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Through the Looking Glass Part II: Ubiquitous Social Gaming

As a follow up to my Augmented Reality focused 3DS post, I discuss the communication and social gaming features of the 3DS and what they could mean to mobile gaming through my experiences at the inaugural meeting of StreetPass DC.

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 (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.

Streetpass DC
StreetPass DC! 

Let me describe my StreetPass DC experience: I arrived at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station on the service’s Red Line. Already nearly late, and not wanting to change lines and endure the long weekend waiting times for a transfer train, I walked the rest of the way to Navy Memorial, whose closest Metro Stop serves the Yellow and Green Lines.

During this walk, I had the 3DS set to “Sleep Mode” so it would respond to anyone approaching the meeting.  This also allowed me to take advantage of the 3DS’s pedometer and gather gaming coins as rewards for each one hundred steps taken (though in a city like DC, the daily earning limit of ten coins is reached all too quickly.)  Already, my real-world decisions in transportation meant something to the 3DS.

I reached the meeting and had already found my system welcoming new Miis into the Mii plaza, which I could then use to play games packed into the 3DS.  Using some of these characters, I beat up some ghosts with my new heroes in Find Mii, a basic RPG where StreetPass Miis save yours from being locked in a castle. 

Also, as I stated previously, my copy of Street Fighter IV joined in the fun, using my team of figurines to go up against everyone else’s who had brought the game.  Using only the default figures against everyone else’s custom characters ended with ten solid defeats on my part.  I would later spend my Metro ride home cashing in all my pedometer-earned Play Coins on new, more powerful Street Fighter figures.  

The meeting held other opportunities beyond the use of the passive communication tools.  Many of us wirelessly compiled friend lists of group members and jumped into Street Fighter or Ridge Racer games with one another.  Pictures were taken for Face Raiders and the possibility of AR gaming and Alternate Reality games with the 3DS was discussed.  The 3DS’s features changed a gathering of strangers into a gaming experience. 

While the same might be said of anyone gathering for running, barhopping, kickball, or any other outdoor activity in the city, the game systems changed the meaning of simple things like walking and talking to someone else into activities that could and would later have implications in our private video game sessions. 

Apart from laying the AR layer of digital information on the world around you, the system, as demonstrated by the event, can create a free exchange of meaning between real and digital world events, enhancing both in the process.  Your activities in the normal world affect those in a brave new digital frontier, all while facilitating social interactions with other explorers.  The 3DS allows owners to become the full realization of Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens:  Man The Player. 

There ISN’T an app for that.

Sesame Street Apps  
I wanted a picture for my last statement and discovered that Sesame Street has a song called "There's An App For That" about a pogo stick...I would be stupid not to make that the picture

Lynsen’s group gained worldwide notoriety through sites like Kotaku and Gawker, going viral shortly after those sites reported on the upcoming inaugural meetings.  StreetPass groups now exist globally…let me repeat that…GLOBALLY, thanks to the Nintendo 3DS and a fan who thinks that it can transform the real world into a social gaming space. 

If the 3DS is the Looking Glass into a hidden gaming Wonderland then the leaders of these groups are our White Rabbits, recognizing the potential of the 3DS’s social and AR features and leading us into their world.  These people are creating the means for 3DS owners to come together to take full advantage of the system’s features.  Now, as is common with groups like the Hashers, visitors from other cities may find themselves looking up the local StreetPass group:  someone’s vacation or trip home may also enhance their gaming experiences.

The night before SPDC’s first event, Lynsen launched the StreetPass Network, allowing StreetPass groups worldwide to communicate and exchange resources.  Other attendees to the event also mentioned their own startup and expressed interest in exchanging information. 

streetpass pic 2  

I mentioned that the group discussed AR and Alternate Reality games.  As we stood around getting so much from what are essentially the most basic of the 3DS’s social gaming features, we discussed the kinds of gaming experiences that could potentially further enhance the urban landscape around us.  In a metropolitan area like DC, Alternate Reality games could be used to advertise future 3DS or Wii projects:  rides on Metro could turn into scavenger hunts by reading QR codes with the camera. 

Stores could be given mats with a special AR card design and apps could be downloaded that would give players clues for reading these images.  The 3DS could go ARQuake and possible future meetings could be spent playing Capture the Flag with 3DS’s on the National Mall, where our Pokemon game goes off and we catch a wild Pikachu in the foliage of the United States Botanical Gardens that can then be used in StreetPass battles.

In case anyone from Nintendo or a third party 3DS developer is reading this:  make all of that happen. 

All in all, being part of the event cemented what I already suspected about the 3DS experience:  this was not just a simple portable gaming device that I purchased; it was a window to a new social gaming playground that exists behind the veil of the world around us.  Even if apps do exist for iPhones or Android devices that do similar things, the 3DS has these features as parts of its operating system, making them instantly more accessible. 

If games like Super Street Fighter IV:  3D Edition continue to be made by developers, then the 3DS could have an enormous impact on the mobile gaming industry, turning even the angriest of birds green with envy.  And if you live in an area where there is a 3DS StreetPass group and you own a 3DS, know someone who owns a 3DS, are interested in purchasing one, or are even skeptical of the experience and want to investigate one for yourself:  go to a meeting, meet and discuss the system with people there, and see how far the rabbit hole goes.  

rabbit hole  


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