Portable gaming has had a stigma of inequality to console gaming since its inception. That evalutation is not unfounded. Small things that fit in your pocket just can't be expected to be as powerful or immersive as big things that connect to your TV.
Or can they?
First: This isn't about the technical specs of the 3DS, or why its so much more awesomer than PSP or as powerful as Wii or whatever else is being prematurely spewed about the device (which only exists in prototype form as of this writing). No its about something much more personal. Its about the first game system I ever owned, that was truly mine.
See, I have an older sister. Nine years older. So when I was a lil seven-year-old she was 16 working her first job at McDonalds. Even though my family didn't have no poppa and didn't have no money, she was allowed to spend her pay as she saw fit. I guess my mother thought that would teach her responsibility. Thankfully, it didn't. Instead she went out straight away and bought a Sega Master System and a NES.
So I grew up around video games, but my access was restricted. I was the hanger-on, the bratty little brother that was allowed to play at my sister's whim, or when I was babysitting my niece that came two years later. By that time, my sister had moved in with her boyfriend, and took the game systems with her.
That's not all she took. The TV - the only TV in our house - was a birthday present to my sister from my grandparents. Yes, she did
. The TV went with her, and with my mother unemployed there wasn't one to replace it for three years. Three. Long. Years.
The only bright spot in all of this came in the form of an act of mercy by my mother. She decided to splurge on me, to allow me to spend some of my child support money on something unessential. I could buy whatever I wanted within a $100 budget. I didn't even have to think about it. It was 1990, and for the past year I wanted one thing so bad I could taste it. Y'know besides a cohesive family and lots of food and name brand clothing. The one thing I wanted was a Game Boy
. And I got one!
It weighed so much it tore through two fanny packs. Truth.
Why the pea soup-screened brick? I was poor, but I could still add money. A hunnerd bucks went farther ten years ago then it does today for sure, but it wasn't enough for a new TV and a NES. The Game Boy offered me a previously unexplored horizon in my technology-impaired home. I could play video games, real new video games, in the palm of my hand! Even the games were cheaper than the home console. 30-50 dollars for a Nintendo cart was too steep for Mom, but twenty bucks for a GB game was a magic number.
I'll never forget that fateful day at the local Bradlees (a now defunct store kinda like KMart). The Game Boy had recently dropped in price from $90 to about $60 if memory serves, leaving me enough room in my budget to get two games: the mediocre (like I cared) Baseball, and the totally not
mediocre SuperMarioLand! That's right fool- it's one word! Just look at the box!
What, you ask, is epic? ^This^ is epic.
I can still smell the pungent odor of new plastic that greeted me as I opened the boxes, slowly and reverentially examining their contents. I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some vital component to be missing or for the device itself to not even work. But my dream was not a dream. It had come true. I clicked in my third new game (an unknown title called Tetris that came free- FREE- with the unit) and watched the Nintendo logo crall down the screen for the first time, greeting me with its gentle ba-DING
! My new gray plastic friend said hello!
Its OK to look away from the screen. I know, its painfully pathetic.
I didn't care. My brain opened its gates wide, lowered its defenses and soaked in every virtual moment. The depths of Tetris were lost on me that night and would be discovered later. Baseball was cool, but easy to master. I saved the best for last. SuperMarioLand was what my tortured soul craved. Its what drove me to video games to begin with. It was pure, unrestrained escapism. Sure it looked crude in comparison to its contemporaries. Hell, SMB3 was a year old at that point. It didn't matter. It had pipes, it had mushrooms, it had floating platforms and boss battles and infuriating enemy patterns and hidden secrets. It was a real platformer, the purest definition of the term 'video game' for me.
More than that, it was the Through the Looking Glass of the Mario series. Koopas didn't hide in shells, they freakin exploded
! Flowers didn't grant you fireballs, but bouncing, riccocheting canonballs that could collect coins! Grumpy King Koopa wasn't waiting for you at the end, but a midair shootout with an unheard of space alien guarding your prize: a new princess that puts out. It wasn't nearly as widely received as its NES cousins, and that made the game feel like it was uniquely mine, further cementing my social alienation with a positve experience.
As the next few years wore on my library of games grew and replaced my real life with virtual tales of wonder and a false sense of accomplishment. I spent my leisure time experiencing games my friends (read: aquaintences) had never heard of: Balloon Kid, Kid Icarus: of Myths and Monsters, Metroid II, Link's Awakening - all the green shaded classics.
From that point on portable gaming always felt like home to me. Even when I started making my own money as a teen and got my SNES (Super Mario All-Stars Bundle, what!), and yes finally did buy my own NES and Genesis and on and on to the current gen. Holding a little device in my hands, its cold light flickering across my mesmerized stare, comforts me in a way home consoles never will.
This meandering, pitiable tale leads us to the omfgitsin3damnDwithoutglasses news we were treated to these past two days. That news is incredibly important to the little me inside the bigger, fatter adult me. 3DS is not just a brand new technology for the consumer market. Its not just a mega upgrade to an existing concept. Its not just a handheld toy. Its a new member of the extended family that began for me that warm June night in 1990, when I was freed from the shackles of my family's poverty by the contents of a mysterious box covered with TRON hands.
Thanks for reading.
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