I purchased a Nintendo Switch on the day it came out. I didn’t buy it because I particularly liked video games, nor did I think I’d spend much time playing Zelda, rather I was looking for something to talk about on my YouTube channel. My channel had started its slide into irrelevance and I was pondering ways to try to save it. The morning the Switch became available I was drinking a cup of coffee while watching Boogie2988 talk about his new Switch. I thought the device looked curious and so I wandered to my local Target and was surprised to find that they had 20 Switches sitting on the shelf and so I walked out with a Switch and a copy of Zelda.
To be frank I figured I’d spend a few hours on the Switch, do a couple of videos, and then toss it on a shelf to gather dust. As a kid I had loved my Atari 2600, NES and Sega Genesis but once I had become an adult I simply lost interest in video games. I had purchased an original Playstation and owned it just long enough to beat Final Fantasy 7. My wife had purchased a Wii and we played it all of about a month before the novelty had run out. The last game system I owned was a Playstation 3, but the only reason I bought it was because there was a month during my wife’s cancer treatments where I basically had to babysit her due to the side effects of a series of medications. I played the PS3 for a month having my ass kicked daily in Call of Duty. By the end of the month I could regularly get into the either second or third rank in matches, though rarely ever first. I felt ok with this. Then as things go my wife’s treatments were over, I went back to work, and didn’t touch the machine for 3 months. I didn’t give my absence from game play much thought until one day decided to waste some time playing again and found my skills to be back down at rank bottom. After a few months of not playing I basically ended up being target practice for the folks that did play every day. With a sigh I stopped playing, and when the PS3 broke during our move 7 years ago I just tossed it on a shelf to gather dust.
To me games are good ways to waste time. The older consoles and games were fun, but were based on such basic systems that after awhile they became boring. Conversely I found the new consoles and games to be so complex that I just didn’t have time to figure out all the buttons. I became a casual gamer playing things like Kingdom Rush on the iPad, but had pretty firmly decided that neither was I a gamer, nor did I want to be one.
This is where my mind was at when I bought the Switch. It was going to be a gimmick to talk about on the show, but then I had zero doubt that within a month it would have a coating of dust. To my surprise this turned out not to be the case. I really liked Zelda. To my shock I spent two months playing the game, figuring out the puzzles, and generally enjoying myself. I didn’t spend hours on end playing, but everyday I’d find an hour or two to sit down with it.
Once I finally beat Zelda I ran into an issue though. Nintendo simply had not produced any good games for the Switch at that point. I bought Mario Cart and it was enjoyable enough, but not something to be too excited about. So I found myself in the position of realizing that I liked gaming, but the console I owned simply had no games.
I did a bit of research and then decided to buy a PS4. I knew that multiplayer games were not my thing, but there seemed to be a lot of good single player options. In picked up the PS4 Pro a copy of Horizon Zero Dawn and excitedly ran home to lose myself in a highly rated open world game.
Yeah… It’s hard to explain disappointment from the perspective of being a 40 year old. It’s not so much an emotional reaction as it is just a sadness. You’re so excited to be able to do something you once loved to do, and then you find out you just can’t keep up.
I plugged my PS4 into my 52” 4K TV, and sat back with the controls ready to get in the game. I ran into a weird issue though. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on on the screen. There’s all of these movements, and things zipping around. Unlike Nintendo games there’s not a huge amount of contrast between what you’re supposed to care about, and the background effects. I basically felt my heart sink as I spent hours getting clobbered by robots as I tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
I tried a few other games, but basically ran into the same issues. I finally started playing Ratchet and Clank and it was cartoonish enough for me to visually understand what was going on, but at the same time felt like a game built for 8 year olds. I was a very sad 40 year old. As it goes I turned off the PS4 and left it to gather dust.
The important thing to understand here is that I still did not think of myself as a gamer. I wanted to enjoy playing video games, but on the other hand had no interest in spending much time to troubleshoot and figure things out. I wanted to plug the console in, play a few hours, and then go back to the real world. Games are an amusement, not anything to be taken seriously for me. So when the PS4 turned out to be a bust I was saddened, but really didn’t think about it much past that.
Fast forward ten months. The PS4 has a nice thick coat of dust. My wife is asking me if I’m going to put in on Craigslist, and I just don’t even want to think about it. More games have come out for the Switch and I’ve been happy beating them. Mario Odyssey, Mario + Rabbids and recently the new Donkey Kong.
One day I go up into my storage area, and notice a 32” 4K IPS LCD I have sitting collecting dust. It’s a monitor I used daily for a number of years, but now that I have an iMac Pro I just don’t need it. It’s a bit like the PS4 where I wasn’t using it, but it cost too much for me to casually get rid of it. So it just sat in a corner out of mind.
For some reason in that moment I thought back to my discussions of “fapping to grandma”. (I should probably come up with a better name for the concept.). I was thinking about how we digest media based on it’s context. For a moment I thought how funny it is that in a day of huge 4K TV’s that I enjoy playing the Switch in hand held mode the best. I smiled as I thought that I liked the Switch in hand held mode because I feel like I can see everything on the screen. I may feel slow and stupid sometimes playing the Switch, but I don’t feel lost…
As I pondered this I began to just stare at the 32” screen with it’s coat of dust. I started thinking about the PS4 and it’s coat of dust. Then I thought of how I had just reorganized my home office.
I had just moved a low filing cabinet to sit by my desk rather than the work table that had been there. I thought of the coat of dust on the filing cabinet. I then thought about putting the 32” screen on that filing cabinet. Then I thought about the PS4 being connected to that screen. At that moment I began to wonder if the issue I had with the PS4 was really the PS4 or whether it was my setup. Possibly having a large screen far away from me is what was causing the issue. It simply created an environment my eyes could not follow.
So I dragged the screen and the PS4 into my office. Sat back in my desk chair, propped my feet on the edge of the cabinet, and have been engrossed in Horizon Zero Dawn for the past few days. (I literally just spent 2 hours playing before typing this.)
The problem with the PS4 was not that I was old. It was not that I can’t play “real” games anymore. It’s not about the picture resolution, or game design. The problem was simply the setup I had did not work for me. Once I changed the setup everything worked like a dream. (Though there’s still way too much story line in these modern games.)
There are two morals to this story. The less important one is that ergonomics, and environment really do matter when it comes to using systems.
The more important lesson is that because I had zero persistence for figuring out my issues with the PS4 it ended up rotting for almost a year. I did not think of myself as a gamer. I was not heavily invested in being successful at being a gamer. And at the end of the day I kind of thought the PS4 was a waste of time anyway. So when I ran into an issue. I went through the paces of pretending to troubleshoot the situation, but then discarded PS4 and my plans without much hesitation.
In the tech world persistence is what wins the day. Years ago as a consultant I had told a client I could get printing working with her Remote Desktop connection. Remote Desktop was still brand new, the online forums were garbage, but I had figured the problem would not be too hard. So I quoted an hours worth of work and the client agreed.
… Sixteen hours later I finally figured out how to make the printing work. Something that ended up taking 3 minutes to setup once you know what to do took me two solid days to figure out. I had agreed to the job based off of one billable hour, and ended up taking sixteen. The difference between that work for my client, and the issues I had with the PS4 are that I took the client’s work seriously. I knew that remote printing was possible. I knew that not figuring out an answer would lessen me in the client’s eyes, and as a consultant I knew that I’d probably run into the issue in the future. So for two solid days I hammered away trying to figure out how to make the printing work.
The same type of story is true for when I learned telephony, VoIP, Digital Surveillance and all of the other systems I know. I didn’t give up. I didn’t stop because I felt that to not succeed would be a failure my ego could not handle.
I left the PS4 without much concern because at then end of the day saw it as a child’s toy that I probably shouldn’t be wasting my time with anyway.
Persistence is the key to success as a tech professional. If you keep hammering away, at some point you’ll figure out the answer. Even in this situation, it took longer than was necessary, but I did find out a solution. By constantly pondering, rolling ideas around in your mind, and experimenting you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish.
Remember… people very rarely “fail”… generally they just give up…