Backbone One: The PlayStation Portable That Isn’t (Dreams Interrupted: From Discovery to Destiny – Part 2)

Well, they finally did it… after years of trying to crack the code on handheld gaming with their releases of the PSP, the PSP Go, and the PlayStation Vita, Sony has FINALLY put a handheld gaming unit out on the market that may actually stand the test of time. After multiple false starts and promising products, Sony is now in a position to challenge Nintendo’s dominance in the portable gaming market. Wait a minute… something isn’t right here. Clearly this is a PS5 in handheld form, right? I mean, the distinctive look of the controllers is a clear match for the PS5 controller style… let me read the fine print here. Hmmm… this can’t be right. Sorry everyone, please stand down… this was a false alarm. This isn’t a new handheld console solution from Sony at all… not really. Sure, it IS a new Sony Edition mobile gaming option all right, and through the power of Sony’s remote play service we will be able to scratch the itch to play many of our favorite PlayStation games on the go… but this isn’t a new Sony mobile gaming system. It is a new mobile controller for our phones called “Backbone”, pairing the universally well-regarded Sony PlayStation controller style with the mobile phone many consumers already possess. And perhaps this is the best way for Sony to truly compete in the handheld market… not with their own console, but by partnering what they do best with the strengths of others to make a product that merges their strengths while mitigating their risks and minimizing their flaws. And maybe, just maybe, this is what they should have tried doing in the first place. But don’t take my word for it… let’s take a short, painful trip down memory lane.

As a consistently early adopter of gaming technology that is ultimately doomed to failure, my feelings towards Sony in the portable gaming space are incredibly complicated. I still remember holding the original PlayStation Portable in my hands for the first time and truly believing that Nintendo might actually have some real competition. But the unpopular choice of choosing a unique media format as well as a proprietary memory card solution made the PSP a fairly expensive stand-alone product compared to the much more consumer friendly price point of Nintendo’s handheld family… and then there were the games. Or more to the point, the lack of QUALITY games. Sure, the PSP game library certainly had some highlights with some high-profile exclusive releases in the very popular Final Fantasy and God of War franchises, but ultimately there simply wasn’t a broad enough selection of titles to maintain its’ relevance in the marketplace. Sony’s attempt to pivot to a purely digital model with the PSP Go was an ill-fated step past the capabilities of the available technology, a fatally flawed concept that was too far ahead of its’ time. Enter the PS Vita…

When the PS Vita was announced it looked like Sony finally had a winner on their hands… with its’ state-of-the art visuals, touchscreen capabilities, console cross-play, and a control scheme that finally featured TWO analog sticks, Sony had truly seemed to successfully address all of the flaws of its’ predecessors. And yes, I brought this one home as well… only to find that the remote play options were a bit too limited, the battery life was way too short, the game selections remained incredibly minimal, and the most compelling portable game experience was STILL on a Nintendo platform. It looked like the dream of having a viable mobile gaming option for Sony died when the PS Vita did… ironic considering the LITERAL definition of the word “vita” is LIFE. And in the years that followed, Sony had to sit back and watch as Nintendo expanded on their handheld dominance with their highly successful hybrid Switch console, while the Steam Deck has captured the mobile PC gaming market… leaving Sony on the outside looking in, gazing longingly at a dream that was once theirs now being happily lived by others. And that is a feeling I think many of us can relate to all too well.

Dreams are a funny thing… last week we looked at the importance of ensuring that dream in our heart is aligned with the actual will of God for our lives, and if you missed that one it is linked below:

But many times, the dreams we carry in our heart are clearly within the Lord’s will for our lives, but all of our attempts to access it are STILL unfruitful. In our prayers and devotional time, we keep finding verses that encourage us to be strong and of good courage (Deuteronomy 31:6), but every time we try to take a step in ANY direction we are met with roadblock after disappointing roadblock, causing us to wonder if we heard from the Lord correctly. We run the equivalent of an “internet connectivity test” on ourselves to validate that our motives are pure, our preparation is complete, and our connection with the Lord is stable… but despite all of those confirmations we are STILL unable to launch. And in those moments, it is easy to question everything from ourselves, our dreams, and even the goodness of the Lord when the dream He has placed in our heart remains painfully out of reach. But within the strange voyage of Sony’s failed handheld history into the launching of a product that finally checks all of the boxes, we may find the answers that we are looking for.

One of the most difficult parts about the dreams that the Lord gives us is that they aren’t typically answered within a vacuum… their timing and fulfillment are dependent on the intersecting dreams of others as well. The most obvious example of this is arguably the most famous dreamer in the entire Bible, Joseph (Genesis 37-45). His story starts with some large God-given dreams of leadership and responsibility, but his journey was filled with setback after setback as he endured betrayal, slavery, abandonment, false accusations, and prison. On the surface his dreams appeared to be just that… dreams. But he was NOT the only dreamer in this story… he simply had to wait and endure these challenges until the other “dreamers” in the story received their dreams as well. First, the Pharoah’s cupbearer and baker had to be tossed into the same prison that Joseph was held in, and then they received dreams of their own (Genesis 40). After successfully interpreting their dreams, Joseph had to feel like his life was about to finally get back on track. Then he was promptly forgotten about for TWO MORE YEARS (Genesis 41:1).

Joseph didn’t ask for these dreams or desires… they were simply given to him. But he was not the ONLY character in the story… the fulfillment of his dream was still dependent on the timing and support of others so that he would walk into his destiny at the right place and time for himself as well as the others his role would impact. And when Pharoah’s dream and the needs of the people finally aligned with the dream that had been placed in the heart of Joseph, his destiny was finally realized… thirteen long, challenging, and painful years later. But while timing and the alignment of the need are very important to the fulfillment of our God-given dreams, the final piece of the puzzle that Sony had to find for themselves is just as important for us as well… the right partner.

In Acts 15 we find the Apostle Paul at a critical and literal crossroads in his life… fresh off of his first missionary journey, Paul had just returned to Jerusalem to share the good news about the Gentile reception to the teachings of Christ. This was a major turning point in church history, culminating with the historic Jerusalem council proclamation that finally brought the Jewish and Gentile believers together into one united family. Paul had to be greatly encouraged as his vision of reaching the world beyond Israel for Christ was finally coming together… until a stunning division within his very limited circle of trust changed everything.

Acts 15:36-41 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so, Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Paul and Barnabas had performed incredible work together, but the next phase of Paul’s calling brought their separation. Barnabas and Mark would go off and follow their vision, and the next phase of Paul’s missionary calling would take place with a new partner he had just met named Silas (Acts 15:22)… and it would be Silas who would travel with Paul on his next two missionary journeys, accompany Paul through the hardships and rough times that were ahead, and would be there as Paul wrote almost all of the New Testament epistles that form the basis of our Bible today. Barnabas may have been the right partner for Paul for much of his journey, but Silas was the one who would finish the race with Paul. And as hard as it can be to accept for us, the reality is that our dreams have multiple moving parts that must come together for completion… the right time, the right place, and the right partner to fulfill them with.

Sony began their journey into the handheld space with the original PSP way back in December of 2004… and after 15 years of trying and failing to disrupt the handheld market with their offerings, they finally ceased production on their final handheld console in 2019. Their dream seemed to be dead… but what they didn’t realize was that in the summer of 2018 a new dream had sprung to life in someone else’s heart as a new tech company named Backbone quietly emerged from the shadows. Nobody would have possibly predicted at that time that these dreams would somehow coalesce into a combined vision for the future. But here we are, in 2022 as Sony has FINALLY found a partner that can breathe new life into their dream… with Backbone providing the technology, Apple supplying the mobile phone hardware, and Sony tapping into their reservoir of games and remote play capabilities to provide a product that gives Sony the mobile gaming option they have been trying unsuccessfully to build on their own all of this time. It took nearly eighteen LONG and difficult years to get here… but now that the timing is right, the technology is present, and the perfect partner has arrived, Sony can finally see their dreams fulfilled in the hands of gamers all across the world.

The hardest part about deferred dreams is the waiting… and the reality is that sometimes it is not God waiting on us, but on OTHERS to reach the place that they will need to be so they can join us on this journey. Sony had a vision that wasn’t able to be fulfilled until the power of mobile phone technology that is currently available could support the demands of their gaming audience… and of course Backbone didn’t even EXIST as a company until Sony had finally reached the point where they had given up trying to fulfill their dream on their own. And part of the painful truth about the fulfillment of our dream is that those who start the voyage with us may not be the same people who are destined to finish the race with us. Barnabas was the right partner for Paul in phase one of his ministry, but it was Silas who was specifically chosen by the Lord for the second phase of Paul’s work. Sony took on several different technology partners over the years to accomplish their dreams, but now that the correct partner has emerged, the core strengths between each of these companies will finally deliver on the dream Sony had many years ago.

When we find ourselves in a situation where our God-given dreams feel stifled but the vision in our heart is compelling us to continue to believe and persevere, it is easy to reach a point of frustration, doubt, and disillusionment. And it is in those moments we need to pray for the partners that we may not have even met yet… undiscovered supporters who will one day serve a vital purpose for the realization of the Lord’s calling on each of our lives. Joseph had his Pharaoh, Moses had his Joshua, Ruth had her Boaz, David had his Jonathan, Mary had her Joseph, Paul had his Silas… as the body of Christ we have been built to not only be codependent on Christ, but also on each other to fulfill the shared destiny that can only be completed by submitted believers working together to serve His purpose (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). So, let’s not allow despair or discouragement in these seemingly delayed or deferred dreams to cause us to stop believing in or pursuing the destiny that the Lord has placed into our hearts… let’s instead be encouraged by the knowledge that all of this WILL be made beautiful in its’ time. We only see part of the picture from our current position, and that is by design (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). But as every dreamer has eventually found to be true, if we are faithful to walk in obedience and faith in the Lord’s plan, He will ALWAYS fulfill His promises… we may simply be waiting on the right alignment of a partner that is essential to His plan to climb the other side of this mountain. And as Sony found in Backbone, the partner that they never knew they needed, when we both finish climbing our respective sides of the mountain we will meet together at the top so we can finally see the Promised Land and reach our combined destiny together.

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