I left my PSP for dead several times.
The best thing I can say about it is that I did that more than once. My PlayStation Portable always had a way of rising from whatever grave I lost it in. For six years, it's been coming back.
At last, it seems, it's finally done. This is farewell. The PSP era appears to be in sunset. For me, it's over.
I got my first PSP in 2005. Sony sent it to me, as they tended to with hardware they wanted me to cover. It was black. I kept it in a soft slip-on case. I played Lumines—that sideways rave-like Tetris—on it a lot.
For patches of time, the PSP was the best gaming machine I had. Those patches could all be named by the game that obsessed me for the moment: Patapon a fixation of a few Christmas vacations ago; Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, a game I often set up to play on its own, as it sent soldiers I recruited in the game into the ether, so they could battle online and then, hours or days later, report their progress back to me; Half Minute Hero, the frenzied Japanese role-playing game spoof I'd suffered so many tedious JRPGs in order to appreciate.
When I wasn't playing my PSP—for months at a time—it was losing electricity. And forgetting what day and time it was. And falling well out of step with the proper firmware version of the moment.
My definitive PSP experience involved 1) figuring out where in the world I last put it, 2) deducing that it was out of power, 3) plugging it in, 4) realizing it needed to have its calendar and clock re-set yet again.
The only time I hated my PSP was when I took it on the subway, popped in a new game, and found out the game wouldn't play unless the firmware was updated. The firmware wasn't on the game's disc, of course. Or was it and the problem was that the machine had to be plugged in to update? My memory on this is fuzzy. Either way, my PSP would temporarily become as good a game machine as a brick. That, too, was a defining, recurring PSP experience.
Sony wouldn't tell you that the PSP is dead. I'm sure they're proud of it, even if it didn't do the impossible and become the world's favorite gaming portable. They're still making PSPs and selling them in the U.S. for $130, a spokesperson told me this week: "Teen and tween consumers in particular are a key audience for PSP at this stage in its lifecycle, offering a great way for younger gamers to experience exclusive PlayStation franchises for the first time, such as LittleBigPlanet, Ratchet & Clank, and MotorStorm."
Signature PSP Sound 1: The disc drive.
Sony's handheld machine, once targeted at older gamers who might want to graduate from Game Boys is now for game boys and girls.
As a figure in various gaming marketing wars, the PSP served several roles. First, it was the newest threat to Nintendo's dominance in handheld gaming, the more powerful, more initially impressive challenger to the Nintendo DS. It was the test device for console-style gaming on the go. Eventually it was the dogged survivor and then the reviver, the Monster Hunter-powered dominant game machine—of any size—in Japan.
For me, the PSP was no console warrior. It was just a pleasant diversion, a welcome extra platform on which to play games. It faded from my life when games stopped coming out for it. For my tastes, they stopped coming out at least a year ago. So few games have come out for the machine since.
The PSP changed a few things in my gaming life. It was the first portable gaming machine I had that could contain more than one game in it. Not being a pirate or a consumer of compilation games, I was used to picking one game, putting it in a machine, and sticking with it for the duration of my journey. Maybe I'd bag a couple more games, but swapping them in and out of the drive wasn't the same as having a few saved on it.
When they started selling downloadable games for PSP, I bought them. I felt, corny as it sounds, empowered to be able to save a bunch of games to one machine and then choose which games to play, zipping in and out of a bunch in one subway ride. I now expect that from any handheld gaming device I use, and all of them deliver. It wasn't Apple that turned me into a fan of downloadable games. It wasn't the PC. It was the PSP.
The PSP was also the first gaming hardware I had that felt organic. Like the Xbox 360, which was released several months after in in the United States, it was not the same machine from year to year. Sony kept updating its firmware. It became a bad joke and a bad sign of the company's race against pirates and homebrew developers. People wanted to crack the machine. Sony wanted to lock it up. No one won.
Signature PSP Sound 2: The hatch.
With many of the firmware updates came improvements, many of them minuscule, but, for a gamer, still fetishistically fascinating. There was the update that added RSS, the update that let me unplug an updating PSP and the update that let me add a radio.
The PSP was the first gaming system from which I began to expect ongoing, free evolution—evolution that could happen in about 15 minutes. I guess that made the PSP a Pokemon, of sorts. I now expect all of my game consoles to keep evolving through software updates, and all of them deliver (well, the Wii barely does, but hey, it'll get its eulogy soon enough).
The PSP will soon be replaced by the PlayStation Vita, which is already out in Japan and will be on sale in North America, Europe and Australia in February. The PSP's software line-up is close to a halt. GameStop only lists five upcoming PSP games. The end is very close.
Maybe the PSP was supposed to dethrone Nintendo. Maybe I wasn't supposed to lose the thing to temporary irrelevance so much. But for more than a half-decade, my PSP did just fine. It had a good run. It changed what I expect from a gaming machine, and it played a few games that are now all-time favorites.
Well done, PSP. Rest well, and don't worry. I won't ask you to remember the day again. (Unless I finally play Patapon 3)
P.S. I have no idea where you are, dear PSP! I hope you're warm.
(Top photo illustration by Michael Fahey)