PlayStation entered the portable market, pitting itself directly against Nintendo with the PlayStation Portable in 2004. I largely ignored the console. I recall my brother’s friend having one and bringing it over, showing off Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. It was really intriguing and downright cool that we were essentially seeing GTA III in someone’s hands, a game that just a few years earlier we had bought a PS2 specifically to play. Beyond that experience and seeing the overload of UMDs in retail stores, the PSP became a distant memory for me.

In 2011, a few weeks into owning a PlayStation 3 for the first time, I grabbed a copy of the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. In it, details of PlayStation’s Next Generation Portable spilled out in the center of the book. The NGP had previously been announced at a press conference in January but I hadn’t paid much attention to any of the details. Despite my ignorance, what was highlighted in the magazine piqued my interest significantly. Suddenly, the brand new console that I had been enjoying could be carried in my hands. Similar to that old PSP introduction, the NGP  was promising me the option of taking my PlayStation 3 on the go and seemed like the most futuristic, advanced piece of mobile hardware I could conceive.

I carried that magazine around with me, to and from work, reviewing the same thing for myself or showing it to anyone who would care in the slightest. Much like all things we anticipate, I built it up higher and higher until to me, it was the greatest thing I would ever own. I could see myself playing it everywhere. I imagined myself at school, playing it on campus. I pictured myself on a trip somewhere, playing it on a plane thousands of miles in the air. I was so excited at the possibilities. My brother and I sent any information we could come across to one another and we kept a countdown to E3 running between us.

PlayStation’s E3 press conference that year was everything we imagined it to be. We learned that the NGP was the PlayStation Vita. We got in-depth looks at new titles and an overview of other titles to expect on the platform. We walked away from the presentation with expectations at an all-time high and we spent the next few months during the countdown to release rewatching the E3 footage at least once a week. For the first time in years, my brother and I were connecting on that level again, bonding over a mutual excitement for games and dreaming of the ways to play them together.

The console finally became available for preorder later that fall, and I promptly signed up for Amazon to bring me one on launch day. It meant that I’d miss the excitement of waiting in line the night before, but that I’d have months of anticipation knowing that my future was secure, at least in a way. These months were when I started dating my girlfriend and when you first start sharing all of those things that make you, you.

As we took turns arguing over the better albums and films, we shared our favorite comics and the things we were most excited about. Naturally, the PS Vita was among the list of what I would share. We weren’t living together at the time, but we’d swap nights crashing at one another’s houses, more often than not at mine. I usually found myself in the wee hours of the night, as she slept, rewatching the E3 conference or looping any videos I could find on the thing. Not that our entire relationship was built around this handheld, but there’s a lot of similar feelings that were swirling at the time surrounding excitement, curiosity, and joy.

Then came the day when it finally arrived. I sat in my bedroom with the blinds drawn, playing something on my PlayStation 3 as I kept my eyes affixed on the street all day long. It wasn’t until 4:00 PM when the UPS man finally parked out front and before he could put on the parking brake I was beside him. I barely remember signing or saying hello but within a minute I was back at my bedside ripping apart the cardboard from Amazon and unearthing the beauty within. This year-long countdown had come to an end at this very moment, all waiting for me inside of this slim, blue box.

I still remember the setup process as I went through the console’s initial boot sequence and watched the introductory videos. It felt like forever but forever was okay. I quickly plugged it into my PS3 and began transferring my purchased titles that I had already downloaded earlier that day. Time moved slowly for me but very quickly around me. I spent days inside of that system, getting to know everything about it and finally feeling how comfortable it was to hold. Prior to release, I wouldn’t even touch it at demo stations. I’d have friends describe it to me instead so that my experience was completely organic. What felt like a week was only a few short hours- suddenly 4:00 PM was a memory and it was 10:00 PM that evening.

It was later this year that I decided to go back to school, and I enrolled in classes for the fall semester. I was working full time and just added a full time school schedule to the mix. We mustn’t forget the fact that I was delivering pizzas and usually working until at least midnight. While I tried to balance my class schedule with work and give myself enough time to leave class and get to work, I often had to take an early class that would leave a big gap in my afternoon. I lived too far away to return home and I had to stay on campus for the next class. It was suddenly easy to survive that time. No, not with homework.

I began to discover the wealth of games that I had skipped because of my ignorance of the PSP. I learned about fantastic franchises like Patapon and I dove deeper into games that I otherwise ignored like you know, the entire Final Fantasy series. For me, I learned a new way to learn while at school. I stopped caring about what was being taught in the class, the material itself, and instead focused on me. I didn’t care if I left with a C, as long as I felt I learned something about myself or life or something. So, I used my journalism class to learn how to write better profiles, deeper stories, and just generally become a better writer. I didn’t care about the assignments per se, as long as I felt that I was getting something special for me. My literature courses became not a way for me to analyze old poems and novels, but an exercise in summary, something I could apply to reviewing a video game. I kept going and I kept at it because I was getting something for me. I was learning how to use my brain differently, better. And all the while I was spending my time between classes and work on my Vita.

My eagerness to write had already begun a year prior, when I started a little blog that I told no one about. Now, after using my time driving to and from school and driving for work to listen to podcasts; using my time in between classes learning about video games; and using my time in class to practice the skills I would need to write these sentences, I was ready to begin what would eventually become this website.

I’d spend the next two years refining everything and making it better than it was before. I kept exploring new genres in games and trying out new writing styles. I kept pushing myself to think differently. It was all of this that spilled out during interviews for a new opportunity. In the end, I found myself leaving pizza delivery behind and starting the next step on my journey.

A few months into my new role, I’d have a conversation with a kid about my podcast and website. We became PlayStation friends and he then noticed some familiar names on my friend’s list. Realizing we had a truer, deeper connection beyond just a mutual adoration for video games, that kid became the third arm of this website and a true friend.

After a year in the role, I’d get the chance to fly to California for a week. The first thing I did when we were up in the air and able to open up our bags and play with devices was lift the Vita from its case and play Spelunky. It had been over three years since the first rumblings of this thing and I was finally thousands of feet above the ground playing my favorite video games in my hands. I used my time wisely while I was out there, but a few nights in bed were spent drifting off with the Vita rested in my palms.

It’s sitting just beside my computer while I write this, right now. My desk is littered with various handheld consoles, from the Game Boy Pocket up through the PSP Go and New Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo Switch is just over a week away and is seemingly taking the concept of the Vita to the next level. Yet still, there’s something about this machine that still resonates with me and always will.

I’m writing this at my desk, in my office, in a house that my girlfriend and I bought. The same girlfriend that I met while I was counting down the minutes until I’d have a PlayStation Vita. I can hear one of our two dogs snoring in the other room, waiting for me to come to bed. I will, and I should go to sleep because it’s late. But I have to play something. I don’t know if I’ll keep going through the World of Ruin in Final Fantasy VI. I’m not sure if I’ll try to beat my old high score in Super Stardust Delta. I could bounce my way through one of Shuhei Yoshida’s levels in Sound Shapes. Or I could fall asleep while I browse the PlayStation Store for something new.

So much of my life has changed in five years. So much of me has changed in five years. Today, five years ago was the beginning of the road that got me here. It started with hope within life, that would form into trust within myself. I sit here more confident and self-aware, infinitely happier than I was and doing so much more than I ever could have imagined. I’ve been able to grow and learn, and to do it all with someone I love as they transformed into the person I see today. So much of that story began five years ago and so much of it ties back to those moments where I began to pivot thanks to a renewed interest in video games, in this world, in life.

Posted by Joe Dix

Joe is the creator of The Free Cheese. He eats a lot of pizza and takes thousands of pictures of his pugs Oswald and Earl every day.

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