I’ve had access to Undertale on Steam for some time now, and have probably started three or four new saves of the game during the pandemic. Each time I start it up, I barely scrape the edge of the first checkpoint before quitting. But last week, I realized the game was also available on the Nintendo Switch at a price that I could squeeze into my budget. I bought the game and booted it up, thinking that I had spent $15 in worse ways if my fifth attempt at the game ended just as quickly as the last four. Two days later, I had beaten the game and become an Undertale fanatic.
The game isn’t just good: it’s great. It completely blew away my expectations, managing to keep me invested emotionally while also getting a real laugh or two out of me. It was such a positive experience, that I couldn’t help but wonder what had stopped me from playing the game sooner. After some thought, it hit me: I hadn’t been putting off playing Undertale because I didn’t like the first five minutes of it, but rather because playing it on my PC didn’t feel like fun—it felt like work. It’s hard to admit, but my gaming PC has become the bad screen in my life.
While I’d like to say this transition was somehow avoidable, the reality is that it wasn’t. Outside of my gaming PC, my only other option for remote learning and work was an old laptop that sometimes manages to boot up if the stars are aligned correctly. I tried doing school and work on the laptop, but it didn’t make much sense to wait 10 minutes for the chance of it turning on when I could boot up my PC in a few seconds. Eventually, I shelved the laptop for good.
Eight months into the pandemic, this has led to a daily routine of sitting in front of my computer from nine to five, then being too tired of the thing to even entertain the idea of playing a game on it. Considering that the PC was my main method of playing games, this led to me hardly ever playing games. On rare occasions I would browse my steam library, fully intending to play a game. After 10 minutes, the drive to play would subside and I would wind up on Twitter for the rest of the night.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but playing Undertale on Switch was exactly what I needed to reinvigorate my interest in videogames. The act of physically removing myself from my desk and plunking down on the couch drew me out of my work mindset completely. There’s no way for school or work to encroach onto a Switch (yet), and I was able to play a game all the way through without it feeling like labor. Until the pandemic subsides, I don’t think my computer is going to be the primary way I get my gaming fix in.
Of course not everyone is able to pick up another console to play games when the current one isn’t working, and I’m very fortunate to have both a gaming PC and Switch. But now that my computer has become a sanctioned work area in my head, I feel as though the intrusion of work into my home is permanent. Even if in the future I am able to take a laptop out to a library or work in an office, I can’t shake the feeling that PC gaming has been altered in a way that I can’t salvage.
For now, I’m secure in the knowledge that handheld consoles are still doing the trick for me. After beating Undertale, I dug out my PS Vita and loaded up the first Final Fantasy onto it. It’s a longer game than Undertale, but it’s managed to hold my interest for the first few hours to the point where even while writing this, I’m eager to hop off my computer and onto the couch to play some more.
Nicolas Perez is an editorial intern at Paste and opinion co-editor for New University. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez__.