GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
Traditionally I don't get on with handhelds. Without fail I buy them, of course – partly due to the collector in me and partly due to my complete inability to pass up the opportunity to own a new gadget – but after a couple of weeks spent fiddling with whatever launch title caught my eye they're usually relegated to a shelf to gather dust. The last one I spent any serious time with, if you don't count smartphones (hey, Charlie Brooker said that Twitter was a video game), was the original Nintendo Game Boy; I played that platform to death thanks to the likes of Pokémon, Super Mario Land and Tetris, moving from the original chewing gum-coloured brick (which stoically kept working even after it met with toilet-based disaster) to a bright yellow Play It Loud model, to a gorgeous black Game Boy Pocket to, finally, a see-though purple Game Boy Colour. It was a love affair with a console which I don't think any machine has prompted since.
Since Gunpei Yokoi's first born, however, handhelds haven't been able to hold my interest for long. I appreciate them, of course – I have a particular fondness for the Game Boy Advance SP – but there's something about them, especially as they've grown and evolved, that seems lacking. The games, often variations on classic puzzlers or remakes and rereleases of games from older platforms, fail to grab hold of me the way Wario Land or Link's Awakening did. Nintendo have only ever seemed interested in rehashing the past or making mini-games, Sony don't seem to know what to do with their platforms – is it a movie player? Is it a spare controller for the PS3? Is it a £200 emulator for the original PlayStation? - and the rapid influx of social networking features leave me cold. I don't want to connect my gaming with Facebook and Twitter. I don't want to post automatic status updates whenever I unlock an achievement or trophy. And I'm pretty sure my friends and followers don't want to read that crap either.
And yet a few months ago, thanks largely to the tremendous amount of infectious enthusiasm that I encountered via communities like Tumblr and Reddit, I felt compelled to pick up a copy of Pokémon X about a week after its release. At this stage I hadn't picked up my 3DS since it was launched in 2012, having mashed through Starfox 64 3D in one sitting and having lost interest in the remake of Ocarina of Time, so it was almost like coming to the console from scratch. I had to update the software – something else that the Game Boy never had to contend with – and get to grips with the interface all over again. I relearned the fandom terminology, approached friends for tips and advice, and slowly found myself getting drawn into the world of Pokémon all over again.
But more than that, I started getting drawn into the platform. I was enjoying the game so much that I started slipping my 3DS into my work bag instead of my Kindle, so that I could grab thirty minutes or so of gaming during my daily commute. Because I had my 3DS with me I started leaving it in suspend mode, which led to me picking up other gamers' avatars via the console's Streetpass feature as they wandered by. When I started getting Streetpass alerts I started exploring the built-in Streetpass mini-games, enjoying my random encounters and the diversity of the community that I was slowly becoming a part of. Thanks to my avatar's standard greeting - “Oh HAI doggie!” - I even began trading quotes from The Room with a perfect stranger, the lines exchanging every time our consoles found themselves in proximity. To this day I still have no idea who that bloke was, but I'm fairly certain that we shared a train to work.
Pokémon X itself got completed in fairly short order, and all of the Legendary creatures within were collected. Not satisfied, I began learning how to breed Pokémon. This led me to beginning the (frankly insane) task of trying to construct a “living Pokédex – that is, to obtain literally one of every Pokémon in existence, including the rare/event Pokémon that were difficult enough to find when they were originally released years ago. This then led me to discover the existence of rare “shiny” Pokémon, and to covet them. For the first time I was adding friends and acquaintances to a buddy list on a Nintendo console, using online features to trade and to battle. I connected with Pokémon fans young and old and had a whale of a time discussing the game with the children of friends, who display love, enthusiasm and unbridled joy in a way that we as adults simply aren't capable of doing any more. I was enjoying a handheld. I couldn't put it down.
It seems appropriate that it was Nintendo - who were the catalyst for not only my most intense enjoyment of a gaming platform but also, thanks to the NES, my interest in console gaming as a whole – who were responsible for rekindling my love of handhelds. Finally I understand the immense affection that owners of the DS and its variants have displayed for the last decade or so. It's a beautiful feeling, like belonging to a community – and the best part is, everybody's welcome.
I'm not sure what the future holds for my relationship with handhelds. There's still an overwhelming number of remakes, re-releases and uncomfortably inane, toddler-friendly releases flooding the market. But it's a genuine pleasure to be back in the fold.