors to art, yet we charge a subscription fee, a model notorious for how unfair it is, at scale, to small artists. Is this the message we want to send fledgling developers and artists who are just now coming into their own professionally? Simply, “Sorry! Money’s all spent, but I’ll buy your work in bulk for pennies on the dollar”? We owe them more consideration (and action) than that, and that applies to the private sector just as much as it does our great cultural funding grants and outreach programs.
There’s much good to be done with boutique hardware platforms, and undoubtedly microindies deserve microplatforms; the inspired minds of alternative control game jams already show us many possible futures of open-minded, broadly extensible design. We should listen, and we should avoid the temptation to embrace kitsch for kitsch’s sake, lest we end up with wasteful bargain bins full of bite-sized good intentions. Microindies and fantastic boutique hardware endeavors deserve so much more than to become literal, physical shovelware, countless phantoms haunting our landfills, each in life the victim of our attention spans.
Lithium-Ion batteries never forget, so ensure that their impact is not in vain. Don’t ignore those yellow elephants as they grow large, and do not dismiss them; they are for the world, not the dusty living room shelf.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice