Inexpensive next-gen consoles have made me a gamer again

The Switch Lite and Xbox Series S have brought gaming back to the masses.

I wrote my first budget in the seventh grade; I took a Bic pen to a yellow sticky note and figured out that, if I saved up all my holiday and babysitting money, I could afford to purchase a Wii in three or four months. I counted my pennies and watched YouTube walkthroughs; I joined a forum dedicated to all things Wii and waited for my adult-supervised bank account to add up to that magic $250.

Saving up for my Wii only made me love the slim, white console even more when it showed up. Playing Wii Sports or Super Mario Galaxy always had this extra layer of fulfillment: I could wave my Wii Remote with reckless abandon because I’d purchased it with my savings. I’d made that happen. And the first time in my admittedly short life I was on the cutting edge of technology. Chasing that feeling is a pursuit that’s remained consistent in my life ever since.

Take us back!Portland Press Herald/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

My hunt stalled as I trudged through high school and college. Thrilled as I was with my collection of Nintendo exclusives, many of the new friends I made were obsessed with Call of Duty and Halo and Need for Speed. They played online and made obscene jokes through wireless headsets. But the cutting-edge consoles needed to play these games felt so far out of reach on my non-existent budget (never mind the price of each individual game!) that I just gave up. Instead, I’d once again fire up Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 and Kingdom Hearts on my dusty PlayStation 2.

I lost touch with the gaming industry as a place to find excitement and future-forward joy. I tuned out of larger cultural conversations as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched. Even the launch of Nintendo’s Switch — which should have excited my Gameboy-loving soul — didn’t appeal to me by 2017. Next-gen gaming had soured for me; I couldn’t justify spending $500 (plus tax and the cost of each game) on a console I’d never use, busy as I was writing essays on exhausting British novels.

Game changer — And then Nintendo welcomed to the stage the Switch Lite late last year and flipped my prolonged next-gen exhaustion on its head. It was too good to be true: a console capable of playing the latest Pokemon games for under $200? I let myself sink back into the kind of YouTube videos I’d long since walked away from: walkthroughs, reviews, unboxings, best-of lists. A week later I picked up a yellow Switch Lite from my local GameStop. I haven’t stopped playing it since.

“The most exciting trend in next-gen gaming: it's affordable.”

Next-gen — Back in the gaming fold, I soon found rumors and news of Sony and Microsoft’s own next-gen consoles inescapable. As their first in the new decade, they were expected to be immensely powerful, with top-notch graphics and unimaginably futuristic hardware — everything Nintendo’s consoles never have been. The old itch returned with new vigor. (Working at a tech publication, as you might imagine, only served to fuel this fire.) I resigned myself to watching the console launches unfold from a wallet-safe distance.

Early September brought with it a surprise reveal: Microsoft would be launching a slimmer, disc-less version of its new Xbox. And the Series S wouldn’t just be slightly less expensive than the flagship Series X — it would be a full $200 less. And you could snag one, along with access to more than 100 monthly games, for just $15 each month with no money down. That’s little more than a Netflix subscription.

An embarrassment of riches — The few weeks since I (by some miracle of website-refreshing) managed to find a Series S have finally satisfied the next-gen itch that’s been building in my fingers for a decade and a half. I’m playing not just the latest massive hits but also many of those I missed out on from Xboxes past. And I can do so without emptying my pockets.

This, to me, is the most exciting trend in next-gen gaming: it's affordable. Yes, the Series S is ridiculously fast and quiet; yes, the Switch Lite is the perfect mix of Game Boy nostalgia and modern gaming trends — but the inexpensive entry point of each will be their most important legacy. These consoles set a new precedent that brings the latest hardware to entirely new audiences. Console developers will look to both as examples of doing so with very successful results — and particularly to the Series S for still managing to offer unbelievable processing power.

These consoles are more than the sum of their games and custom chips; they’re signs that gaming can be both accessible and groundbreaking. They’ve allowed me to once again sink into the couch, controller in hand, and forget the world.