18 April 2011

Through the Looking Glass Part II: Ubiquitous Social Gaming - by Christopher Totten

      Posted 04/09/11 07:43:00 pm   To be honest, I didn’t really expect to write a “part II” to my post on the Nintendo 3DS.  In the last blog post, I wrote how the 3DS’s AR capabilities could turn the system into a looking glass for seeing our real surroundings as digital playgrounds (much to the ire of several unconvinced commenters.) 

Also in the post, I glossed over several features focusing on communication between 3DS systems, the interaction between their users, and Facebook-based social events forming around these features.  Having attended the first of these events, I thought that writing a “part II” would be appropriate, as I have been further inspired by the 3DS and a group of fans devoted to changing cities into social gaming spaces. 

For those who don’t know, the social event I am referring to is the first meeting of “StreetPass DC”, a grass-roots group of 3DS users in the Washington DC metro area.  Begun by 3DS supporter and DC resident Joshua “The Man In The Mario Hat” Lynsen, StreetPass DC strives to bring local 3DS users together to utilize the new handheld’s social gaming features.   

Living just outside of DC, I decided to attend myself after reading about the group’s creation on Kotaku.  In an e-mail interview with Daniel Wise of VideoGameWriters.com (who was also in attendance at the inaugural meeting), Lynsen remarked how he was inspired to create the group after observing similar portable-gaming themed groups in Japan and lamenting the lack of similar groups in the US.

Having taken my own 3DS out into the city during daily activities with StreetPass mode turned on, I could relate to his frustrations at having no game encounters.  Sure enough, as I saw Lynsen’s Mario hat (which he said would be how the group could distinguish him from the normal Cherry Blossom tourist crowd), my 3DS’s green communication light began blinking in earnest and I soon had ten visitors to my Mii Plaza and my Super Street Fighter IV figurines had lost as many battles. 

Truly, we had stumbled onto something amazing. 

Cities like DC are awash in social activities, from Hash House Harrier groups (people who go running and drinking) to adults playing the playground games of their youth in public places, often using the Internet as the basis of their group coordination. 

StreetPass DC focuses the same style of socialization around the 3DS as a device for transforming the surrounding urban environment into a digital playground.  From the hours of 10 am to Noon, the DC Navy Memorial became a ubiquitous gaming hotspot in ways that are only deliverable via a system like the 3DS.  Some reviews, like those found on CNN, incorrectly compare the experience of the 3DS to that of using the iPhone as a mobile gaming device. 

Meanwhile, Sony’s Jack Tretton shortsightedly laughs it off as it a “babysitting tool.”  This outlook on the device compares it to the experience founded by the Game Boy in the late Eighties: one using a handheld to act as a gaming console on the go.  In many ways, the iPhone and upcoming NGP are the zenith of this experience:  the ability to play games away from your living room and download content from the internet (the 3DS will receive its own e-store and internet service this Summer.) 

Yes, the iPhone is a phone and internet/IM device, making it an amazing piece of pocket tech, but as a gaming device it pretty much does what the Game Boy did in glorious green and black those twenty-two years ago.  As I stated in my last article, the 3DS differs from these systems in its ability to make the idea of mobile gaming more meaningful – the fact that you’re moving around in the real world and not sitting in a living room matters.

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