PlayStation 5: ushering in a renaissance of weird console design

How Sony’s latest hardware is keeping strange video game console designs alive after generations of monolithic safety

After such an exciting showing, I was also blindsided by Sony’s PlayStation 5 console reveal. Mouth agape, I immediately took to Twitter to churn out a number of embarrassing posts to capitalise on the zeitgeist, comparing this incredible futuristic obelisk to the severed head of a Destiny antagonist and lamenting its very existence for a laugh. But over the weekend, my sentiments about the console’s unusual design started to shift dramatically.

Yes, it does look like a WiFi Router with a folder around it, a duck’s bill, a rebel soldier’s helmet from Star Wars and Cloud’s Buster Sword, among other things. But something dawned on me after wading through all the memes. I took some time to actually parse Sony’s unusual render and realised that all of my favourite video game consoles look like they plummeted to earth from the faulty carriage of a passing alien spaceship. The thing about the PS5 is that it looks like the mothership itself. It is extremely odd… but I think I love it?

As far as console design is concerned, we’ve been languishing for at least two generations now. The PS4 and Xbox One are both unassuming consoles that don’t dare speak to the immense capabilities within them. Neither of them makes a visual statement in your living room, and this reductive design philosophy tracks all the way back to the PS3 – especially the Slim model, where Sony decided to tone it down further by removing the trademark sheen that made the original model so alluring.

As such, it’s been a while since I’ve really admired the design of a video game console that wasn’t created by Nintendo, which has always managed to evade boring stereotypes. Out of the other two, the OG Xbox 360 is certainly the most aesthetically brave console to emerge in the past 10years (and that’s saying something). But even then Microsoft started to refine it into a boring black box, and now we’re stuck with the mini-fridge stylings of the Xbox Series X… so it goes!

Xbox Series X
Xbox Series X. Credit: Microsoft

The last console from either of these industry giants that I remember booting up and being blown away by was the original Xbox. That unmistakable noise it made when you pressed the silver button… the green plasma menu screen and sinister X-based design… it felt like you were entering a new realm of possibility!

I recognise that I might be the odd one out here – I even had a soft spot for the Wii U, a blatant Nintendo Switch prototype that needed a lot more time in the oven. I could look past its failings, as it was a brave and interesting looking bit of kit. Most importantly, when it was first revealed, I remember being filled with palpable excitement at what the future could entail for this plucky little trinket, even if that vision never became a reality.

Yet with the games to back it up, the PS5’s software lineup looks about as brave as the hardware that will power it, and that excites me. Sure, it’s still got that self-important “too cool for school” sleek trim that has distanced Sony from the honesty of Nintendo’s magnificently manic consoles of yore, but the actual build and presence of the PS5 is designed to keep your eyes busy, and for once, speaks to the weird world of games that live within its carbon confines. I’ve never seen quite the discourse about a video game console’s design since the Nintendo Switch was revealed. Back then, plenty of people were sardonic and sceptical about its central gimmick – look who’s laughing now!

PlayStation 5
Sony’s PlayStation 5. Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

People have been writing and speculating about the death of the console for decades, but by simply trying to do something different, Sony has given me a reason to believe it should stick around. Where else will we see absurd aesthetic feats such as this to properly represent our favourite pastime? In 30 years, I can imagine stumbling upon a dusty, distinctive old PS5 in a used electronics store (if those still exist) and having halcyon memories of catching Bugsnax and slaying demons. I certainly can’t imagine the same vivid feeling tied to the forgettable design of the PS4 or Xbox One. If we lose consoles altogether, there’ll be nothing to tie us to those experiences… as much as planned obsolescence is bad for consumers, it does create an impressive lineage.

Sony’s unusual PS5 design is invigorating for all the right reasons. But if we cast our minds back through the history of video game consoles, a lot of them looked strange until millions of them were sat under TVs worldwide. The PS5 is just the first console in a long while that has dared to look representative of the ambitious global phenomenon it represents. I, for one, am willing to let the mothership take me home.

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