When I Step Out The Door, My 3DS Is As Essential As My Phone

The plan was simple: we would meet on the hotel's party floor and have a good time. Simple, and yet not quite what happened. My friends got to the hotel and found out the party floor was convention pass-only, and there was no way to buy a pass that late at night.

We hung out in the hotel bar instead, and that's where I found out my friends weren't as bummed as I was about not being able to party that night. Coming out was worth it because they remembered to bring their 3DSes with them.

A convention means people, lots of people. People who might own a 3DS. People who you can StreetPass, people whose cutesy Mii avatars can fill up your "Mii Plaza." You don't even have to do anything, the 3DS can be in sleep mode and it will wirelessly pick up the information of any nearby 3DS owners, provided they have the right settings.

That's all my friends cared about, really: StreetPassing other folk. It baffled me to hear that, but not owning a 3DS at the time meant I was full of melancholy memories of never finding anyone else in PictoChat lobbies. When I finally bought a 3DS of my own months later, the StreetPass functionality wasn't even on my radar. I skeptically kept the wireless on just to see if I StreetPassed someone, but to avoid disappointment, I reminded myself not to expect much.

And yet everyone is a gamer now, right? I hear it so often, I've seen the statistics. Gamers are supposed to be everywhere. It didn't feel like that, though. It didn't fully sink in until I started noticing how often the bright green light on my 3DS notified me of new visitors. Every time I go out, I StreetPass someone now.

The 3DS lends itself to the age of the notification like that, but it feels less obnoxious than the hundreds of push notifications that barrage my computer every day. I can ignore StreetPass, it can happen in the background—sometimes I don't have any idea when I StreetPassed someone else. If my phone feels like an overly attached girlfriend screaming look at me, look at me!, my 3DS feels more like stumbling on a note a lover put in my bag. I take it with me everywhere now.

Meeting people on my 3DS always feels unexpected, but it also always fills me with warmth. StreetPassing means carrying a piece of someone else with me without having to utter a single word. It means throwing out the digital equivalent of a message in a bottle with the assurance you'll hear something back, provided you walk around a city for long enough. It's not much, but it's something.

Maybe that sounds eerily romantic, especially when we're talking about an app that people use to collect other people. But the reason people feel so adamant about StreetPassing—anecdotal, but many of the people I know make sure to take their 3DSes with them everywhere because of it—can't be compared to how some people feel the compulsion to collect friends on Facebook.

StreetPassing is about the silent knowledge that someone out there likes what you do. So many of the things I use to connect with people daily (outside of actual face-to-face interaction) remind me of how far away some people feel, how often we become engrossed in our own private little worlds.

That's not how it feels with my 3DS, even though it's yet another device that mitigates social interaction in some way. Every time the green light turns on, I stop paying attention to my 3DS entirely. I'll look up, I'll survey my surroundings, and I'll ask myself—is it him? Is it her? Is the person this device signals me toward—is it you?

The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It runs every Monday at 6PM ET.

Photo: 55Laney69/Flickr