I’m afraid of flying. But as I head to San Francisco for this year’s Game Developers Conference, I have one reason to be excited: This will be my first flight with the Steam Deck. I downloaded some games to the handheld and happily stowed it in my luggage, right next to my Switch OLED.
That excitement quickly turned to confusion thanks to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
When I arrived at the airport’s security fence, I pulled my laptop out of my pocket as usual. I asked the TSA officer standing there if I had to remove any game consoles. She asked me if I was a Switch and wanted to avoid an unnecessarily complicated explanation, I said yes. She told me to wipe any system, so I did. First, I pulled my Switch out of its soft slide case. Then I took out the Steam Deck’s Relative carrier hulking and drop the monster device right next to the Switch. That’s when I noticed a strange, almost suspicious look on the TSA agent’s face.
“Is that a Switch?”
“No, no, this is a new thing.”
“…It’s too big.”
That last line, with a chuckle of disbelief, has stuck with me since my flight, mostly because she’s right. I can’t help but feel a little self-conscious about starting the device on an airplane, like when I take off my shoes in flight. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to realize how ridiculous gaming hardware really is.
Loud and noisy
For those who have yet to see a Steam Deck upgrade, it’s even more monstrous than you can imagine. Every time I show it to someone, they have the exact same reaction. Physics makes them take a step back as they try to process how one can hold onto it. Yes, those people also often admit that it is much lighter than when actually picking it up.
Its massive size made me feel a bit silly the first time I took it out for a spin. I got used to my Switch game on the New York City subway. It has a relatively discreet design (depending on the color of your Joy-Con) and it doesn’t make any noise. For comparison, the Steam Deck sticks out like a sore thumb. It just feels like a joke, especially when near the phone. It doesn’t help when its vents whirl like a laptop. If you’re using one in public, you’re bound to get some weird looks.
When I boarded the flight, I was all too aware of it – especially since I was in the middle seat. In my heart I know that no one will care (the person next to me watched the flight Gucci houseso who are they going to judge?), but I started thinking about other situations where I felt a bit confused about my preferences due to the noisy hardware design.
I remember bringing my Alienware laptop for work a few years ago. I set it down in a conference room next to everyone else’s MacBooks and suddenly it felt like all eyes were on me. Someone joked that it looked like a spaceship and frankly they weren’t wrong. I have similar moments any time a non-gaming friend comes over and stares at my PS5 trying to figure out what it could be.
It feels like almost every gaming device I own is an accidental statement.
As someone already deeply involved in the world of video games, I don’t think twice about my technology. But as game companies get interested in new mobility, I’m starting to feel like I could be in for a rough couple of years. The industry has always struggled to find the right balance between practical design, power, and “gamer aesthetics.”anything with complex RGB lights). Luckily, the Steam Deck doesn’t fall into the latter category, but some of that tension is palpable. It needs to be big and big if it’s delivering PC quality performance at the moment. It will take a few iterations of devices like this before they shrink to a more natural and unnoticed look.
That TSA agent will not prevent me from taking my Steam Deck in public. No matter how self-conscious I feel about making it public, the joy of playing my PC games on the go outweighs the odd looks. Ultimately, I’ll be happy to upgrade to a more discreet Steam Deck 2, but I’ll just need to stock up on quick responses in the meantime if I want to enjoy portability Elden Ring in peace.