The PlayStation 2 is now truly a mature adult. Released at the turn of the century, Sony’s PS2 is to this day the bestselling console of all time. It’s no surprise, either, as the sixth-generation console was still popular for several years after the release of its successor. Sadly, repairs for the PS2 ceased in September 2018, so if you’ve still got one at home, you’ll need to take good care of it in order to ensure it has a healthy adult life.
The PlayStation 2 was announced in the late 90s with a trailer directed by none other than David Lynch, who directed films such as Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, and created the iconic Twin Peaks. You can watch the trailer below, which is infamous for its absurdity.
Although Lynch’s ad is commonly referred to in relation to how obscene it is, it actually provides us with the means to examine how wonderful the PS2 was in a truly touching way. You see, the talking duck in the video welcomes the protagonist to “the third place.”
The “third place” is a term that was coined by American sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Oldenburg studied the idea of places in relation to what certain spaces signified. In modern society, people tend to spend the majority of time in isolation at home, which Oldenburg labelled the first place. The second place, then, was the workplace, a sort of home away from home that allowed one to continue inhabiting the first place. However, the third place was perhaps the most important of all. According to Oldenburg, third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings beyond the realms of home and work.”
In the third place, people are free to be themselves; they are not defined by their social status or their position at work. Third places provide people with a neutral ground that provides them with opportunities to connect with others. It is the bond established between people in third places that make up the most meaningful friendships and relationships in the world. By tying this back in with the PlayStation 2, we can see that by welcoming players to the third place, the duck in the ad was actually welcoming them to a place where they would belong.
The PlayStation 2 invited people to play games together, either online or by choosing to play games that offered a couch co-op option. However, that wasn’t all that it invited people to do. From Grand Theft Auto III to Shadow of the Colossus, players were offered opportunities to explore vast virtual worlds that offered them a virtual third space from the comfort of their own homes. It gave people the option to participate in “regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gathering beyond the realms of home and work” without asking anything more of them than to turn on the console and sit down.
David Lynch is often seen as a visionary, as the iconic filmmaker’s distinctive style has had an effect on the practice of film-making as a whole. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that he really hit home with that PlayStation ad. Although the reference is relatively subtle, it makes all of the absurdity of the video make sense. The man loses his head temporarily, a duck sitting next to what looks like a mummy possesses the faculty of speech for some strange reason; however, the strangeness resembles what the poet Louis MacNeice called “the drunkenness of things being various,” which is a particularly apt way of describing the magical properties imbued in games.
Games are not confined to the kind of logic that defines reality. They offer people stories that can’t be experienced in any other way. In this sense, they’re a truly special kind of third place, where magic exists and things don’t always need to make sense the way they have to at home or at work. These enchanting stories can make players feel all kinds of emotions, while offering them truly unique experiences all the while. The sense of exploration that the medium offers make this third place a place that can be a home within a home that’s theoretically away from the former. It’s at all times tangible, but intangible, as it’s within reach, but never corporeal. This is what makes it a place in which you can truly be yourself without ever having to feel isolated.
Today, October 26, the day on which Red Dead Redemption 2‘s release will dominate the media all over the world, the PlayStation 2 will enjoy a quiet birthday. Having finally become an adult, it can look back at its youth with fond memories, recalling the fact that it offered over 150 million people the opportunity to visit their very own third place whenever they so desired. True, online play has come on in leaps and bounds ever since, but the PlayStation 2 will be remembered for the quintessential role it played in establishing the games industry as we know it today. For that, players should always be grateful.