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Taking the Steam Deck to a bar was a mixed experience

One of the main selling points of the Steam Deck for many is the fact that it’s super portable. A gaming handheld with the power to play the best games wherever you want, Valve said. But is it really as convenient to take to a pub or bar as one would like?

There are so many factors that make me anxious to use a gaming device in public. Many of them are real deal breakers, like the need to use voice commands in some games. If you’re reading from the United States, you may never have been subjected to the awful cringe that those old Nintendo DS commercials were, i.e. a lady chatting with her dogs imaginaries on the bus.

Yeah, it won’t be me. I want my public gaming experience to be secretive, unassuming, and most importantly: quiet.

When I got my hands on Valve’s sought-after gaming handheld, one of my main questions was “How loud is the Steam Deck, really?” If that didn’t cover the conversations of people sitting next to me at a bar, maybe I wouldn’t have to hide in my windowless ground-floor apartment to play Elden Ring next month.

At the same time, I had visions of being laughed at in bars and forever labeled antisocial for playing video games on the Steam Deck, rather than screaming at sweaty men kicking balls back and forth on the big screen. Then there was always the possibility that I was able to make new friends by wielding my favorite RPG in public.

“Even athletes are also players today, maybe it won’t be so bad,” I reassured myself.

So, in the name of science, I took the Steam Deck to a local sports bar to see what would happen… and the place was uprising. Manchester United fans littered the floors, each waiting to claim my seat for a better view of the sweaty, mud-covered athletes hurled above my head. And I sat proudly tapping away at my little portable gaming PC.

Me and my friends in a bar with the Steam Deck

(Image credit: future)

As expected, I was followed closely by an elite team of curious friends. There we were, myself and a Nintendo Switch-playing IT support tech, a former games journalist turned game developer, and a futile PS Vita 2 anticipator, all excited to get a taste of the as-yet-unreleased Steam Deck. Everyone picked it up, comparing the weight and ergonomics to their respective favorite rigs, and between the “oohs” and “ahs” there was definitely a sense of camaraderie.

The Switch-liker immediately noticed the sweet UI sounds with which Valve complemented the Steam Deck’s menu systems, while the PS Vita 2 hopeful was impressed with how light it offered compared to power under the hood. Although his main comment was, “It goes well with a pint of cider, but I wouldn’t recommend it for sticky pub tables.”

Which brings a point to the fore: if it was a laptop that I had brought to the bar, there would be a lot more fear of spilling drinks on my precious equipment. Laptops, despite their name, generally have to be used with a table – even the best gaming laptops can overheat if you choke the fans. At least with a handheld I could keep it off the table and away from sticky spills.

There’s always someone cracking a passing joke when you pull out a gaming laptop in a bar, too. Oddly enough, no comments came on the device as we were all speechless. The Steam Deck didn’t seem to get as much attention, and I suspect it wasn’t just because the noisy atmosphere of the pub managed to drown out the high-pitched hum of the unit’s fan.

It’s just a much more subtle form factor than a gaming laptop. People seem to be used to portable gaming devices by now, and it’s almost certain that someone will release one at some point in the evening. , whether in the form of a switch or his mobile phone. And as you probably know, your business can feel… left out.

Steam Deck with an image of Elden Ring overlaid on screen

(Image credit: Future, FromSoftware)

It’s a social shield if there ever was one, saying, “I’m here, I showed up, but don’t talk to me because I’ve been trying to defeat this boss for weeks.”

Playing on a Steam Deck at a social gathering proved not to be the most conducive to a communal atmosphere.

I think my friends felt a little ignored. Sure, you can pass the Steam Deck around while playing Worms, or squeeze together for a game of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but it’s not really a device meant for socializing. It’s a social shield if there ever was one, a little veiling machine that says, “I’m here, I’ve introduced myself, but don’t talk to me because I’ve been trying to defeat this boss for weeks.”

That said, when you first introduce it to a group of like-minded nerds, the Steam Deck manages to create a sense of unity, at least by encouraging people with different ideals and interests to come together to discuss something new and fascinating.

Of course, that spirit is sure to dissipate once everyone gets used to it. And while the Steam Deck is quiet and subtle enough not to warrant public ridicule, it’s certainly not something I would regularly bring to social gatherings.

But you’ll probably find me swinging alone to relax on the corner sofa at the local bar, keeping myself to myself, just as a way out of the house, though. For that, it’s a pretty spectacular little machine.

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement