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The GAEMS Guardian personal gaming environment debuted this month. (GAEMS Photo)

GAEMS (Gaming and Entertainment Mobile Systems) is primarily known for its line of “personal gaming environments,” hard-shell protective carrying cases for video game consoles which feature built-in flat-screen monitors and stereo speakers. While the Redmond, Wash.-based company keeps a surprisingly low profile, its products are popular with an audience that includes game developers, esports pros, superstar athletes such as LeBron James, other businesses, and even military personnel.

“Think of our business model: 18-to 36-year-old men and women who travel for a living,” John Smith, co-CEO of GAEMS, told me during an interview at the company’s office. “The No. 1 downtime activity for soldiers, when they were asked in a poll, was reading a religious text. The No. 2 activity was video games.”

You can install a PlayStation or Xbox product into one of GAEMS’ cases to turn it into a portable device, so you can set up and play wherever you can find an open electrical outlet. The exterior shell of the case is also designed to withstand serious abuse; GAEMS has made a hobby for years out of trying to destroy their office Xbox 360, “Bertha,” while it’s in one of their cases and has yet to succeed.

GAEMS’ products fit two niches at once for a military audience, allowing deployed soldiers to safely ship their Xbox to their eventual destinations, and to have a screen to play on once the console arrives. Smith said the company’s G155 Sentry product, which debuted in 2011, sold out in military stores within three days.

GAEMS also sells many of its products to other businesses outside of the gaming industry, such as medical technicians, drone pilots, and security companies, with an additional business-to-business sideline for custom hardware. According to Smith, while the monitors are designed for gaming, they’ve also found many uses in other fields. For example, plumbers have hooked endoscopes up to GAEMS monitors to help explore blocked pipes.

The GAEMS line of gaming environments, from left to right: the original prototype (2010), the second prototype for E3 2010 (“Project GAEMS”), the G155 Sentry (2011), the G190 Vanguard (2012), the Sentinel (2019), and the Guardian (2019). (Thomas Wilde Photo)

GAEMS was founded in 2007 by Smith, then employed at Microsoft as an engagement program manager on Xbox, and his partner and co-CEO Dean Mercier. At the time, Mercier worked at Kronos Digital and spent most of his time traveling for his job. Mercier found that most of the hotels he stayed at would block the A/V ports on their in-room TVs, which kept him from hooking up his Xbox. He was looking for a solution that would let him play his console games on the road.

Smith and Mercier subsequently founded GAEMS, Smith leaving Microsoft to do so, and arrived at an initial product design while working out of a Starbucks in 2010. “I have the napkin at home,” Smith said.

With the help of an angel investor, they took their second prototype to that year’s E3 in Los Angeles, and went on to release their first official product, the G155 Sentry, in July 2011. GAEMS has since released two more production models, the Vanguard and Sentinel, as well as three standalone 1080p gaming monitors and a handful of additional peripherals.

This month, GAEMS’ newest product, the Guardian, made its public debut. Partially funded with the help of an Indiegogo campaign, the Guardian ($700) is a portable studio platform, made explicitly as a professional tool for streamers, content creators, and game developers.

The Guardian draws on user feedback for GAEMS’ products going as far back as their first monitor in 2011.

“The Guardian is here for a very simple reason,” Smith said. “It was a concept, an evolving conversation, listening to people as they use our products. We watched what they did, and even helped them along the way with modifications in products we released. It’s little, subtle things.”

The Guardian contains a custom 24-inch 1440p HD monitor with surround-sound speakers, two headphone jacks on the same channel, three USB ports for charging your electronics, a covered HDMI Out port on the rear of the unit for use with capture devices, and two Picatinny Rail systems built into the top of the unit, made as multi-purpose mounts for equipment like cameras, lights, or microphones. It also comes with a few extra cables, such as special short HDMI cords that are exactly long enough to hook a console up to the Guardian’s internal port.

GAEMS lists the Guardian as being specifically compatible with the PlayStation 4 (Pro), the Xbox One (X), and certain models of ATX Micro PC cases, but the compatibility in question is just for the case itself. You can use any HDMI-compatible device with the Guardian, such as a Nintendo Switch, without issue.

The Guardian is designed so your PlayStation or Xbox fits into a plastic tray built into the bottom of the case, where you can secure it in place with a couple of included Velcro straps and a hard plastic cage, which is attached to the frame with removable thumbscrews. Even with all that coverage, though, the Guardian’s interior is surprisingly well-ventilated, and I had a PS4 running inside one for most of a day without any problems with overheating.

(However, if you leave anything stored in the Guardian while a console’s running, such as the cloth bag that contains all its cords, that’s going to soak up a lot of heat and might damage both the Guardian and your console. GAEMS does make a point of warning the user about that in the Guardian’s manual.)

A Guardian with a PlayStation 4 installed. (Thomas Wilde Photo)

When you shut the lid, the Guardian looks like something you’d use to transport the nuclear football. It’s a hardened black plastic briefcase with a removable sheet-metal panel on its front, and nothing to indicate that it’s a gaming peripheral at all. The Guardian weighs about 30 pounds with a console and controller stored inside it, which is also its primary drawback: it’s heavy for a briefcase. Walking a few blocks with the Guardian felt like working out with free weights. It’s definitely more of a luggage item than a carrying case.

The Guardian only has space inside it to transport one standard controller, which can be Velcro’d into place on a hook next to the console, and has no room for additional items such as physical media or headsets. You’re still saving space with it, especially if you’re planning to use it as a portable broadcast theater, but you’re still likely going to need a second bag for additional peripherals.

It’s also got a peculiar design flaw, which was pointed out to GAEMS by Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, the first one-handed player ever selected in the NFL Draft: you can’t set up a Guardian by yourself if you’ve only got one usable hand. It’s got two stiff catches on its handle that both have to be opened at once before you can lift the lid. GAEMS has promised that its future products will be friendlier to players with handicaps.

Overall, the Guardian is made as a Cadillac option for a specific audience need. If you need to show off your new console game demo in a hotel lobby, go live on Twitch from the desk in your hotel room, or quickly set up a streaming station for your e-sports tournament, the Guardian is perfect. The screen looks crisp from any distance, the dual headphone jacks make it an excellent option for head-to-head play in public, and it’s built to protect your console from anything short of getting hit by a bus.

The Guardian isn’t really meant for the enthusiast market; if nothing else, that $700 price tag is a steep ask for an individual. As a business accessory for creatives, organizers, and developers, however, it has a lot of possibilities.

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