Taking the Steam Deck to a bar was a mixed experience

One of the main advantages of Steam Deck for many is the fact that it is highly portable. According to Valve, a gaming laptop with the ability to play the best games wherever you want. But is going to a pub or bar as practical as one would like? There are so many factors that make me anxious about using a gaming device in public places. Many of them are complete deal-breakers, such as the need to use voice commands in certain games. If you’re reading from the US, you may have never experienced the horrible cringe that was in those old Nintendo DS commercials, i.e. lady chatting with her imaginary dogs on the bus.

Yes, it won’t be me. I want my public gaming experience to be stealthy, unassuming, and above all, quiet.

When I got my hands on Valve’s popular gaming device, one of my top questions was: “How loud is the Steam Deck really?” If it didn’t drown out the conversations of the people sitting next to me at the bar, I might not have had to hide in my windowless apartment downstairs while playing Elden Ring for the next month.

At the same time, I had visions of being ridiculed from bars and forever being called anti-social for playing video games on Steam Deck instead of yelling at sweaty men kicking balls back and forth on the big screen. There was always the possibility then that I could make new friends by waving my favorite role-playing game in public.

“Even sports fans today are also gamers, maybe everything will not be so bad,” I reassured myself.

So, in the name of science, I took the Steam Deck to the local sports bar to see what would happen… and the place was uplifting. Manchester United fans filled every floor, each waiting to take my seat so they could better see the sticky, mud-covered athletes projected over my head. And I just sat proudly tapping my little portable gaming computer.

As expected, I was followed closely by an elite team of curious friends. There was us, myself and an IT support guy playing on the Nintendo Switch, a former games journalist turned game developer, and a vain PS Vita 2 anticipator, all of whom were excited to try the yet-to-be-released Steam Deck. Everyone picked it up, comparing the weight and ergonomics to their respective preferred platforms, and there was definitely a sense of camaraderie between the oohs and oohs.

Switch fans immediately noticed the nice UI sounds Valve added to the Steam Deck menu systems, while the PS Vita 2 hopeful was impressed by how light it was compared to the power under the hood. Although her main comment was: “It goes well with a pint of cider, but I don’t recommend it for sticky pub tables.”

Which brings one point to the fore: if it had been the laptop I brought to the bar, there would have been far more fear of spilling drinks on my precious equipment. Laptops, despite their name, should generally be used with a desk – even the best gaming laptops can overheat if you turn off the fans. At least with a portable device, I could keep it above my desk and out of the sticky spots.

There will always be someone who will make a fleeting joke when you pull out a gaming laptop at a bar. Oddly enough, there were no comments about the device we were all looking at. The steam deck didn’t seem to draw much attention, and I sense it wasn’t just because the noisy pub vibe managed to drown out the piercing hum of the device’s fan.

It’s just a much thinner form factor than a gaming laptop. People seem to be getting used to portable gaming devices by now, and it’s almost certain that someone will get their hands on one at some point in the evening, be it in the form of a switch or a mobile phone. And, as you probably know, this can make your company feel… left out.

If anything, it’s a social shield that says “I’m here, I showed up, but don’t talk to me because I’ve been trying to beat this boss for weeks.”

Playing the steam deck at a social event proved not to be the most conducive to the social atmosphere.

I think my friends felt a little ignored. Sure, you can use the Steam Deck while playing Worms or get together for a game of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but this device isn’t really designed for socializing. Anyway, it’s a social shield, a little veiling machine that says, “I’m here, I showed up, but don’t talk to me because I’ve been trying to beat this boss for weeks.”

Having said that, when you first introduce it to a group of like-minded people, Steam Deck really creates a sense of togetherness, at least encouraging people with different ideas and interests to come together to discuss something new and exciting.

Of course, this spirit will definitely disappear once everyone gets used to this thing. And while the Steam Deck is quiet and thin enough not to draw public ridicule, it’s definitely not something I would regularly take with me to social gatherings.

But you’ll likely find me rocking out alone to relax on a corner couch at the local bar, keeping to myself just to get out of the house. For that, it’s a pretty impressive little machine.

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