A small subset of the Internet jumped with joy and glee when it heard about Playdate — a handheld gaming device, developed by Portland, Oregon-based independent software company Panic, in conjunction with a Swedish engineering company, Teenage Engineering. The device will cost $149 and will ship in early 2020. It is a departure from modern high-resolution attention traps.
It is a throwback to a time when games were valued in terms of fun and joy, and not in things like the time spent in a game, monthly active users, and attention share. Mac-head John Gruber couldn’t contain his enthusiasm, while Anil Dash (of Glitch) was beside himself and wrote a wonderful essay about independent software makers.
Personally, the news carried a more subliminal message. Panic is one of the longest-tenured Apple developers, and they are beloved in the community. That they are starting a gaming platform at the same time Apple is launching a streaming gaming service should tell us everything. There is a growing and wistful yearning for the good old days of technology, when data oligarchs didn’t control most of our waking life.
Whether it is Facebook, Amazon, Google, or Apple, we humans are increasingly being yanked around by our chains. Playdate is a little poke in the eye of the badzillas. It is the rebel yell of the little guys. “That idea,” Anil wrote on his blog, “that maybe things like our gaming devices or the websites we visit should be created by people we know and like, instead of giant faceless companies, seems more essential than ever.”
I don’t think Playdate will become the next Nintendo Switch, but — what the heck — I am buying it anyway. It’s worth keeping the spirit alive.
This first appeared on my May 25, 2019, weekly newsletter. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest.