Recently Nintendo has brought back a man who we all had mostly forgotten; Dr. Kawashima and his Brain Training was given to Wii U owners for free an
d for a brief time we were taken back to 2005 and reliving the first Nintendo DS phenomenon. The game made us see that the DS could be something more than a simple gaming platform; it could be a book, a puzzle collection, a musical instrument. Even The Sun released a crossword collection on the thing. However 2005 was a long time ago now and since then almost any device you can get these days sports these things called apps. The “app” has proven to be unlimited in what it has to offer and so easily accessible, it would seem that the handheld’s potential has been fully reached on a different platform, that does games and oh so much more. Everything the DS wanted to be is now easily found elsewhere.
However Nintendo still plugs their 3DS and Sony are still selling Vita’s on the market and neither shows any signs of letting up on them in favour of the app platforms. Yet when we consider the crazes that are Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga it’s so tempting to speculate what potential something like Mario would receive on this platform. Popular icons such as Sonic the Hedgehog are finding new life on mobile gaming and even Professor Layton is about to merge his handheld release with an app one. Sony and Nintendo could use this breath of life that apps seem to allow. For the casual gamer the thought of spending so much on the handheld and the game just doesn’t seem as worth popping on the app store and getting something of such quality for so much less. It’s hard to imagine how long more hard-core gamers can keep the handhelds running without the casual gamer support. However perhaps it is simply for the more dedicated gamer that the handheld still exists.
Returning to Dr. Kawashima for the moment, participating in brain training I began to think wouldn’t it be great to get this one my phone then I could do my brain training so easily and quickly while I’m in between things. I’m always going to access to my phone wherever I am after all. However while following this trail of thought, Kawashima delightfully announced to me that I had a brain age of 32, “that’s 10 years over your actual age” he informs me with that light disappointment in his eyes. So I told myself next time I’m going to concentrate fully on this game. I faced Kawashima’s challenges again when my head was entirely in the game and lo and behold I was rewarded with a brain age of 22. Seems kind of obvious really that concentration is the key but then consider how we consume our apps, that we are more inclined to use them to fill gaps in our day or used whilst undertaking another task either in the foreground or background. The conscious effort to pull out our 3DS or Vita to play a game would suggest we are making more of an effort to play the game than we would simply pulling out our phone from our pocket to see what it has to offer us in our moments reprise.
Like Montag’s struggle to read on the subway in Fahrenheit 451, the app is constantly bombarding us with external data (things like Facebook, Twitter, texts and phone calls and especially advertising demanding our attention at any and all moments) becoming almost impossible to process exactly what’s on the page in front of us. We cannot realise the words on the page when external forces are penetrating our mental state and the same applies to the video game; we cannot realise the game before us when we’re being invited to divert our attentions from it at any moment. At least on a handheld, the game remains the forefront of the experience.
Thus perhaps the reason the handheld still exists is to remind us that a game is something we can fully engage with, not a filler gap. Because the app game can be so easily infiltrated, we cannot get caught up in the game as much as we would playing on a handheld. While this isn’t so much a concern for the casual gamer, if we were to wholly throw our laurels into the app market then the ability to appreciate the act of playing a game would be lost to an attitude which encourages filling in the blanks of our daily lives. Therefore, while I acknowledge that the app market is a wonderful and exciting opportunity for the gaming industry, it is in the handheld that the engrossing portable gaming experience lies because the game remains the focus and not the side-track. Thus it is important for us to keep supporting both platforms because each provides a different outlet and nurtures different attitudes towards gaming, making both rewarding in their own right. Though for a less casual gamer like me, it’s handhelds all the way.