One size doesn’t fit all in handheld gaming | Custom PC #224

Tracy King loves the idea of the Steam Deck, but is concerned about its size. In the latest issue of Custom PC, she checks out Valve’s customisable solution for handheld gamers.

I was a PC kid rather than a console kid, but I remember the early handheld wars well. I was 16, doing a BTEC in computer programming, poor as can be and intrigued by the Sega Game Gear. That was until a fellow student with rich parents brought one in, and I realised it was comically large for the tiny screen and kind of unwieldy. I went back home to my ancient creaking Amstrad 464 gratefully, while he burned through countless batteries and only two games.

Sega Game Gear handheld
Did you have a Sega Game Gear?

But these days I spend a lot of time on handheld games, because schlepping a PC or gaming laptop around on the bus requires more strength, security and chutzpah than I possess. While Nintendo has allowed more variety on the Switch store, including some truly excellent indie games (I spent over a hundred hours on Terry Cavanagh’s Dicey Dungeons, mainly because my sister bet me I couldn’t get all the achievements by Christmas, which I absolutely did and she absolutely laughed at me), it’s still a limited platform. Really, what I’ve always wanted is a handheld PC and it’s very nice of technology to get to the point where I can be accommodated. 

Terry Cavanagh’s Dicey Dungeons
Terry Cavanagh’s Dicey Dungeons

But. There’s always a but and it’s (hee hee) a big but. The Steam Deck is here, and it’s a major weapon. I don’t mean this ‘in the increasingly competitive handheld gaming market’ sense (its impact in that regard remains to be seen), I mean you could easily kill someone with this thing. It’s massive. It’s at least a third bigger and heavier than the Switch OLED – it’s the Jack Reacher of handheld gaming devices – not the Tom Cruise one, the new one where he crushes a mobile phone in his bare hand. 

It’s a difficult trade-off. Making it smaller and lighter, even if that were possible, would increase costs way beyond a reasonable launch price. Affordability is as much part of accessibility as ergonomics. But it’s also the case that a lot of people will struggle to use it for long periods. It’s awkward, because what gamer wants to hold up their statistically smaller hand and say ‘yo, this doesn’t fit actually’? It’s an invitation for ridicule and even abuse. But I’ll take the risk, because it needs saying. 

There’s a history in tech design of using an average male hand span and grip strength to mean average person, which of course is greater than the average female. A few years ago, after experiencing hand pain while using a gaming mouse, I looked into the design and testing of various console and PC controllers and discovered that in most cases they simply don’t test a variety of hand sizes. As it is, the Steam Deck is too heavy for me to hold comfortably for long, and my thumb span isn’t sufficient for the button placement. 

steam deck handheld
Steam Deck image via GeekWire

However, Valve isn’t Nintendo or Sony. Valve knows full well that PC gamers want to customise and individualise, so it’s released all the CAD files for the Steam Deck, so anyone with a 3D printer can make their own dock, case or any other mod they fancy. 

Although this could be the excuse I’ve needed to buy a 3D printer, Valve has also invited contact from those looking to 3D print for the commercial market. 

This is a really great compromise for the one-size-won’t-fit-all problem, and those of us without Jack Reacher proportions are sure to find it handy.

Get Custom PC #224 NOW

You can read more features like this one in Custom PC #224, available directly from Raspberry Pi Press — we deliver worldwide.

custom pc 224

And if you’d like a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download issue 224 for free in PDF format.


Manuel avatar

Oh my… I laughed at your puns way to hard!
I got my Gamegear dirt cheap from a friend as his parents were shocked how fast this thing chewed trough batteries and soon he had to buy the batteries from his pocket money…
I had the same problem, so mostly used it with an wall wart power supply at home.
As it was my first own Television (got a used tuner cartridge) it was long in use even after I got hooked to PC gaming and I still use it once every year or two…

I ordered a Steam Deck, I’m about to find out how my rather large hands will fit…

Liz Upton avatar

That brings back memories of my brother and me playing on his Gamegear, tethered to the wall of his bedroom by a short cable. We had a couple of cartridges of homebrew games we’d acquired on a market in Malaysia when we were visiting our grandparents (of very varying quality), along with a mixture of genuine and pirated cartridges – if you had saved up your UK pocket money, Malaysian night markets were a kid’s dream in the late 80s/early 90s.

I returned to Sonic the Hedgehog 1 as an adult, and I have no idea how we managed to play it as well as we did. It seems that twitch reflexes deteriorate something horrible with age.

Stu avatar

I’m confused, was it the games or the grandparents that were ‘(of very varying quality)’ :)

Matej avatar

I do not have this problem, but I do sympathize. Good to know Valve is doing something about this problem! BTW, did you know that there are pianos with narrower keys? Of course, there are similar problems there with players not wanting to be seen as (and ridiculed for) needing a special piano :-(

Plageman Kelly avatar

Omg thank you commenting males, I appreciate you not bashing us female gamers for our small hands. Tbh that’s why I boycott razer, I. Emailed them asked them if they have any smaller peripherals for female hands. They responded with “our peripherals are made for everyone.” We have very limited options, for example I’ve only been able to find one wireless gaming mouse that fits me. ASUS rog strix Carry, which was intended to be a travel mouse.

It sucks being female sized in a male sized world, thank God our clothes are not modeled after males, lol they’d look so bad on us. Though the more I read about the steam deck, the more I think my money would be wasted if I bought it because I fully intended to use it as a handheld.

Namie avatar

And it’s hard being lefthanded in a righthanded world as well.

Techtodown avatar

For me, size is not an issue. What’s important is the experience when playing games on these devices.

William Stottlemyer avatar

The link for the free PDF gives you issue #223 instead of issue #224. I have tried multiple times.

Helen Lynn avatar

You’re quite right; thanks for the spot. Now fixed.

Adam D Birkholtz avatar

I had a Sega Game Gear. My grandparents originally bought me a Nintendo Gameboy, but my parents were so disappointed with the screen quality that they took me out to Sears that Christmas day to get the SGG. I had Sonic, Batman Forever, and Primal Rage, so I rather did like it more than the NGB… I think I did play it mostly plugged into the wall, though.

Solomon avatar

We had some cartridges of homebrew games bought on a market in Malaysia when we were visiting our friends, including a mixture of genuine and pirated cartridges.

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