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Why I Don’t Want a Playdate

So, you might have heard about Playdate, since the internet is buzzing about it right now. It’s an upcoming gaming handheld, but unusual in several ways.

It’s got a 2.7 inch monochrome screen with a 400x240 resolution. It’s got a speaker and is wifi capable. And its inputs are a d-pad, two buttons, and a crank. Like, the kind you turn.

It’s priced at $149, which includes twelve games that will be released one per week and delivered over wifi. The games are intended to be surprises, and only one has been teased so far: Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure which apparently has you using the crank to control time and move a robot through his day. This game is by Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi; a few other developers are confirmed including Bennett Foddy, Zach Gage, and Shaun Inman. These twelve games are being referred to as “Season One”, so if the Playdate sells well perhaps there will be another batch of games later on.

A lot of people are excited about the Playdate, and I’m sure they’ll have a good time with it and that’s great. I’m very much a proponent of letting people enjoy things. But here’s why I, personally, am not excited about the Playdate:

Its value isn’t as a games console. It’s as membership in an exclusive club.

A lot about the Playdate makes it clear that it’s not for a mainstream audience. Its tiny black-and-white screen and few-button idiosyncratic controls make it very limited in today’s gaming landscape - you can’t exactly put Fortnite on this thing. You could barely put Tetris on it. And while the $149 price tag is lower than most game systems, most game systems will have more than twelve games available and will tell you what games will be on it. The Playdate is for people who want and can afford to pay $149 for a series of surprises based only on the street cred of a few attached names. If you don’t know who Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage are, the Playdate is not for you.

The Playdate is for people who want to be part of the exclusive group of Playdate owners and have the shared exclusive experience over the few months of “Season One” of game releases. And that’s okay, but to me it feels like a waste of potential.

There’s definitely room for both mass market games and more experimental fare, but there’s no reason the experiments have to have such a high barrier to entry. Compare Playdate to Meditations, a compilation of short games for every day of the year made by over 350 developers. There’s exactly one game available each day, again creating an experience for people to be a part of over time - but this one is actually designed to be shared. It’s a free download for Mac or Windows, not a $150 piece of proprietary and likely otherwise useless hardware.

Playdate creates a shared experience in an inherently exclusionary way, and that bothers me. I feel like it discards the great strength and potential for inclusiveness that modern games and the internet enable and for which so many people are fighting. It doesn’t hurt me that this thing exists, and ultimately I’m glad that the people who will enjoy it will enjoy it. But I can’t help but wish that the folks involved wanted to create shared experiences in a more inclusive way.