The Steam Deck Made Me Appreciate Gaming Again

Games Features Steam Deck
The Steam Deck Made Me Appreciate Gaming Again

When I got my acceptance letter for my four-year university in 2021, I was as excited as I was terrified. As determined as I was to get my degree, I knew I couldn’t go to a new school unprepared, whether that’s in terms of mentality or materials. In an effort to provide my own sense of security I went ahead and decided to treat myself to a new laptop, one that could also be used for gaming. I’d always wanted one and figured that, after I finished up my work, I could play some games on it. I bought my Lenovo Legion 5 that year, but it only took a few weeks in the semester to realize my mistake. With how rigorous my courses were, it took a lot of time away from being able to play at all. Even when I did get a slight break to play, the laptop’s performance was passable but unimpressive. As time went on, problems with the Legion started to shine brighter than the screen ever could. It was a fine laptop for school—it paved the way for my bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and it handled any sort of basic process it needed to with ease. However, with the battery barely lasting two hours on just a web browser, the refresh rate being locked at a solid 120 Hz (which also didn’t help the battery), and a not particularly bright screen, it wasn’t great for games. 

Honestly though, none of the laptop’s physical shortcomings were the biggest downside. The problem is that my laptop is where I spent most of my time working. I spent the entirety of my time getting my bachelor’s degree completing all assignments on this very laptop. It was difficult to swap over to a game after an assignment, because the simple truth is I do not like playing where I work. It’s a mental thing for me personally, but I know there are others who can relate. So when the Steam Deck, a computer in the form factor of a portable console, came out, I was immediately intrigued. Impressed by its capabilities, I decided to purchase a Steam Deck OLED after graduating, and now that I’ve spent months with it I can say with full confidence that this is the greatest gaming console I have ever used. It’s a bold statement, and mind you I’m not saying it is the best system money can buy; I’m just saying that it is my own personal favorite. Here’s why.

As I said before, it is hard to play where I work.When I see my laptop, I think of it like a Swiss army knife. It’s flexible, it can do so many things, and in a pinch you’ll be glad you got it; since it’s meant for convenience above all else, though, it becomes a jack of all trades but a master of none. Meanwhile the Steam Deck is dedicated purely to games. It sounds silly, but my laptop is where I’ve written plenty of creative essays and articles (like this one). I’ve used Jamovi to analyze data, downloaded hundreds of PowerPoints that I will never look at again but refuse to delete, use VEGAS 15 to edit videos, and if I get lucky play games like Destiny 2 or Warframe. Whereas when I see the Steam Deck, I know it’s meant for pure entertainment. It’s like comparing a one way street to a busy intersection. Both can get you where you need to go, but the one way is just easier to navigate. My laptop reminds me of everything else that exists in the world. Even just navigating Windows shows me a political ad every nanosecond and the weather that I’m not going outside to see for myself. There’s so much to sift through and it can be tiresome. On the Steam Deck, I know for a fact I am entering “me time.” No distractions, no reminders, just the controller in my hands and a world to save. That’s the joy of becoming engrossed in a game for me. It’s knowing that I don’t have to hold on to the stress that constantly has its grips on me, and feeling the anxiety slip away when I play something that I enjoy.

The beauty of the Steam Deck is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Valve has made it very clear that these devices are yours to do with as you see fit. Don’t like the operating system and want to use Windows on it instead? Go ahead and do so. Want to swap out the SSD? Absolutely, go double or even triple your space. If you try an experiment and a component stops working, Valve has partnered with iFixIt with complete guides for how to replace any part as well as offer the service of selling said parts. If you just want something to play Stardew Valley and nothing else, the Steam Deck’s got you covered. As for me, the zaniest thing I’ve done with mine is go through the process of installing emulators on mine. Turning this from a portable computer into a portable PS2, GameCube, Wii, or, hell, PS3 lets me take some of my all-time favorite games on the road with me. If you decide to look into what your Deck is capable of doing, you will discover the bounty of possibilities that I haven’t gotten into here.

For the most part, though, I use my Steam Deck with the emulators being the only external addition. Valve created their own operating system for the Steam Deck called SteamOS, which is essentially a skin of Linux. It’s such a simple operating system to use, with a sleek design that feels cool to use. Maybe I’m just easy to impress, but no one can deny the absolutely stunning OLED display. I promise this isn’t turning into an ad, but seriously it is the display that convinced me why OLED as a concept is worth talking about. Dare I say, you gotta see it to believe it. Since most games are going to render around the resolution 720p, the 16:10 aspect ratio and 7.4 inch screen makes sense. It’s small and sharp enough to make 720p look like 1080p, and since that isn’t as intense on the internals it makes for steady performance across most titles.

That leads into actually playing games on this thing. It’s a bit of a chonker, but it’s not uncomfortable to hold. The OLED weighs just under a pound, which can make holding it up in bed for an extended period a bit of a tough task. However, the controllers on the side of the screen have angled curves for you to rest your hands on and get a good clasp on the device. It feels secure, and the controller itself has premium quality sticks and buttons. They don’t feel cheaply made, they’re firm and satisfying to use. My only complaint would be the shoulder buttons. They’re a bit too wide and I feel like they need too much pressure to register an input, which makes games like God of War a bit tough to play. It could just be me fat fingering it too, so don’t take my word as bond for that. Mentioning that I can even play a juggernaut like God of War on a portable device that starts at $350 just blows my mind.

Throughout the time I’ve had the Steam Deck, I’ve been able to tackle more games within my backlog that I either haven’t finished yet or decided to give a go. Since I’ve had my Steam account for over 10 years, I have over 500 games in my library. To get into specifics, the Steam Deck is where I finished heavier titles such as Dying Light 2, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and every game I’ve played from these three and beyond performed at a framerate I’m happy with. Some games like Cyberpunk 2077 do require some graphical sacrifices for a sustainable performance, but I’m just in awe that they even run at all. 

It all makes me take a step back to appreciate much work goes into making experiences like these even possible in the first place. There’s a lot of negativity that surrounds the gaming industry and it’s become increasingly easier to get lost in it. From cancellations of fan favorite events such as E3 and recently Blizzcon, to major companies closing studios and laying off thousands of staff, the constant barrage of gaming bombshells just becomes exhausting. Sometimes we just can’t see much to get excited about because the shadows of all this negativity clouds our vision. However, with a new perspective I was able to just be thankful that this technology exists, and more so that I am fortunate enough to have access to it. It’s all about creating a sense of balance. After seeing another lackluster live-service game in the form of Suicide Squad, we soon after were greeted with the bombastic release of Helldivers 2 that shows how to provide live service properly. Life itself is a series of give and take, so that’s how I’ve been approaching things lately. The only reason that we can feel bad about something is because we’ve felt something good before. It can be sad to hear certain news, but at the same time being able to feel that way about something like a videogame or a videogame studio makes me feel involved somewhere I belong. Ironically enough, it means that videogames make me feel human. It may seem silly to turn the conversation into an existential one, but I don’t know what I would do without my Steam Deck at this point. 

To anyone who’s out there that positively contributes to this industry in any way shape or form, thank you for doing what you’re doing. And thanks, especially, for the Steam Deck.

Matthew Reyes is a Paste intern.

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