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Anxiety and the single-function benefit of the Nintendo Switch

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Jun 26, 2018, 5:00 PM EDT

This morning, I sat down on my bed and grabbed my phone to check the weather. I wanted to know whether it was warm enough to wear shorts. Fifteen minutes later, I put my phone down and finished getting ready. I grabbed my shorts and then realized I’d never actually looked to see what the weather was like. I’d spent a quarter of an hour on my phone aimlessly scrolling through Twitter and other apps without even realizing it, forgetting why I’d picked up the phone in the first place.

That story is a pretty common one, and it happens to each of us on a daily basis. How many times have you picked up your iPad to do one thing and found yourself wasting time on it 20 minutes later? It makes productivity difficult, and it makes relaxing even harder.

I’m not very good at relaxing. It’s something I have to actively work at, which seems weird unless you have a brain like mine. My anxiety means my brain is always switched on. When I’m productive and working, the anxiety quiets to a whisper. That means that when I’m trying to relax, my brain is constantly yelling at me to do something productive. Instead of actually doing the fun thing I’d planned on doing, I end up anxiously thumbing through Twitter, which doesn’t help my brain relax at all.

That’s why the Nintendo Switch has been so revolutionary for my anxiety. When I pick it up, I don’t really have a choice in what I’m going to do. It’s not like when I grab my phone and have so many options — Netflix? Games? — that I end up paralyzed by choice and scrolling Twitter instead. Sure, I have a choice of games on the Switch — I usually keep about four to five loaded on there at any one time. But it’s a single-function device. All I can do on it is play games. And if I’m nowhere near my phone, that’s what I do, and I can trick my mind into relaxing.

Now, there’s a rumor going around that the Switch will be adding both YouTube and Netflix. While I don’t want to deny functionality that others might celebrate, all I can think is “I do not want this.”

legend of zelda breath of the wild

Credit: Capcom

First of all, the battery on the Switch is paltry. Anyone who’s tried to play in portable mode (the only way I play it) with a graphics-intensive game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild knows that the battery will last maybe three hours. There’s a reason I travel with a portable charger (an Anker model, my favorite company for power accessories). Do we really need video apps on a device that already has not-great battery life? (Note that my complaints about battery life aren’t a knock on the Switch — it’s just a reality of portable gaming and a good quality screen.) The only place you’d really want to use these apps is when the device is hooked up to your big screen — and at this point, most televisions come with these apps pre-installed.

But also, and more importantly to me, I like that the Nintendo Switch is single-function. I enjoy the fact that it does one thing incredibly well, to the point where I don’t play games anywhere else. I don’t need to because this single device does the job.

Of course, if Nintendo does introduce that functionality, I can just choose not to install those apps (and with the small amount of onboard storage space, why would I?) But I actually really like the fact that they aren’t an option. That I don’t have to make that choice.

Too often, developers try to pack functionality into a single device, rather than acknowledging we all have phones and tablets that we use and travel with. If I want to watch Netflix, I can do it on my phone or my tablet or my television or my computer or one of a dozen other places I can access the internet.

Now, I don’t know whether Nintendo will actually introduce this feature, and it’s quite possible I’ve written an entire screed about why I don’t want a thing that will never actually see the light of day. But I think it’s important to point out that the Nintendo Switch is a gaming device, first and foremost. I’d much rather see Nintendo put its energy towards improving that experience, and really refining what has made this portable console such a bona fide hit, than add extraneous features the bulk of users aren’t going to take advantage of. The fact that these don’t currently exist on the Switch isn’t a detriment — it’s an advantage. Sometimes, when you have too many choices for entertainment, you deal with it by not making a choice at all. I don’t want that to happen with this console that’s been so beneficial for me.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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