Before I talk about theI want to talk about the time I interviewed The Big Show.
About a decade ago, in another lifetime, I interviewed The Big Show, a professional wrestler who, to this day, works with the WWE.
True to his name, The Big Show is big. Ridiculously big. He’s billed at 7 feet tall and weighs about 400 pounds. As I waited in a hotel suite for The Big Show to arrive, I tried to mentally prepare myself for the sheer scale of the human being about to blot my horizon.
The mental prep didn’t work. Not even close. The Big Show walked in. My eyes widened. I audibly gasped when he took my tiny hand and shook it with a right paw the size of a large dinner plate.
That’s sorta how I felt when I first came face to face with ain the wild. No matter how prepared I was, no matter how many photos I’d seen for scale, the size of this monstrosity of a console still took me utterly and completely by surprise.
I was at Sony’s offices in Australia when I first saw it, engaged in small talk with a Sony employee. I caught it in my peripheral vision. I started vibrating; completely lost focus.
“Is that it?”
“No… It can’t be.”
“There’s no way it’s that big.”
Despite seeing it in photos, despite preparing myself, I was honestly, sincerely shocked.
So shocked that, when I finally got a PlayStation 5 in the confines of my own home, I felt compelled to just… take pictures of it next to everyday objects. As though my primitive brain had to work through and digest its scale. By placing it in the context of a banana or a giant pot plant.
Ever since I got my PS5, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. Great games,. But I’ve also been thinking about it. Trying to make sense of why smart Sony people (I’m assuming) decided to make the console look like this.
Because, beyond the sheer ungodly size of the thing, the PS5 is simply a strange object to look at, let alone try to understand. Consumer devices, particularly consoles, can usually be placed in the scheme of a broader design aesthetic. Maybe they look a little like the TVs they are connected to? Or the living rooms they were designed to be placed in?
Consoles tend to be connected directly to the design zeitgeist or push back against it in some creative way. The Microsoft‘s new focus on services like Game Pass. In a future where consoles may not even exist, the Xbox Series X might just be the last step. It’s designed to look like a last step., for example, is a console designed to disappear, marching in time with
The Nintendo GameCube on the other hand, released in 2001, was a console that pushed back. A playful looking toy of a device, designed in direct opposition to sleek black boxes like the Xbox and the PlayStation 2. Consoles designed to hide beneath TVs. All three devices were tethered to one another whether they liked it or not and the design cues reflected that.
The PlayStation 5 is different. The PlayStation 5 arrived untethered to anything on Earth in 2020: Other consoles, tech devices, any kind of common sense.
The PlayStation 5’s design is so confounding I can’t decide whether it’s a deliberate Lynchian parody of our basest nostalgic impulses or — way more likely — the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. In the past Sony has pushed the boundaries of console design with a sort of avant-garde, just-beyond-the-future sensibility. Its consoles have flirted with allure and mystery. This time around, they’ve created something that looks like a gigantic, geriatric ISP router or an obnoxious PC gaming laptop.
It has to be deliberate, right? Surely.
I can’t make sense of it from any possible frame of reference. The PlayStation 5 is strange to look at but doesn’t even come close to some postmodern “weird for the sake of weird” ideal. It’s undoubtedly connected to objects we’ve seen before, in our recent past. In a strange way the PS5 is almost normal. Like, bad normal. Banal normal. Like something a teenage boy would have drawn in 2007 normal.
And the PS5 isn’t a “Homer” either. It’s not a busted up, bloated object that’s clearly the result of bad taste, bad ideas and poor design squished into one ugly box. If you squint, the PS5 is sort of nice to look at if you don’t think about it too hard, but it aged decades the second I took it out of the box.
Its closest design relative is probably the Xbox 360, a console that came out in 2005 and is probably too young to evoke any sort of nostalgia. A console that started out white and was eventually stained cream by the harsh ravages of time. The PS5, I suspect, will suffer the same fate. This thing is already sort of weird and uglier. In two or three years, you’ll be putting a paper bag over its head.
It feels brittle, heavy and doesn’t really belong in my house. And at this point I’m struggling to understand how the PS5 could fit in any house.
I love the PS5. I love what it does. I love Demon’s Souls, I love Spider-Man: Miles Morales, I love Astro’s Playroom. More than anything I love its new DualSense controller with its tactile, vibrant feedback and it’s responsive adaptive triggers.
But the best thing I can say about the PlayStation 5 as a physical object is that it — thank the lord —, where it can be mercifully hidden from human eyes.