Search The Inquisitive Gamer

Monday, 15 August 2011

Why Handheld Devices Should Keep Gaming Separate

I purchased a lovely shiny Nintendo 3DS about a month ago now. I purchased it knowing full well that it had a limited list of quality titles available, but also knowing full well the myriad other titles that would be coming along very soon. I purchased it for this very reason - the quality and range of deep and immersive titles that would  keep me in handheld-gaming Nirvana for many months to come.

Around the same time, my sister-in-law to be also purchased a shiny new iPhone. She purchased it for its supreme range of apps on the App Store, alongside its many other useful mobile features. She is now addicted to Angry Birds.

The slow uptake of the 3DS by the consumer population has sparked a deluge of articles, authored by people ranging from gaming commentators to industry veterans, stating that this is a clear death knell for the dedicated, one-function handheld gaming device. I simply, utterly fail to see the logic in this statement - it once again seems to assume that the market is dominated by the 'Casual' gamer; a term which, in itself, is fundamentally flawed.

The PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS - handheld gaming as it should be.
Why is it flawed? Well, applied to games it works absolutely fine - a casual game is one that you can pick up, play for five minutes on the bus and then leave. Just about every game available on the App Store would fit this category. However, I take exception to the use of the term 'Casual Gamer'. Too often it is simply thrown around in conjunction with 'Casual' games; those that play casual titles must themselves be casual gamers. I play casual titles regularly, but if you branded me a casual gamer I would likely turn my exploding-bird-catapult squarely in your direction.

Similarly this confusion leads many to view handheld gaming as the reserve of, exclusively, the misconstrued casual gamer. However in actuality, there is a huge number of gamers that spend many, many hours playing on handheld devices, and playing games that are definitely not definable as casual. Enormous, 100-hour RPGs with long gaps between save points are not casual titles. In-depth, statistic-heavy strategy games are not casual titles. However, the gamers that enjoy these titles want to be able to play them away from the television set. They want something to keep them occupied on long-haul flights, or on the family summer holiday when it inevitably rains for two weeks straight (I'm English, it happens). These games could not work on a multifunction device inevitably set up primarily for phone and internet browsing functionality.

The baffling argument posited by numerous writers that people only want to carry around one piece of technology is simply bizarre. Even when I was at school, it was commonplace for me and my friends to carry our mobiles, our MP3 players, our Game Boy Advances (Ahh those were the days!) and numerous other pieces of tech. If people wanted to only carry one piece of technology with them, everyone would carry a netbook or tablet with Skype on it. All the functionality you could ever need. And even they offer a better gaming platform than the majority of mobile devices thanks to their much larger screens.

My opinion is that, whilst devices such as iPhones and Androids are excellent multifunction devices, they will never replace the dedicated gaming handheld. The N-Gauge was early evidence that trying to combine a 'true' gaming platform with phone functionality is disastrous. When you did just want to take your phone out with you, you were stuck with this whacking great brick. Give me my slimline Blackberry any day. If I know I don't want to play, I won't take my console out with me, its common sense really. If we keep pushing towards these ultimate all-in-one devices that do everything including making us a pot of tea, we will end up with similarly N-Gauge-esque behemoths. Albeit shiny, Apple-branded behemoths.

The 3DS suffered for numerous reasons indeed, and the PS Vita in my opinion will need a significantly lower price point to succeed - but for this to be the last generation of the dedicated gaming handheld? Not in a million years. The day that people would rather play a full-length J-RPG on their mobile phone, using a qwerty keyboard with keys the size of a tic-tac is the day I declare gaming officially dead.

All comments welcomed - please vent your views below!