This week, I decided to undertake a project and hack my Wii U. I didn’t really need to; there isn’t really any reason beyond a few tweaks and piracy. To the latter point, I’m at the stage of my life where I can afford paying for my games.
I’m not new to voiding warranties; almost every device I currently own (phone, 3DS, iPad, Wii, Wii U, Steam Link, Chromecast) is some degree of “hacked to hell and back.” Even though you’re perpetually in danger of losing a piece of hardware due to what is ultimately something way beyond your understanding, this feels fun and freeing.
I’m going to attempt to articulate why.
Hacking your device is partially about taking back a power dynamic that has increasingly been shifted to manufacturers. Not being able to do something for an arbitrary reason is frustrating, and for the most part, getting around these little things is why I break my devices in the first place.
Take my phone, for instance: in a recent update, Samsung decided to take the quick shortcut for a mobile hotspot out of the pull-down notification tray. Why? I have no idea. From my time working in mobile writing, my biggest conspiracy theory is that carriers with unlimited data plans don’t want consumers knowing tethering exists at all, or they want to push people towards paying for their tethering or sharing plans, instead.
That’s the nefarious reason, but who knows for sure: all I know is that now I have to take more time and frustration accessing something that was painless before.
So, of course, there’s a hack for that. The problem is, I need to either root my device (voiding the warranty) or at least push through an update using a command line.
Most people will get turned off by this, because it’s a process that requires a lot of following precise directions. They also ultimately don’t know what they’re doing beyond following directions, which means that suddenly the possibility of destroying something that works (but not how they’d like it) is higher than they’d like it to be. This means they end up settling for that mediocre experience, and to be honest, I don’t blame them.
This worst experience — the “oh crap, I spent a couple hundred dollars that I can’t spend again soon, only to break what I bought” — is a terrible one. To me it feels like you’re being a bad owner, an irresponsible handler, and are essentially asking for trouble. Most people do not want to lose their expensive device, and that’s a risk you take every time you try.
And yet, I still do it.
These days, I kind of have a conversation in my head before I start, asking:
- Am I prepared to lose this device permanently?
- Am I able to reverse my changes halfway through if they don’t work? How safe is the installation process?
- Is the community big enough to be able to answer my questions or help with problems?
- How close am I to being able to afford a replacement, if needed?
- Will the change I make really be necessary?
Usually, I’m not really methodical; for my Wii U, I was simply bored. I knew the thing was going to collect dust otherwise, and I wanted to see what homebrew was available. I wanted to break the region-locking. I wanted to be able to play certain games on the gamepad screen that weren’t available. I wanted to be able to listen to the game’s audio through its headphone jack while I was playing on a TV (which is something, thankfully, that the Switch allows you to do).
All these things were accomplished. The console will still probably gather dust on my shelf, but it feels a little more personal now: it feels like I’ve bent it to my will, and I truly own it. It feels like if I want to go back to it in the future, I’m not limited by whether Nintendo’s servers are still active, or whether the DLC is still purchasable. Especially with the prevalence of online-only mechanics that translate to offline mode, I am comfortable with tweaking whatever I can to ensure a better experience, as long as I’m not hacking multiplayer.
Basically, I was comfortable with the possibility of bricking my system because without the hacks, I was probably never going to touch it again.
Besides that, I enjoy being able to turn something on again afterward and have it work. It makes me feel rewarded for being able to pay attention, be patient, and follow directions. It’s a reminder that “hey, you’re competent, and you didn’t mess up.” It’s an underrated feeling, and one you have to earn, I think.
If you like electronics, want to learn more about them, and are willing to bet a device you can lose, I firmly encourage you to take a weekend, pick a project, and do it. Building that confidence to take care of your own problems and understanding your electronics is a feeling that I can easily recommend to anyone.