I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’ve reposted them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on March 17, 2011, this is Grain of Salt Volume 5: The Faltering Handheld.
Lee’s journal – February 14, 2012: Old DS Lite sitting on headboard. No game in its lately unloved slot. This DS is mocking me. I’ve felt its guilting stares. The screens are extensions of each other, and the bottom one is full of scratches, and when the screen is finally covered, all the games will look terrible. The accumulated filth of all my touching and tapping will build up about the touch screen, and all the games I didn’t play very much will look up and shout, “Play us!” And I’ll whisper, “No.”
As I grow older, I find myself caring less and less about handheld gaming systems. I play less frequently with the ones I own, and I feel no excitement or anticipation for those on the horizon. With the release of Nintendo’s 3DS and more recently, Sony’s Playstation Vita, my own apathy has surprised me. Just a few years ago I would’ve been stoked about some of these fancy new gaming devices, yet suddenly I just can’t bring myself to care. I figure there must be others out there who feel the same, and not necessarily just adults. What might the reason be for such an attitude change about handheld gaming when it used to be such a cultural phenomenon? The truth is, there could be several reasons handhelds are losing the hold they once had on our hands.
The first possible reason that comes to mind is the host of lackluster libraries the past few handhelds have boasted. The DSi has very few exclusive titles that take advantage of its added features, making the system more of a glorified iPod with gaming capabilities than a truly new game system. The 3DS debuted with a few lame new releases like Steel Diver, one solid title in Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, and a slew of games we’ve already bought and played before, the only difference being its fancy 3D technology. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I really don’t care to be bent over and boned from behind by game companies who think I want to buy yet ANOTHER release of Ocarina of Time or Street Fighter IV. A year has passed since release and the system still lacks a decent library of games, with only a small few great titles.
I was never very impressed with the original PSP in the first place, and while the Vita has some impressive launch titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, not to mention a new Killzone in the works (and I suppose some people may care about the special Vita incarnation of Call of Duty, too… but not yours truly), I’m still simply not excited. If the games DO end up being decent at launch and I still don’t care, then what else could be the problem?
While I can’t speak for people under 18, as an adult I find it increasingly difficult to find time to play my handhelds. When I was a kid being carted around on my parents’ errands and being driven everywhere, often to places I didn’t care to be (like get-togethers with their friends, or grandma’s house), I tended to have a lot of time sitting around being bored and wishing I was home playing video games. Handheld systems are perfect for kids because they’re not directly involved in a lot of the stuff they’re toted around for, and they don’t have to pay attention to anything when they’re in the car. Once I was old enough to drive and I got to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do, I didn’t find myself with as much time being bored. Then, once I moved out, got my own place, and started working for a living, I had limited time for friends, family, or even myself, and when I do find some time to relax at home the last thing I want to do is sit around playing on a tiny screen.
When I get time to myself I’d much rather be in front of on my big HDTV on my big-boy consoles playing my big-boy games with loud volume, being totally immersed aurally and visually in the experience as a means of escape from my busy adult life. I don’t want to sit around playing time-wasters like Rhythm Heaven or Pokemon anymore, I want to be involved in something epic like God of War, or Batman: Arkham City, something deep in gameplay and story with a scenario I care about. When I try to sit down with my handheld at home, it doesn’t take long for me to start to feel like I should be doing something more engrossing with my time, and that whatever I’m playing is more of a distraction than an experience.
Then again, some adults still do enjoy their distraction games. However, evolving cell phone technology has led the charge with distraction gaming for adults. Titles like Angry Birds and Words with Friends are easily accessible because they don’t require a special machine primarily meant for gaming, and they don’t embarrass folks who normally wouldn’t be caught dead playing the modern equivalent of a Game Boy because they think of such machines as children’s toys. Cell phone gaming has given adults a sophisticated, convenient replacement for the handheld systems they grew up with. Personally, I still choose to use an old Motorola brick of a phone (which doesn’t even have picture capabilities or a flip feature) because I love its reliability and simplicity, so while the world of modern cell phone gaming is largely lost on me, I have played some of the games on other people’s phones and can appreciate them. Yet for me, cell phone gaming didn’t replace handheld gaming. Handheld gaming simply became obsolete in my busy life and was replaced in times of relaxation by bigger, more impressive gaming.
Perhaps you have shared my recent apathy for handheld systems yourself, whether your reason is like my own busy adult life, your cell phone has replaced those handheld systems, or perhaps both reasons apply to you. Maybe it’s the largely uninteresting libraries of recent handhelds at fault. Then again, you may very well still be in love with your handheld systems and are enjoying your shiny new PS Vita, and if that’s the case, take this with a grain of salt. To each his own, and while I don’t foresee handheld gaming dying off altogether, I can finally say it’s dead to me. Rest in peace, dear old handhelds, and may you never come back as Stupid Zombies…wait…DAMN IT.