The StreetPass feature on the Nintendo 3DS encourages you to take your handheld out and about with you, swapping your Mii and a cursory greeting with any other 3DS that comes into range before letting you play a few games with them. It’s a very Nintendo thing; they don’t create an all-singing, all-dancing multi-functional device that tries to counter smartphones with email and Skype and whatnot on it, they just create a toy that’s made more fun by keeping it with you all the time.
When I take my 3DS out I usually come back with around 10 StreetPass hits, but it struck me recently that I never see anybody with an actual 3DS in their hands. All I’ve done is pass people who happen to have a 3DS in their bag, carried slightly shamefully like a sanitary product. It feels like it’s frowned upon to use one on public transport, as if there’s a list of approved items and the 3DS never made it on, standing forlornly on the wet pavement as a bouncer stares into the middle-distance before it.
I sometimes try and play a quick game on my 3DS XL while on the tube; its chunky hinge creaks open, its giant lid snapping into place with the arthritic cracking sound of an old man standing up. Everyone else in the carriage starts at the unexpected noise and looks at me like I’m trying to listen to a 12″ LP on a vintage Dansette. I’m playing a GAME-game, an actual GAME on an actual TOY with the size and weight of an ’80s cellphone. There’s a quick, group sneer before everyone returns to their 5″ Samsung Galaxy Phablets to play whichever lurid, free-to-play, ad-supported thing-matching game is fashionable that hour. Sometimes I get the 3DS stylus out; I may as well be using a quill.
When a friend and I used our 3DSs in a slim and trendy Clerkenwell bar, the slim and trendy young patrons openly stared at us, wondering if the circus had come to town. As if to punish me for using such a self-consciously childish toy in such a self-consciously stylish place, when the waitress cleared our table she gathered up and threw my stylus away, thinking it was one of the bar’s trendy black cocktail sticks that we’d been using to spear deep-fried olives as if they were tiny, delicious whales.
Nintendo isn’t cool; Nintendo has never been, nor ever will be cool. I like to imagine how things could have been different. I like to imagine living in the universe where the Game Boy Micro really took off, changeable-faceplates and all, and Nintendo kept on designing hardware that wasn’t just toy-like but had a stylish modernity to it as well.
Give me a 3DS Micro to use when I’m out and about, something light and discreet that I can barely feel in my pocket, something almost swallowable; I really want to feel my hands cramping up into claws when I use it. Then, when I’m home, I want to close my Micro, spend a few minutes flexing my RSI-afflicted fingers, and open my XL and have it pick up where I left off. I want my purchased games to be linked to my account, not my device, with save states and game progress shared across every limited edition Japanese imported model I presumably own in this fantasy. Damn it, I want swappable face plates so I can coordinate my gadget with my outfit and accessories.
None of this is likely, of course. Nintendo are about a decade off of having any sane online infrastructure and their focus at the moment appears to be on trying to sell more than 10 Wii U consoles per month rather than inventing impossible hardware for the likes of me. For the foreseeable future, I’m resigned to carrying around something that looks like a plastic Filofax.
So, I can prove every time I’m out that there are literally ones of 3DS players out there, they’re just choosing not to play in public. Fair enough; concern over public perception is a powerful thing, it’s just that, as an increasingly grey-haired, angrily-muttering curmudgeon, I’m so far past giving any fucks about public perception as to be catching up on the fucks I stopped giving the first time I stopped giving a fuck. I’ll continue using my 3DS, openly and proudly, and maybe it will encourage others to do the same. Or, maybe it will make people think “Jesus! Look at the sort of nutter that uses these things! I’m keeping mine in my bag and playing Candy Crush again.”