Valve’s Steam Deck turned this 40-year-old dad into a gamer again

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

I grew up playing video games on various gaming systems. I got my first console for Christmas when I was in first grade. It was the original Nintendo Entertainment System that came with Super Mario Bros. My brother and I shared it, and the frustration that came with fighting Bowser and trying to rescue the princess.

After that, the timeline gets a little fuzzy, but eventually we also shared Game Boy, a Nintendo 64, a Sega Genesis, and probably a few other consoles along the way. We rented video games from Blockbuster or the local video store, and sometimes forgot to return them.

Also: How to Build a Gaming PC for $550

As I got older, I bought my own console and spent many hours browsing Halo, Call of Duty, or throwing touchdown passes in the latest Madden.

Eventually, I got married and had children. And it wasn’t until the latter part of that equation that the free time I used to use for gaming faded away, replaced by parental duties and building my career (which meant no longer staying up until at 2 a.m. playing “just one more game”).

Granted, being a parent hasn’t stopped me from buying every new Xbox, build some gaming PCsand even picking up every Nintendo Switch model released in an attempt to reinvigorate my passion for gaming.

Also: Game console showdown: PS5, Xbox and Nintendo compared

But, it never lasted. My Xbox series X is covered in dust. My Switch hasn’t been charged for a few months and my gaming PC is mostly used for traditional computing tasks. I even spent years revising gaming laptops for another post, but that was work not play, and I didn’t pursue anything when I was done with the review.

First impressions of Steam Deck were not good

When Valve announced the steam bridgea portable gaming handheld capable of running PC games, I read a few reviews and immediately considered it a device that wasn’t for me.

Early reviews often talked about having to play with experimental Proton files and adding launch controls in order to even run a game, then further modifications were needed to achieve playable performance.

If I was to, again, try to start playing regularly, I wanted it to be on a device that I didn’t have to strain to run games on. I wanted to click a button and seconds later be in an imaginary world.

Also: The best gaming PCs of the moment

But every few months or weeks I would check the status of the Steam Deck. Valve was releasing a steady stream of updates to Steam OS, its operating system, and it seemed like game developers were slowly adopting and adapting their games.

I play again

And then last November, as my 40th birthday approached, I was asked to create a birthday gift list. I was told to think big. Apparently turning 40 is a big milestone.

One of the last things I put on my list because over Yes indeed option, was a Steam Deck. I wasn’t convinced it was worth spending my money on, but if someone bought it for me, then, well, what was there to lose? Obviously, someone bought it for me (Thanks, Mom!).

Also: How to choose a computer for your child

For the first few weeks, I spent time learning the ropes. I’ve installed Decky and a bunch of plugins, tried running Lutris to access the Epic Store, and even installed Windows on a microSD card to dual boot, allowing Call of Duty to be played.

And while it was all fun, it felt like work. That’s exactly what I didn’t want.

So I went back to basics. I started researching games and asking friends for recommendations.

I downloaded a cheap game – Sniper 4 – and played it in about 12 hours. It was good, not great. Then a friend told me that I had to play God of War. So I waited for it to go on sale and started playing it. I fell in love with the story and the gameplay and spent around 17 hours playing it.

And since then, the list has grown steadily, now including Hogwarts Legacy, The Last of Us Part I, and Spider-Man Miles Morales, to name a few.

Also: The best gaming monitors you can buy

In total, I’ve spent just under 120 hours playing since the first of the year. I bet I didn’t get 120 hours of gameplay for all of 2022 and maybe even 2021 – combined.

I already have plans to play the new Star Wars Jedi: Survivor game (assuming it’s playable) when it comes out later this month. Heck, I’m even planning to top up my OLED switch just so I can play the new Zelda in May. And for the past two weeks I’ve been looking forward to getting a PlayStation 5 just so I can play the new God of War and Last of Us Part 2 – both of which are PlayStation exclusives that probably won’t be coming to PC (and by extension the Steam Deck) anytime soon.

I think the reason the Steam Deck reignited my passion and desire to play again comes down to its portability. I can play in any room of my house, in the hotel or at the airport when I travel, or even in the car when we go on a trip.

Also: Find Raspberry Pi: where to buy the latest model and its alternatives

I don’t have to argue with my kids over the TV or sit alone in a room at a desk to play on my PC. I can be present, while walking past a Clicker in an imaginary world full of zombies. And if someone or something needs my attention, I can pause the entire game with the press of a button and the game waits for me to pick up where I left off whenever I’m ready.

It’s a portable game, always ready. And it’s great. I can’t get enough.

What Valve still needs to fix

While I admire the Steam Deck for rekindling my love for the game, there are a few things I borderline hate.

First and foremost, battery life. It’s horrible. Depending on the settings and the game, the battery can last from just over an hour to around three hours. It’s not enough to play on a cross-country flight without having to plug in – usually to a heavy and powerful device laptop batteryit adds even more weight to my already full backpack.

Also: My 5 essential devices for current business trips

Battery life is so bad I bought and strategically placed several 45W USB-C Wall Adapters And 10ft long USB-C cables near the areas where I usually play.

There were times when I appreciated the short battery life that forced me to take a break, but it wasn’t that often. If Valve were to release a Steam Deck 2 tomorrow with the same battery life, I wouldn’t even consider it.

Another issue I have with the Steam Deck is that it runs on Linux, and because of that not all games are compatible, or if so there is some sort of performance trade-off . One of the most popular games on the planet, Fortnite, is not compatible because of the anti-cheat tool it uses. Call of Duty? Can’t play it. I’m fine with expecting less than 60fps on games, but when the graphics quality is horrible, I draw a line.

Also: I built an NZXT BLD Kit gaming PC with my kids and it was awesome

And if you’re not into Battle Royale games, look no further than the launch of Last of Us Part I to find out how hit and miss game compatibility can be for the Steam Deck. To be clear, The Last of Us launch was bad for PC users in general due to severe performance issues which rendered the game unplayable on full-fledged gaming PCs, let alone the Steam Deck.

Prior to the game’s release, the game was Steam Deck Verified – a way of telling Steam Deck owners that a game should run well on the portable gaming device. After installing it on launch day and starting the story, I discovered that my Steam Deck was crashing after about 90 minutes of play, like clockwork.

Ultimately, the game’s verified status was removed, and the studio behind the game’s port from PlayStation to PC announced that they were focusing on stability improvements and that verification for the Steam Deck was down. bottom of the priority list.

Also: The best lights for streaming on Twitch, YouTube and TikTok

Prioritizing PC performance is an entirely fair approach and the same one I would take if I were in this situation, but it’s also the same approach many game developers have taken when it comes to concerns the Steam Deck. Again, fair, but not ideal.

Devices like this don’t come often

As part of my job, I can test, use and live with all kinds of devices, and I can say with confidence that the steam bridge is different. It is special.

Also: The 7 best computers

It’s by no means perfect, but Valve is definitely onto something here. I very much hope Valve continues to push the boundaries of what a portable gaming device can do and finds a way to improve performance. And battery life, while convincing more game studios by adding Steam Deck support is worth the investment.

Playing games on the Steam Deck has definitely been worth the investment of my time.

Leave a Comment