It seemed so easy. Almost exactly a year ago, 381 Australian kids crammed into a Sydney shopping mall and played Nintendo DS at the same time. This, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently all it takes to gain entry to the Guinness Book Of Records. You don't even have to play the same game, according to Guinness. Just people+room+DS for five measly minutes. What could be simpler? DS London – a group of socially-minded DS gamers from (hey!) London - decided that there was no way this record could be allowed to stand. They would organize a UK attempt on the world record. DS was coming home."DS London started about two and a half years ago," Joe Lee said. "I bought a DS Lite (I thought the original DS looked a bit gimmicky) and was impressed. I got my friend to buy it and he loved it - then we thought 'us two playing is great, but we need more people'. I did a quick search and found that there was a meetup every month. At first, it was a bit of a nightmare - we were struggling to get 3 or 4 people. It really kicked off last year at the Games Festival where we had a meetup listed as part of the Fringe Festival and were able to fill up a whole pub." But isn't it a bit odd, sitting in a pub with loads of people not talking to each other, save for a few pictochat missives? It's not like that, says Joe, "Actually, people who come to DS London generally like to socialise, have a quick drink and discuss what is going on in the world - then maybe play some games." The idea of breaking the world record came out of one such chin-wagging session. With the help of the London Games Festival Fringe and Metropolitan University DS London was able to secure a venue and get some funding to hire equipment and publicize the event. 500 people should do the trick. Easy. DS London members have been out and about, talking up the event to their friends, posting it on their blogs and even stopping people in the street who spot carrying a DS. A group outing to a Video Games Live show at the Royal Festival Hall the day before soon turned into an impromptu recruitment session. The London Games Festival has listed the event on their website and there was a strong response. It's going to be fine, right? —— Apparently not. There are about thirty people in DS London shirts dotted about the room and some are looking a little anxious. It is 4 o'clock and there are only about 100 or so people in the venue. That target of 500 is looking quite far off. It is Saturday afternoon and I am in a room above the Rocket Complex on Holloway Road. The Rocket is a student venue – part of London Metropolitan University. In the bar downstairs, the GRL GMR tournament is winding up as one Mario Karter edges ahead of the competition to claim victory. This is usually a concert venue. It is empty apart from the stage, a few scattered plastic chairs and a small table for registrations. I hand over my form, flash my DS Lite to prove I haven't smuggled in a PSP or something and receive an inky stamp on my hand. People are sitting in groups on the floor or alone on chairs. Everyone is bent over their handheld. I spot fat, old school DSs covered in scratches and stickers mixed in with DS Lites in multiple colors and states of repair. I'm rockin' my wife's crimson/black Lite for the afternoon. I chat briefly to Joe and Robbie from DS London. It'll be fine, insists Joe. The DS London crew were out looking for random DS players at the shops earlier and found some people who said they would turn up. Someone else was talking to a big crowd of Japanese students from nearby City University. There is a rumor that about 150 of them will be arriving any minute now – each one fully DS'd up. With more recruits expected from the group's foray to Video Games Live we might just scrape through.
The plan is to leave it as long as possible, then make the attempt as soon as the count is high enough. We have the venue until late, but sooner or later the casual crowd will begin to drift away. Clock ticking, I take a wander around the hall. The variety of attendees is what is most striking I've been to LAN parties and games conventions and the demographics usually straddle a solid band of 18-25 year old blokes. This is different. There are gaggles of youngish girls, gawky teenage boys with their pink DS-carrying girlfriends, lone men and women in late middle age. Whole families have turned up and - sure enough - more are trickling in all the time. North Londoner Gina is coy about revealing her age, but is convinced she is the oldest person in the room. She read about the event on Pocket Gamer and thought "Why not?" Her game of choice is Tetris played on the oldest-school grey DS I have ever seen. This thing must be from the first batch to hit the UK. She is sitting alone, but says, "I just enjoy being with all these people, playing. I hope they do more or these."
Russell is 42, here with his eight year old son, Arthur. He has always liked gaming, but since having Arthur he has found he is able to play more - it is a fun thing that they can enjoy together. "It can be difficult to find stuff to get out and do together," he says. Arthur nods his approval, unwilling to lose concentration on the networked Mario kart session they have entered. Andy is has come from New Cross after hearing about the event from a friend. He doesn't consider himself a gamer either. "That's more my brother, really," he says, "I do play a bit though, and I've been joining in with a few anonymous games since I got here." "I really like the atmosphere," he adds, "I thought it might be all up to date games but these guys are pretty retro, which is cool." As I take Andy's photo (Gina politely demurs) Joe and another DS Londoner try to fill some time with networked Tetris and Mario Kart competitions projected onto a big screen. Ten contestants sit at the front of the room, hunched over in their chairs while we watch their Tetris boards slowly fill up. The Guinness guys are here, as well as someone from Traveller's Tales, who starts showing a demo of the Guinness World Records game on the Wii. I look around for a networked game to join but find only 42 All-time Classics within range. With a sigh I join a game of Dominoes, which turns out to be quite fun. Mid-game, Joe gets up on stage and announces that the time is now. We need to take a headcount. It doesn't look good. The busload of Japanese students are conspicuous by their absence and the room looks nowhere near full enough. The Guinness adjudicator asks us to file past him with DS in hand. A volunteer clicks a counter. There is some shaking of heads and rueful expressions are exchanged. We press on regardless. A timer is projected on the big screen and we all cue up our game of choice. I go for Tony Hawks Proving Ground – mainly because in free roaming mode I can take one hand away to take photos and still technically be playing it. On the count of five the timer is off and we all bow our heads to pray to the Nintengods. Taking a few sneaky looks around in between grinds/photos I spot people playing Metroid Prime: Hunters, Mario Party, even fiddling with Korg DS-10. 5..4..3..2..1. That's it. We are done. Joe gets up to the mic again to announce that the final head count, as verified by Guinness, is... 133 people. EPIC FAIL. But, perhaps, heroic fail too. Everyone involved had a great time. Friends were made, contact details exchanged and above all games were played by the most diverse crowd I have ever seen at a gaming event. We even raise £130-odd quid for Children In Need. Later, in the bar, I ask Joe if he would do this again. "HELL YES!" he cries. "We are definitely going to do it again," he continues, sipping his drink, "we have finally received some recognition from a group of different people and we got about a third of the way there. There is nothing stopping us from going all the way next time." If you live in or near London and you want to drink beer, make friends and perhaps even play a little DS, DS London are having a follow up meeting to commiserate, plan a comeback and (mainly) have a laugh on Saturday 1st November - details here.