Back to Basics: Why I Find Joy Playing My Ageing PlayStation 2
Rediscovering the simple pleasures of disconnection
Each time I’ve moved from house to house, I’ve lost or sold a lot of my gaming collection. Each time I’d justify their absence, albeit with some sadness, for a multitude of reasons. I’m too old now, we need the money, it’s all taking up too much space, or they'd be better off with someone else. These reasons have varying degrees of truth, but there will forever be things I just can’t let go of.
My PlayStation 2 is one of those inanimate objects I cherish more than most others. It’s by no means rare. It's nothing out of the ordinary in the context of hyper-inflated retro gaming prices nowadays, but it’s special to me. It’s the gateway to Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy, Silent Hill…I could go on, but I suspect if you’re reading this, you’re likely familiar with the PlayStation 2's rather solid line up.
Let’s not forget that it’s backward compatible with the original PlayStation’s extensive library too. It really is a taste of paradise; a wonderful assemblage of Sony's early vision before the difficult third act.
Admittedly, my PlayStation 2 has spent most of its recent life in an unmarked, unassuming cardboard box containing other objects of virtue I’ve bought or been gifted with throughout my life (old photos, records, and tiny trinkets brought back from warmer European climes). The signs of wear and tear and disintegration suggest years passed rather than months. But everything I need to boot my old PlayStation 2 is there, though truthfully, I had little to no confidence that it would indeed boot.
I lugged everything I needed into the house, my children looking on, puzzled, wondering what this alien device was. Monolithic in frame, it's a design that's equally of its time, and from the distant future. "This is what your old man used to play games on," I said - the expression on their face changing from trepidation to mild disbelief.
Was that so hard to believe? Apparently so, as they let out a little gasp at the physical nature of plugging in wired controllers and inserting small pieces of rectangular plastic to save progress. "How does it connect to the internet?" the smallest asked. "Well, it mostly doesn't. At least it certainly doesn't now." Stunned silence. For the newest generations, it's inconceivable that a device wouldn't permanently connect to the world outside.
We have lift off?
Wires connected, game inserted - here we go - will this work?
As if by magic, plugging the power cord in showed faint sights of life - the tiny red standby light emanated, ready to be pressed. And so I did. Faint signs of life, now showing promise, illuminated further still as the ethereal bootup sequence so fondly remembered by gamers worldwide saturated the screen. Electrons now dancing through both manufactured pathways and my own organic synapses.
The Emotion Engine inhaled, then exhaled.
I needed a moment to take this all in. The experience thus far of trying to get going was enough to fire up long-forgotten memories forged deep within. The sound of cosmic winds - and little else - whispered from our television speakers. This was a minimalistic aesthetic choice, even if it was never considered as such in the early 2000s. Most important of all, however, was the feeling that this experience is from an era that didn’t mandate hyperconnectivity; the screen in front of me was evidence of that.
Now, it was I that was taken aback at how quaint this moment was - not just my kids. The interface is distinctly bare-bones, offering little more than space between reality and the gaming world. I find this humorous, mostly because it’s difficult to articulate just how cutting-edge this machine was at launch. It now appears a former shadow of its own hype. A mere relic, perhaps a shell of its former glory, but not for long.
One experience at a time
On placing a game in the system, my perspective shifts downward into the macrocosm, ready to experience one game at a time. I didn’t know it then, but a sort of PlayStation 2 renaissance was about to begin in my house, and it was exciting.
The elation and joy I felt at being able to relive my childhood through Ridge Racer V, Gran Turismo 3, and Final Fantasy X again was a glorious feeling. Feelings of mostly joy with the odd sliver of melancholy, as I was reminded not only of the games I loved dearly but what my life was mostly about at that time. That's the thing with nostalgia, it can often be a bittersweet experience.
Regardless, there is just something so wonderful about connecting up old hardware and having it work just as it did when it was last switched off. As such, I’ve become a bit vocal on Twitter about a few things in regard to gaming from the sixth generation and before. I’m mostly fascinated with the general offering of simplicity and lack of an always-connected interface.
Sharing this feeling on Twitter, I was delighted to see that so many folks agreed. I went on to share, “Hooking up the PS2 feels like therapy at this point. It's the gaming equivalent of disconnecting from a connected world and going for a walk in the woods. No notifications, no massive updates, minimal UI, one wholly singular experience at a time.”
Call it an epiphany or a moment of clarity, but it dawned on me that we seemingly can’t escape connectivity. Our phone, our TV, our modern game consoles are connected to the highest degree, all of the time. Notifications, reminders, updates, distractions, multitasking, and even more updates. We’re connected in a connected world, and we seemingly have to go to more and more drastic means to avoid that.
Reject modernity? Occasionally, sure
We’re moving towards a world in which a gamer born after, say, 2010 won’t have experienced gaming without achievements or trophies. They won’t have known the simple pleasure of popping in Final Fantasy X and and having the game present itself as the only experience. No additional services or distractions. It's the gaming equivalent to opening up a book, or listening to a dusty vinyl record. One to be sipped and savoured - to be adored and to vulnerable to.
Better still, it really is the gaming equivalent of embracing nature and all the glory it offers in its quiet reality. I really like that. I implore people to explore this quiet reality; to occasionally punctuate the chaos that is all too prominent now. A moment to take stock, to reframe themselves, and a moment to beat Omega Weapon from Final Fantasy X again. Or perhaps for the first time.
I’m by no means suggesting that we reject modernity. I love my PlayStation 5, and so far, I've had nothing but great experiences with it. It's as much of a part of my gaming life as earlier PlayStations were. But I am suggesting that disconnecting and reconnecting with consoles from generations gone by is a pallet cleanser of sorts.
It’s a no-nonsense, fat-free, approach to gaming. A streamlined, accessible experience that never really gets any more complicated than taking the disc out of its case, and placing it in the system.
As I finish writing this, it's a Friday, and the working week is drawing to a close. My wife, who also appreciates the classics, sent me a message suggesting we hook up the PS2 tonight, rather than the PS5.
I'm excited because tonight is Timesplitters night. Let's pretend it's 2001 all over again, if only for a little bit.
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