I think the first time I used a Nintendo game console was an NES connected to a television parked on the sidewalk in front of an electronics store in Ginza, Tokyo, in the spring of 1991. In fact, I think this may be the First time Ever I used a video game console of any kind and point. Although I played arcade games and was the proud owner of Game Boy, I do not remember ever playing in a proper console before that trip to Tokyo. If I had, it was literally an unforgettable experience.
However, I remember vividly standing on that sidewalk and captivated by the most futuristic video game I've ever played: F-Zero. At that time, it seemed so fast and intense. Even though I felt increasingly frustrated by my constant shock, I still remember how excited that game was playing. It was like being on a day trip to the future.
27 years later, I finally became the proud owner of my first game console: the Nintendo switch. It's a pretty ironic choice because it's also a handheld device. Or maybe, as Andrew Webster points out, the Switch is something completely new. But I'm digressing, I do not really care about the correct definition; I'm happy to have my first console and I love it. Finally, at 55, I can call myself a player.
Although the Switch is the first game console I've had, it's not the first one I've played since that trip to Tokyo in 1991. Over the years I've played on SNES, PlayStation, Xbox and PC. I also bought several more handheld devices, including Game Boy Color and Sony PSP, before finally switching to mobile games on the iPad. However, I was never able to commit to buying a game console at home.
I have my first console and I love it
Why can you ask? Well, the answer is simple: I was always a bit worried about spending too much time playing at home. That was not a problem with my handheld devices, since I used to play them only when I was traveling. The same can be said about the games I downloaded on my iPad. But every time I played in a console I could feel absorbed. As the Unique Ring to Govern them all, the consoles called me with their seductive offer of unlimited game power. For a long time I suspected that if I succumbed to temptation, I would be lost forever.
So, why now? And why the Nintendo Switch?
When I photographed the Switch for our review last year, I was very impressed with the industrial design. I thought the Joy-Con controllers were great and loved their vibrant colors. Although I had never played a single RPG in my life, I was intrigued by the beautiful construction of the fantasy world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, whose elements reminded me of Castle in the Sky. But above all, the enthusiasm for the Switch that emanates from the people of The Verge and Polygon is contagious. I was seriously tempted to finally immerse myself in the game. But having owned several handheld devices before, I was wondering if I really wanted to compromise, I should buy a bullet and buy a PS4 or an Xbox (a PC for games was not even in consideration as it is a slippery slope that I do not intend to always sliding down).
I decided to try Sony PS4 first, mainly because Star Wars Battlefront II had just been released and I felt I needed to viscerally deep to shoot blasters. Fortunately, the Polygon people were happy to lend me their review unit and I bought myself a copy of the Battlefront game. The first time I played it on a 65-inch TV with full surround sound, I was literally impressed (yes, I died a lot). For someone like me who had not played any major console games for years, the resolution, sound design and game complexity were amazing. Walking through the forests of Endor or flying through the remains of the Death Star was like nothing I had experienced before in a game. The environments were so detailed that they seemed almost real. And that was a problem.
To be frank, I found the constant killing and the twitching bodies a bit unsettling. Actually, I was surprised by my reaction, especially because I am fully aware that Battlefront II is extremely docile compared to other first-person shooters such as Call of Duty. To be very clear: I am not judging here. I just realized that first-person shooter games with this level of realism really are not my cup of tea. After a solid weekend playing Battlefront II, my enthusiasm for both the game and the console was significantly reduced. I returned the PlayStation to the Polygon team and wondered if the modern games were really for me after all.
Then two things happened that made me change my mind and buy the Nintendo switch. First, a lot of The Verge staff brought their switches with them to the CES this year. One night in the hotel bar, I saw Dieter Bohn demonstrating his technique to shoot down a mega baddie in Zelda (I do not know which one, since I just got out of the damn plateau) and then he challenges Tom Warren to a race in Mario Kart 8. These games were not only beautifully designed, but they seemed very funny.
There is a deep need for joy and fun in games
But the decisive factor for the agreement was the announcement of Nintendo Labo. I was so impressed by the great creativity and imagination that was used to design this concept of cardboard. The fact that Nintendo, a 100-year-old company that started playing cards before making video games, is still looking for new ways to encourage children (and perhaps adults) to "play" in the game. Real world really impressed me. Although it is unlikely that I will buy the cardboard piano, I love the fact that it exists. Labo seems so absolutely positive, imaginative, capricious and fun. And as I think there is a deep need for joy and fun in the games, they sold me. Watching the Labo video for the first time, I decided to buy my own Nintendo Switch.
The experience of playing it has been beyond all my expectations. Since I have so little experience in the world of modern games, I was surprised by the great amount of imagination used not only in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8, but more significantly in a game that It took me completely by surprise: Splatoon 2.
The premise of Splatoon 2 is simply absurd. I thought that people joked when they explained for the first time that the game revolves around humanoid squid characters who use bizarre weapons to throw brightly colored ink at each other in various scenarios of urban scenography maverick. I mean, who can think of this? However, playing Splatoon 2 is intoxicating. The gameplay seems astonishingly sophisticated, and the creative thinking that has gone into the design and direction of art of the characters and sets is out of the ordinary. My only complaint is that it needs more music. I'm constantly humming the track from the loading screen and it's getting a bit monotonous. But, however, if that is the only price I have to pay to play, then so be it.
What was very clear to me is that all the games I have played so far have been deeply considered by their designers. They are like endless Pixar movies filled to overflowing with moments of wild wonder and imagination (I'm still trying to poke my head through the toaster oven in Splatoon 2 and fail discouragingly).
I also now understand why my memory of playing F-Zero in an NES is still so vivid after 27 years: the game triggered my own imagination. It did not matter that the eight-bit graphics were clumsy and simple, they made me believe that I was competing with an incredible electric hovercraft in the future.
Which also indirectly explains why I waited so long to buy a game console of my own. Yes, I was afraid of spending too much time playing and not having enough time to practice the creative skills I needed for my job. But I think one more important reason was that I forgot the joy of playing a simple 8-bit game like F-Zero. Instead, I was under the mistaken belief that gaming technology needed to become more sophisticated before I could commit myself. Every time I played a game, I imagined how much better graphics would come out in the next game console. So I waited. But when I played Star Wars Battlefront II on PS4, I realized that, for all intents and purposes, this is more real than it seems and I really did not like it at all. Although incredibly impressive, the experience finally felt empty. And it was certainly far, far away from the whimsical fun.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does not seem remotely real, but it is incredibly evocative of an alternate reality. Playing the game requires my own imagination to suspend my disbelief. And I think that's what I've been looking for in games since I first experienced the excitement and excitement of playing F-Zero so many years ago. I do not want heartless hyperreality; I want to have fun and play creative games that continue to activate my own imagination as an integral part of the process.
Playing with the Nintendo switch is like having touch imagination.
Photograph by James Bareham / The Verge