Even if you live for the holiday season, the shopping portion of it can be daunting for us all. Maybe you made a resolution last year to be better prepared this time around, but it’s easy to get sidetracked by all the other demands of everyday life. Holiday sales may have already begun, but if you’re just getting your list together now, you’re not alone.
This is where our holiday gift guide comes in. Every year, we gather our favorite gadgets and other miscellany into one big (and, we hope, helpful) guide. You’ll find gift ideas for the audiophile in your life, video gamers, board gamers, frequent travelers, people who work from home, and others. We also have all of our bread-and-butter gadget categories represented, with lists of our favorite laptops, tablets, smart home devices, home theater gear and gaming accessories.
We also know that gadgets can get expensive fast, so in addition to having a bunch of types of gifts covered in our guide, we have every budget represented, too. Whether you’re ready to splurge this year or need to find inexpensive gifts, we have options for you. And if you’re willing to wait, Black Friday and Cyber Monday should bring a number of great deals on some of our favorite gadgets. If you haven’t crossed everything off your list by that point, be sure to follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter so you don’t miss any of the worthwhile tech deals this season.
We hope that our product recommendations can lessen your holiday stress because you’ll spend less time worrying about which gift to get for whom. And don’t forget to pick up something for yourself along the way – you deserve it.
Check out all of our holiday gift guide stories right here.
If you’re looking to buy additional storage for your PC or PlayStation 5, you don’t have to wait until Black Friday to score a deal on some of the best solid-state drives on the market. Ahead of Thanksgiving, Amazon is holding a sale on Samsung storage gear, including the company’s excellent NVMe models. PS5 owners will want to turn their attention to the Samsung 980 Pro. After a 53 percent discount, the is $190, down from $400. It’s the perfect plug-and-play upgrade for Sony’s latest console, meeting all the compatibility and cooling requirements .
Amazon has also discounted the non-heatsink versions of the 980 Pro and 970 Evo. The latter is the highlight here. At the moment, you can grab the 2TB model for $160, rather than $500. The 500GB is also discounted by 54 percent, making it $60 at the moment. Both the 980 Pro and 970 Evo are great options if you want to add a fast Gen4 NVMe to your PC – just make sure you have a . If you want to give life to an older PC, Samsung’s excellent SATA SSDs are .
Those looking for portable storage are also in luck. The 1TB and 2TB versions of the T7 Shield are currently , respectively. That means you can get the more expensive model for $150, and the 1TB variant for a record low of $90. Best of all, all three colorways – blue, black and biege – are included in the sale. The T7 Shield is an Engadget favorite. The combination of USB 3.2 Gen 2 support and IP65-certified protection make it a great option for anyone who wants a fast and reliable backup solution.
One last product worth highlighting is the . Amazon has discounted all four models, with the 512GB variant receiving the largest price cut. After a 47 percent discount, you can get that version for $45. It typically retails for $85. The EVO Select microSD is a great option for those looking to beef up their Nintendo Switch with fast storage. Make sure to check out the rest of the sale to see if there’s something else that might fit your needs.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek has told division leads in a letter that the company is implementing cost cutting measures in part to help it “achieve the important goal of reaching profitability for Disney+ in fiscal 2024.” Based on the internal memo obtained by CNBC, Disney is planning to limit additions to its workforce through a targeted hiring freeze. It will still welcome new people for the “most critical, business-driving positions,” but all other roles are on hold for now. Chapek has also admitted in his letter that Disney “anticipate[s] some staff reductions” as it looks at all aspects of its business to find places where it can save money.
Chapek’s letter comes after Disney reported less-than-stellar earnings for the previous quarter. While Disney+ welcomed 12.1 million new subscribers for the company’s fourth fiscal quarter ending on October 1st, the company’s operating loss for streaming jumped from $0.8 billion to $1.5 billion. The company expects its losses to taper off going forward, thanks to its streaming services’ price hikes and the launch of an ad-supported tier on Disney+. In his memo, Chapek also reiterated he is “confident in [the company’s] ability to reach the targets [it has] set,” but Disney clearly intends to tighten its belt until it hits its goals.
Disney is but one of the many companies imposing a hiring freeze due to the economic downturn. When Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Facebook parent company is laying off 11,000 employees, he also said that it’s extending its hiring freeze through the first quarter of 2023. Amazon froze hiring at its corporate offices earlier this month, as well.
Twitter isn’t the only notable tech company to this week. After a stunningly rapid collapse, crypto exchange has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, while founder Sam Bankman-Fried has resigned as CEO.
The bankruptcy filing covers FTX Trading, FTX US, Alameda Research and around 130 other companies under the umbrella of the FTX Group, according to a press release. Some others, such as FTX Australia and FTX Express Pay, are not involved in the bankruptcy proceedings. Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean that a company is dead in the water — it allows a business to keep trading while it figures out a plan to pay back creditors. However, it’s a tough position to come back from.
“The immediate relief of Chapter 11 is to provide the FTX Group the opportunity to assess its situation and develop a process to maximize recoveries for stakeholders,” new CEO John J. Ray III (a former Enron chairman who came in to oversee that company’s liquidation) said in a statement. “The FTX Group has valuable assets that can only be administered in an organized, joint process. I want to [assure] every employee, customer, creditor, contract party, stockholder, investor, governmental authority and other stakeholder that we are going to conduct this effort with diligence, thoroughness and transparency.” Ray suggested that stakeholders should remain patient, noting that “events have been fast-moving and the new team is engaged only recently.”
The company swiftly found itself in dire straits after the price of its native FTT token nosedived and many users withdrew their cryptocurrency. Following reports that FTX was facing a liquidity crisis, Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of rival crypto giant Binance, said his company would sell off around $529 million worth of FTT. That all but wiped out the token’s value.
Binance then agreed to bail out FTX by . However, it a day later, citing concerns that emerged while conducting due diligence. Bankman-Fried went on to and said on Thursday he was doing everything he could to and He stepped down just a day later.
Meanwhile, reports that the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating FTX. It’s not clear when the DOJ started looking into the company’s dealings, but the SEC’s investigation has reportedly been ongoing for several months.
A quick PSA for anyone looking to pick up a new laptop ahead of the holidays: The base model of Apple’s newest MacBook Air is back down to $1,049 at various retailers, including Amazon and B&H. That matches the best price we’ve seen for what is currently the top pick in our guide to the best laptops. The notebook has hit this price a couple of times over the last month or so, but the discount still comes in $150 below Apple’s MSRP and roughly $85 off the average street price we’ve tracked online in recent months.
We gave the new MacBook Air a review score of 96 earlier this year, praising its thin and typically well-crafted design, vibrant 13.6-inch display, lengthy battery life, reliable keyboard and trackpad, and fast performance aided by Apple’s M2 system-on-a-chip. It’s a good ways pricier than the M1-based Air even with this discount, and you’ll have to get onboard with an iPhone-like display notch, but the extra cash gets you a sharper 1080p webcam (compared to a 720p unit before), much-improved speakers, slimmer display bezels and faster charging support with a dedicated MagSafe connector, alongside the slightly larger display. The M1 Air is still a fine laptop for everyday use if you’re looking to spend less — it’s currently available for $899 — but the M2 model is a clear upgrade.
The big caveat to note is specific to this entry-level configuration, which includes 8GB of memory and 256GB of SSD storage. On this model (as well as the base 13-inch MacBook Pro), Apple uses a single NAND chip to hold all 256GB of storage. Higher-capacity SKUs and even the M1 MacBook Air, meanwhile, are equipped with multiple flash storage chips they can use in parallel. This means the base version of the M2 Air is markedly slower in benchmarks when it comes to read and write speeds. If you’re looking to do more involved tasks like high-res media editing, it’s likely worth stepping up to 512GB version, which is currently $150 off its MSRP as well.
However, for streaming 4K video, web browsing across a bunch of Chrome tabs, word processing, email, lighter editing, and other more common tasks, the real-world differences with this configuration shouldn’t be hugely noticeable. The bigger issue might be whether 256GB is enough space for you in the first place. If it is, this deal should still be a good value.
In other Mac deals, the base 13-inch MacBook Pro is down to $1,149, which is within $50 of the lowest price we’ve seen. We have a harder time recommending that model over the M2 Air given its more dated design and similar storage limitations, but its battery lasts a little longer, and its built-in fan makes it a bit more performant for heavier tasks. If you can’t afford to step up to the more powerful 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, it may be worth considering.
Don Lewis, a pioneer in the worlds of synthesizers and electronic music, died on Sunday at the age of 81. In the 1970s, Lewis created the Live Electronic Orchestra. The system enabled him to control multiple synthesizers and other instruments simultaneously using custom keyboards, around a decade before became a standard.
Lewis worked on some well-known mainstream synths as well. He collaborated with Roland founder Ikutarô Kakehashi on the company’s drum machines. Among those was , which is perhaps the most important drum machine of all time. Lewis also designed sounds for the , along with Hammond and ARP instruments, as notes.
As a performer, Lewis took to the stage at venerated venues such as the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall and the Apollo Theater. He collaborated with big-name artists including Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and the Beach Boys.
While Lewis may not have been a household name, his contributions to electronic music are critical and undeniable. For those keen to learn more about Lewis’ life and career, you may be interested in checking out a documentary called Don Lewis and the Live Electric Orchestra. The film will air on PBS in February.
Choosing the best Chromebook for your needs and your budget can be hard to do given the multitude of models on the market today. The combination of years worth of software updates and laptop manufacturers making more powerful and better-built Chromebooks means there are a ton of good Chrome OS machines that work well as everyday drivers. We’ll help you figure out what is the best Chromebook for you, from the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i to the Acer Chromebook Spin 714 and in between.
What is Chrome OS, and why would I use it over Windows?
That’s probably the number one question about Chromebooks. There are plenty of inexpensive Windows laptops on the market, so why bother with Chrome OS? Glad you asked. For me, the simple and clean nature of Chrome OS is a big selling point. If you didn’t know, it’s based on Google’s Chrome browser, which means most of the programs you can run are web based. There’s no bloatware or unwanted apps to uninstall like you often get on Windows laptops, it boots up in seconds, and you can completely reset to factory settings almost as quickly.
Of course, the simplicity is also a major drawback for some users. Not being able to install native software can be a dealbreaker if you’re, say, a video editor or software developer. But there are also plenty of people who do the vast majority of their work in a browser. Unless I need to edit photos for a review, I can do my entire job on a Chromebook.
Google has also added support for Android apps on Chromebooks, which greatly expands the amount of software available. The quality varies widely, but it means you can do more with a Chromebook beyond just web-based apps. For example, you can install the Netflix app and save videos for offline watching; other Android apps like Microsoft’s Office suite and Adobe Lightroom are surprisingly capable. Between Android apps and a general improvement in web apps, Chromebooks are more than just a browser.
What do Chromebooks do well?
Put simply, anything web based. Browsing, streaming music and video and using various social media sites are among the most common things people do on Chromebooks. As you might expect, they also work well with Google services like Photos, Docs, Gmail, Drive, Keep and so on. Yes, any computer that can run Chrome can do that too, but the lightweight nature of Google Chrome OS makes it a responsive and stable platform.
As I mentioned before, Chrome OS can run Android apps, so if you’re an Android user you’ll find some nice ties between the platforms. You can get most of the same apps that are on your phone on a Chromebook and keep info in sync between them. You can also use some Android phones as a security key for your Chromebook or instantly tether your laptop to use mobile data.
Google continues to tout security as a major differentiator for Chromebooks, and I think it’s definitely a factor worth considering. The first line of defense is auto-updates. Chrome OS updates download quickly in the background and a fast reboot is all it takes to install the latest version. Google says that each webpage and app on a Chromebook runs in its own sandbox, as well, so any security threats are contained to that individual app. Finally, Chrome OS has a self-check called Verified Boot that runs every time a device starts up. Beyond all this, the simple fact that you generally can’t install traditional apps on a Chromebook means there are a lot fewer ways for bad actors to access the system.
As for when to avoid them, the answer is simple: If you rely heavily on a specific native application for Windows or a Mac, chances are you won’t find the exact same option on a Chromebook. That’s most true in fields like photo and video editing, but it can also be the case in law or finance. Plenty of businesses run on Google’s G suite software, but more still have specific requirements that a Chromebook might not match. If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll also miss out on the way the iPhone easily integrates with an iPad or Mac. For me, the big downside is not being able to access iMessage on a Chromebook.
Finally, gaming is mostly a non-starter, as there are no native Chrome OS games of note. You can install Android games from the Google Play Store, but that’s not what most people are thinking of when they want to game on a laptop. That said, Google’s game-streaming service Stadia has changed that long-standing problem. The service isn’t perfect, but it remains the only way to play recent, high-profile games on a Chromebook. It’s not as good as running local games on a Windows computer, but the lag issues that can crop up reflect mostly on Stadia itself and not Chrome OS.
There’s also a potential change on the horizon in that regard, as Valve and Google are working to bring the massive Steam catalog to Chromebooks. Right now, Steam is only available as an early alpha on a handful of devices with higher specs, but it works a lot better than I expected. Of course, you’re still not going to run the most demanding games on basic laptops, but the Steam catalog is so vast that there are plenty of titles that worked on the Chromebook I tested it with. Maybe by next year, Steam will be supported on more devices.
What are the most important specs for a Chromebook?
Chrome OS is lightweight and usually runs well on fairly modest hardware, so the most important thing to look for might not be processor power or storage space. That said, I’d still recommend you get a Chromebook with a relatively recent Intel processor, ideally an eighth-generation or newer M3 or i3. Most non-Intel Chromebooks I’ve tried haven’t had terribly good performance, but that’s starting to change. Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 2-in-1 from 2021 runs surprisingly well on its MediaTek processor.
As for RAM, 8GB should be the target, unless you’re looking for a budget model and know that your needs are fairly modest. Storage space is another place where you don’t need to spend too much; 64GB should be fine for almost anyone. If you plan on storing a lot of files locally or loading up your Chromebook with Linux or Android apps, get 128GB. But for what it’s worth, I’ve never felt like I might run out of storage when using Chrome OS.
Things like the keyboard and display quality are arguably more important than sheer specs. The good news is that you can find less expensive Chromebooks that still have pretty good screens and keyboards that you won’t mind typing on all day. Many cheap Chromebooks still come with tiny, low-resolution displays, but at this point there’s no reason to settle for anything less than 1080p. (If you’re looking for an extremely portable, 11-inch Chromebook, though, you’ll probably end up with a lesser screen.) Obviously, keyboard quality is a bit more subjective, but there are plenty of affordable options that offer strong typing experiences.
Google has an Auto Update policy for Chromebooks, and while that’s not a spec, per se, it’s worth checking before you buy. Basically, Chromebooks get regular software updates automatically for about six years from their release date (though that can vary from device to device). This support page lists the Auto Update expiration date for virtually every Chromebook ever, but a good rule of thumb is to buy the newest machine you can to maximize your support.
How much should I spend?
Chromebooks started out notoriously cheap, with list prices often coming in under $300. But as they’ve gone more mainstream, they’ve transitioned from being essentially modern netbooks to the kind of laptop you’ll want to use all day. As such, prices have increased a bit over the last few years. At this point, you should expect to spend at least $400 if you want a solid daily driver. There are still many budget options out there that may be suitable as couch machines or secondary devices, but Chromebooks that can be an all-day, every-day laptop will cost a bit more.
There are also plenty of premium Chromebooks that approach or even exceed $1,000, but I don’t recommend spending that much. Generally, that’ll get you a better design with more premium materials, as well as more powerful internals and extra storage space. Of course, you also sometimes pay for the brand name. But, the specs I outlined earlier are usually enough.
Right now, there actually aren’t too many Chromebooks that cost that much. Google’s Pixelbook Go comes in $999 and $1,399 configurations, but the more affordable $650 and $850 options will be just as good for nearly everyone. Samsung released the $1,000 Galaxy Chromebook in 2020; this luxury device does almost everything right but has terrible battery life. Samsung quickly learned from that mistake and is now offering the Galaxy Chromebook 2 with more modest specs, but vastly better battery life at a more affordable price . For the most part, you don’t need to spend more than $850 to get a premium Chromebook that’ll last you years.
Best overall: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i
Lenovo has been making some of the best Chromebooks you can buy for several years now, and in 2022 it has once again made the best option for most people. The IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook is essentially an upgraded version of the model we recommended last year, and there are a few notable improvements. The 13.3-inch, 1080p touchscreen is extremely bright and fairly sharp; I wish it had a taller aspect ratio than 16:9, but this type of screen is very commonplace in Chromebooks. It runs on a 11th-generation Intel Core i3 processor and includes 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; both of those are double what last year’s model offered. The eight-hour battery life is pretty good for a laptop in this price range, and the backlit keyboard is excellent for such an affordable device. The key caps feel a little small under my fingers, but that’s the only real complaint I have.
The Flex 5i is no longer available directly from Lenovo, but you can commonly find it on Amazon for about $400 (as of this writing, it is selling for $409; when I bought it, it was priced at $390). That’s an outstanding value.
Other things in the Flex 5i’s favor include that it has both USB-C and USB-A ports, a microSD card slot and a security lock. At three pounds and 0.66 inches thick, it’s not the lightest or slimmest option out there, but it’s totally reasonable considering the price. Finally, the Flex 5i will receive software and security updates until June of 2029, so you can buy this computer and have it covered for years to come.
Ultimately, the Ideapad Flex 5i hits the sweet spot for a large majority of Chromebook buyers out there, providing a level of quality and performance that’s pretty rare to find at this price point. That said, given this laptop has been out for over a year now, we’re keeping an eye out for a replacement from Lenovo, as well as comparable options other manufacturers release.
One to look out for is Lenovo’s Chromebook 5i, which the company recently released. Right now, it’s only available with an Intel Pentium Gold processor and 4GB of RAM; in my testing, that wasn’t enough power in 2022. The device froze up far too often, and the IdeaPad Flex 5i with its i3 processor was clearly faster at everything I tried. But Lenovo says it’ll offer the Chromebook 5i with up to an Intel i5 processor, which should make the laptop worth checking out.
Upgrade option: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
Last year, Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 was one of my recommendations for people looking for a more premium Chromebook. Now that Samsung often sells the device for $550, it’s an excellent all-purpose recommendation if you want something more svelte and stylish than Lenovo’s IdeaPad Flex 5i.
The Galaxy Chromebook 2 is infinitely more stylish than most other Chromebooks, with a bright metallic red finish and sleek design. Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 fixes some of the serious flaws we identified in the original Galaxy Chromebook. Specifically, the 2020 Galaxy Chromebook had terrible battery life and cost $999; this year’s model can be found for $550 and can last seven hours off the charger. That’s not great, but it’s far better than the lousy four hours the original offered.
Samsung cut a few corners to lower the Galaxy Chromebook 2’s price. Most noticeable is the 1080p 13.3-inch touchscreen, down from the 4K panel on the older model. The good news is that the display is among the best 1080p laptop screens I’ve seen in a long time, and the lower resolution helps the battery life, too. Along with that excellent screen, the device also has a very comfortable keyboard, though I wish the trackpad was a little bigger. The Galaxy Chromebook 2 is also a bit thicker and heavier than its predecessor, but it’s still reasonably compact. At 13.9mm thick and 2.7 pounds, it’s noticeably smaller than the Lenovo.
The Galaxy Chromebook 2 has a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is plenty. This all adds up to a laptop that isn’t as ambitious as the first Galaxy Chromebook, but one that is much easier to recommend. Instead of pushing to have the best screen in the thinnest and lightest body with a faster processor, Samsung pulled everything back a bit to make a better-priced but still premium laptop. Given that the Galaxy Chromebook 2 is well over a year old now, I wouldn’t recommend spending $700 on it – but if you can catch it on sale for $550 (as it is right now), it’s a solid option.
Premium option: Acer Chromebook Spin 714
Acer’s Chromebook Spin 714 is an evolution of the Spin 713 that I recommended last year. Acer made a few tweaks to the formula, but you’re still getting a well-built, powerful laptop that won’t turn any heads with its design but gets the job done well.
I loved the display on the Acer Chromebook Spin 713, and unfortunately the one on the Spin 714 isn’t quite as exciting. It’s a 14-inch, 1900×1200 touchscreen; that works out to a taller 16:10 aspect ratio than you’ll get from the 1080p panels on most other Chromebooks. I’m a big fan of taller laptop screens – but the Spin 713 had a 13.5-inch screen that had an even taller 3:2 aspect ratio and a higher resolution. I can’t help but wonder if Acer found that people still prefer a widescreen display. If that’s the case, the Spin 714’s display is a nice middle ground.
Putting aside these comparisons to last year’s model, the Spin 714’s screen is still very nice – it can get uncomfortably bright if that’s your thing, and the bezels are thin. It’s not nearly as pixel-dense as the Spin 713, but it’s still plenty sharp. Between the extra vertical height and the slightly larger screen, the Spin 714’s display is a pleasure to use.
As for the rest of the hardware, the 12th-generation Intel Core i5 processor is more than enough power for most tasks, and the keyboard and trackpad are solid, if not the best I’ve used before. The same can be said for battery life: I got about seven hours using the Spin 714 in my normal daily routine – not exceptional, but in line with what I’ve seen on other Chromebooks with an i5 processor. Rounding out the hardware is 8GB of RAM and a generous 256GB of storage space. From a support perspective, Google will offer software and security updates until June of 2030.
Another bonus is that its hardware meets Google’s recommended specs to run Steam, though the alpha build is still limited to seven devices. So while it’s not officially supported yet, Steam will hopefully work on this laptop once Google and Valve start rolling it out more widely.
Just as the name suggests, the Spin 714 has a 360-degree hinge which lets you use the laptop in tablet mode. I’m not particularly a fan of this – I don’t know who wants to use a 3-plus pound tablet, but Acer did include a built-in stylus for handwriting notes or drawing in apps like the built-in Chrome Canvas.
The Spin 714 configuration I tested costs $730 – that’s a lot of money for a Chromebook. But it’s not an unreasonable price for a computer with these specs and built quality. For most people, the Lenovo will be enough. But, if you’re a serious multitasker, want a better display and keyboard, or just want a computer that’ll last as long as possible, the Acer Spin 714 is easy to recommend.
Booking a stay through can be a chore for a few reasons. Chief among those is the fact it’s not always easy to tell at a glance how much you’ll pay for your vacation rental, since the cleaning fee or security deposit may not appear until after you click on a listing. However, Airbnb is at last set to make pricing a bit more transparent.
CEO Brian Chesky that, starting next month, the company will offer the option to see the full price of a stay in search results, and on the map, price filter and listings pages. You’ll still be able to see a breakdown of the full price, including Airbnb’s service fee and any discounts. Moreover, Chesky says Airbnb will prioritize total price rather than nightly price in its ranking algorithm. “The highest quality homes with the best total prices will rank higher in search results,” Chesky said.
I’ve heard you loud and clear—you feel like prices aren’t transparent and checkout tasks are a pain. That’s why we’re making 4 changes:
This is by and large a positive move, since the per-night prices shown in search results don’t tell the whole story. Hosts may charge different cleaning fees or even fees for extra guests that aren’t immediately apparent. Showing (almost) the full price upfront should make it easier for folks to compare listings while reducing sticker shock at checkout.
There is one drawback, though. The price that you see in search results and on the map still doesn’t include taxes. It would be helpful to see that at the jump as well, particularly given that many hotel booking sites show the full price with taxes included in search results. “Our thinking was that since prices in the US are typically displayed pre-tax, that we should go with this convention,” .
Elsewhere, Chesky said that Airbnb will offer hosts more pricing and discount tools. He noted that hosts want a clearer understanding of the full price users pay and what they should charge to help them stay competitive. Chesky added that users shouldn’t have to undertake “unreasonable” checkout tasks like vacuuming or stripping the bedding. He noted that simple actions like turning off lights, chucking food in the trash and locking doors are reasonable, and that hosts should communicate those kinds of checkout requests before a booking is made.
The impact of Japanese RPGs on pop and gaming culture cannot be overstated. From Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star to Chrono Trigger, NieR, and Fire Emblem — JRPGs have spanned console generations, bridged the Japanese and North American markets, spawned entire universes of IP and delivered critical commercial hits for nearly four decades. Modern gaming simply wouldn’t exist as it does today if not for the influence of JRPGs.
Though it takes many cues from Japanese games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact was developed and published by Chinese developer/ publisher miHoYo. Thanks to gorgeous visuals, free-to-play accessibility, multi-platform release, and easy-to-pick-up-impossible-to-put-down gacha-based gameplay, it took the gaming world by storm after its 2020 release.
Game Boy not only provided greater access to video games thanks to its low price, but it subsequently changed the way we play games. About the size of a mass-market paperback novel, and just barely pocketable, the Game Boy leaned heavily on Nintendo franchises, including Mario and Donkey Kong, and—equally important for a device marketed for children—a ton of tie-in games for popular television shows and movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, and Star Trek.
The appeal for kids? Gaming where mom and dad couldn’t see the action — a private world of adventure. The appeal for adults? Appealing puzzle games, fewer back spasms from sitting cross-legged on the floor two feet from the TV, and a smaller, quieter way to keep the kids distracted before dinner.
“Game Boy had the advantage of being the first on the market before other major competitors,” explained Smithsonian Magazine. Though Sega and Atari soon followed with their own consoles, complete with color screens, they faced an uphill battle against Nintendo’s aggressive strategy of leaning into tech that was older, but also more efficient, affordable, and reliable. Like many ’90s kids, my first game console was the Game Boy. I was a computer game fiend, and we’d rent a NES with a couple of games now and then, but those were ephemeral promises of living room gaming that wouldn’t become reality for a few more years.
After its debut, the Game Boy was rife with puzzle games and character platformers, but by 1993, it had blossomed into a full-fledged adventuring machine thanks to familiar franchises like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and even Wizardry. The game that really sold the system’s capabilities, however, was a new entry in Nintendo’s ambitious The Legend of Zelda series. And, like many others, I was already a big Zelda fan by the time Link’s Awakening released in August 1993 thanks to its Super NES predecessor The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
What living room game consoles offered in scope, visual pop, and impressive technology, portables matched with their flexibility, bite-sized content, and on-the-go possibilities. Every morning, my friend and I would meet under a blanket of dew at our elementary school. Sitting side by side for warmth, Game Boys clutched in chilled fingers, we’d explore Koholint Island on individual journeys to waken the Wind Fish. The intimacy of this youthful bonding cemented Link’s Awakening as a core gaming experience in my life, all made possible by the Game Boy.
Though A Link to the Past and the entire Legend of Zelda series no doubt influenced a lot of JRPGs, especially puzzle-based games like Wild Arms or Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, its categorization as a JRPG is debatable. Personally, I don’t quite consider it a JRPG due to its lack of customizability, but there’s definitely enough overlap in mechanics, pacing, story construction, and so on to create an overlapping Venn diagram of fans.
Imagine the giddy power rush of being a kid with a whole universe in your pocket, out of sight of parents and siblings, with no lobbying for TV screen time required. At first blush, the handheld’s small screen might be considered a flaw, but the paradoxical reality was that the smallness leant to the understanding that it was a personal-sized portal to another world. Only room for one. Plus, you could pop in the cheap Nintendo-provided headphones and the world outside disappeared entirely.
Link’s Awakening was a revelation, a journey into the unknown that belonged only to me.
It was euphoric.
And then . . . there was Pokémon.
In a video review of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (discussed in Chapter 6), YouTube channel Austin Eruption examined Square’s failed attempts at catalyzing the Western JRPG market during the early ’90s. “The concept of the entry RPG would be more successful . . . not with Square, but with Nintendo’s wildly popular Pokémon,” they said. “It turns out kids are super down to play RPGs, they just gotta have cute and cool monsters to collect.”
In 1996, Japanese schoolyards were buzzing thanks to the new Game Boy game published by Nintendo called Pocket Monsters. Kids traded tips, creatures, and blows across Game Boys connected by a link cable. These newly trained Pokémon trainers, as they’re called in the game, couldn’t get enough of the 151 unique, cute, and catchable creatures.
Before it was about catching monsters, however, Pocket Monsters was conceptualized by its insect-obsessed creator, Satoshi Tajiri, as a bug-catching simulator. Known to his classmates as “Mr. Bug,” Tajiri spent his childhood dreaming of becoming an entomologist and studying bugs for a living . . . that is until he discovered arcade games like Space Invaders. Though his professional ambitions shifted focus to bits, bytes, and programming scripts, his love for bug collecting remained, and at just twenty-four years old he came up with the idea for what would eventually become Pocket Monsters.
Before his buggy dreams became a reality, Tajiri founded Game Freak in 1989 with Masuda and artist Ken Sugimori, and released his first game, Mendel Palace, the same year. A grid-based puzzler, this game was completely unlike Pocket Monsters, but its success encouraged Tajiri and helped solidify Game Freak. The following year, Tajiri saw two Game Boys tethered by a link cable, and his concept for a bug-catching simulator sprang to life. He saw opportunity not only for players to be able to share and collect bugs, but to competitively face off against one another on their linked Game Boys.
It took over two years after its Japanese release for Pocket Monsters to reach western shores, finally releasing in September 1998 as Pokémon. With its release on the ten-year-old handheld and with the more powerful Game Boy Advance on the horizon, Nintendo released Pokémon on a whim, expecting the series to arrive as a chunky, but relatively unnoticed, oddity before the Game Boy Advance took over. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the weird little Japanese phenomenon appealed to kids in the West just as much as it had to children in its home country. Playgrounds across the United States and Canada were suddenly crawling with kids obsessing over Pikachus, Charmanders, and Mewtwos.
“Although it was made in Japan,” wrote culture writer Matt Alt for the BBC, “for a moment at the turn of the 21st Century, no corner of the world was immune from what came to be called ‘Pokémania.’” Scrambling in the wake of this unexpected success, Nintendo quickly localized the anime spinoff for an American audience to further capitalize on the video game’s hype. A short year later, the follow-up movie adaptation was so popular that phone boards were overwhelmed as tens of thousands of parents and fans sought tickets.
Pokémon’s defining feature was its dual-cartridge release: PokémonRed Version and PokémonBlue Version. The catch was that while each version had most of the same Pokémon available to catch, there were a few dozen available only in one version or the other. To “catch ’em all,” as the game’s tagline implored young Pokémon trainers, you had to find another player who owned the other cartridge. I chose PokémonBlue, and with a set of fully charged AA batteries powering my Game Boy, I started a new game and settled on Bulbasaur as my starting companion. What followed was an experience that made Link’s Awakening feel like The Hobbit—and now I was playing Lord of the Rings. I soon caught more Pokémon for my party: a cute bird called Pidgey, a caterpillar that ensnared foes in silk webbing, and a bucktooth rodent known as Rattata. By the end of my first play session, these little critters became so much more than characters in a game; they tapped into that Tamagotchiesque sense of ownership and quickly became as beloved as my childhood pets.
This wasn’t a party of adventurers; it was a family.
Pokémon put players in the role of a newly minted trainer named Red. (Or anything else they chose to name him within the seven-character limit. My first name fit with room to spare.) Alongside rival Blue, Red arrives at Professor Oak’s Pokémon lab to choose one of the three starter Pokémon: the aforementioned Bulbasaur and Charmander, and the terrapin-like Squirtle. New Pokémon in tow, you leave your hometown on an adventure through Kanto region—a fictional game universe based loosely on Japan’s own Kanto region. With the goal of becoming the region’s greatest Pokémon trainer, you visit Kanto’s eight gyms, wherein you challenge their leaders, powerful Pokémon trainers who focus on particular types of Pokémon, like water-type or electric-type, to earn badges. Conquering the gym leaders then gives you the right to challenge the Elite Four. Defeat them, and the title of Pokémon Champion awaits.
Pokémon combined the sprawling adventure of the JRPG with a narrative focused on personal conflict and growth—not the end of the world. If anything, Kanto felt idyllic, a Star Trek–esque utopia where humans had moved beyond such pettiness as war or raising vengeful gods to destroy their enemies. With nothing else to do, Kanto’s inhabitants could spend their days training the critters crawling through tall grass, prowling in dark caves, and lurking beneath the waves.
Link’s Awakening felt like a limitless adventure at the time, but in reality, there was one critical path to victory, and each player solved the game by following the same steps in roughly the same order. Pokémon was different. Placing the player in a vast world populated by 151 collectable Pokémon, it created an experience that was as unique and individualized as each of its players. Love cute Pokémon and want to fill your team with Pikachus and Eevees? It’s possible. Want to overpower your starter Pokémon, grind your way through the game, and defeat the Elite Four through brute force? Go for it. Obsessed with Psyduck? Um, sure. I guess.
Pokémon offered so much variety and customization for how the player approached building and training their team that each kid could play it in their own way, opening the door to a new style of accessibility lacking in similar games. Kids cared for their Pokémon, and being able to show off a rare or powerful catch on the playground was a badge of honor. And because of its portable nature, Pokémon was able to experience the same social dynamics that drove other popular schoolyard phenomena. It was like Tamagotchi—without the midnight wake-up calls. While other JRPGs gave the player some customization options for their party characters, it was nowhere near the endless possibility of Pokémon’s gotta-catch-’em-all depth.
It’s time to bid farewell to the androids of Westworld. HBO has cancelled the sci-fi title after four seasons, even though showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were hoping for a fifth to reach the ending they had in mind. Nolan and Joy were trying to negotiate for a last season as recently as October, but their discussions clearly did not pan out. In a statement, HBO said:
“Over the past four seasons, Lisa and [Jonathan] have taken viewers on a mind-bending odyssey, raising the bar at every step. We are tremendously grateful to them, along with their immensely talented cast, producers and crew, and all of our partners at Kilter Films, Bad Robot and Warner Bros. Television. It’s been a thrill to join them on this journey.”
Westworld used to be one of HBO’s tentpole projects, with 54 Emmy nominations and even a win for Thandiwe Newton as Outstanding Supporting Actress. Its ratings and viewership have plummeted over the years, however, and it never quite recovered. For fans, the fact that the show hadn’t been renewed immediately after the latest season ended was already a bad sign.
As The Hollywood Reporter notes, approximately 12 million viewers tuned in to watch the show’s critically acclaimed first season across platforms. And, while we thought that Westworldreturned to form in its third season, its numbers kept on tumbling until only 4 million viewers stuck around to watch the latest episodes. That’s most likely not enough for HBO to justify a renewal. Apparently, the fourth season cost the network $160 million for eight episodes, which is more than what it spent on House of Dragons. The Game of Thrones prequel had ten episodes and averaged 29 million viewers for each one.