The Portable Gamers' Manifesto
The days of disapproving looks when adults whip out their DS or PSP in public are finally coming to an end...
I read recently something along the lines of 'The older you are, the more cash you have for games, and the older you are, the less time you have to play those games." There are more entertaining things than ever before battling for our attention and our "cash money" like gaming, watching movies, reading books, magazines and websites or heaven forbid, actually going outside and socializing. Maybe I'm all messed up... I mean... I love movies! Have I watched any lately? Barely. I'd like to blame the movie industry for not making any good films of late but the truth is probably closer to the fact that I'd rather just sit and stare at the Internet all evening, absorbing news, reading, watching an unending stream of Youtube videos. I sometimes think I enjoy reading about the Sony vs Microsoft vs Nintendo saga more than I actually enjoy playing the damn games.
I own, or have owned most of the popular home consoles and computers of the last 25 years but as I've aged I've noticed that while I still enjoy games, I nearly spend more time talking about them and looking forward to them than playing them. I'll spend months looking forward to games, then a paltry few hours actually playing them. The only game I can honestly say I played through to completion on a home console of late was Shadow of the Colossus on the PS2. I had been waiting on that one for almost four years, though. For me and many of my friends who I've talked to, the age-old act of sitting down and playing videogames for an entire evening just isn't something some of us older guys seem to be able to muster these days. You can put it down to a whole variety of reasons, like some of us having gone as far as having our own kids, having a demanding social life, work overlapping from daytime into evening, or just being damn tired after a days work. Myself, I think I just fall into the latter category.
There's one constant in my life though, and that is that wherever I go, I take my manbag, and contained within this bag you will find the holy trinity. My DS Lite, my PSP, and my Game Boy Micro (yeah I know the DS plays GBA games, but the Micro still feels special to me). How I spend my evenings may very well be less and less with games, but what about those bits in the daytime where I'm stuck? Say, waiting for someone, or waiting for or traveling on a bus or train. Or just even on my lunch hour. Hence I find I play my handheld games far far more than I do my home consoles, just because I have the opportunities to do so when commuting to and from work.
The thing I've noticed though, as a fully grown, balding, almost-scarily 30-year-old man is the reactions you get from other people when you start your unashamed public gaming. You sometimes feel like there is a certain stigma attached to being a gamer. That you're just wasting time with a bit of 'mindless fun'. Well, yeah? You'd rather sit in stony silence waiting for that train that's gonna take 30 mins to get here? You go ahead. There's no damn way I'm gonna sit there twiddling my thumbs. Some people read books, others listen to their iPods, I happen to like games! So I'm gonna play 'em when and wherever I can. Now, someone sitting silently reading a book will never be cause for concern for anybody, someone with headphones on may get some looks if they got their volume up high but playing games is different, sometimes you just get funny looks from people, sometimes, a little more.
Some of the strangest reactions come from kids though. I've had kids openly talking amongst themselves "look at that man playing on a DS", like its somehow wrong? Makes me wanna shout about how I was playing Mario before they were even born! While waving my walking stick around angrily... Kids are more likely to just straight up ask you what you're playing though, but it feels weird when they say "yeah, I've got that."
I've also been victim to attempts of portable videogame one-upmanship. I was sat waiting for my train home, playing on my GB Micro, when out of all the viable seats at the station, some guy comes and sits riiight next to me, and produces his shiny PSP from its slipcase and starts to play. He didn't say anything but he might as well have gone "Ha! A Gameboy! How disgustingly childlike, iii'm playing on a manly PSP", so after playing on the GB Micro for a short while, I plunged into my manbag, retrieved my PSP and started to play Goku Makaimura. Now, I didn't say anything but my response would've probably been along the lines of "You call yourself a gamer? I have import titles and am thus... more hardcore than you!" Now during this little exchange, as I've said no words were uttered, maybe its just me being crazy.... But that's how it felt.
The most attention I ever gained though in my gaming travels was when I plumped down the cash for an imported, navy blue DS Lite. It certainly felt unusual when quite regularly people would ask "Is that the new DS?". To which I'd of course reply with much gusto "Yes! And they are not out over here yet!". I think that, more than anything else demonstrated to me quite how well Nintendo has managed to create interest in the DS. Now, I'll admit I was late to the DS party and probably for the very same reason many more of us allegedly grown up types. The old DS just didn't have the aesthetic appeal of the shiny shiny PSP. It looked very much like a cheap kids toy and the sales of the unit, while still huge, suffered in that it wasn't selling to people like myself. The arrival of the DS Lite not only gave the unit a screen as bright, if not brighter than mister PSP but the encapsulation of the DS technology in a shell much sleeker was what made it more appealing to us "looks are everything" types. Now, having the kind of money us adults have means we're not necessarily bound by the conventional rules of having to decide on one particular format. There is no PSP vs DS for me anymore, I just pick and choose what games I like the look of.
You'd be surprised though at how many of us still staunchly back one system in preference of another. I can remember being all in defense of the Game Boy Brick edition when I was back in school, under attack from Game Gear owning kids, deriding my lack of color. Only it would be me laughing when I was still playing on the same batteries a week later and they were waiting for more allowance to buy batteries again. The fact that both the DS and the PSP actually come with rechargeable batteries and both offer, to be honest, a decent amount of battery life, that didn't stop even us grown menfolk from arguing like schoolkids on forums and suchlike. The times may be a-changin' but the people most certainly ain't.
With more adults joining the handheld gaming scene, we've finally seen publishers catch on, and release more games for adult tastes. The PSP has tried to specifically cater to the adult market with a great deal of realistic simulations and sports titles like Madden NFL or Toca Race Driver 2 and retro collections from Capcom and Taito for example. The DS has become home to a large amount of interesting titles like the experimental Electroplankton, puzzle titles like Meteos and plain crazy awesomeness like Ouendan. It's a far cry from the 90's where almost every other game was lazy attempt at a platform game with some allegedly cute furry protagonist.
We've now got more choice than ever before, mobile gaming is absolutely everywhere! The iPods newfound gaming aspect is going to allow people to indulge in their favorite hobby in an even more casual manner, with the games released on the 'pod so far being a fruity selection of popular puzzle titles. So we can game wherever we want, whenever we want and in a multitude of ways! Comrades... This, is the life!