I have been playing my brand-new, eagerly purchased 3DS for the better part of the day. The system has, as expected, elicited a plethora of reactions that have run the entire gamut of gaming geekdom, from awed appreciation to tedious boredom to sheer excitement that the goddamn 3D really does work, after all, despite the bevy of hands-on previews hitherto offered by the journo world that have already confirmed (and re-confirmed) it.
And through it all, the most enjoyment I’ve managed to glean from my way-too-expensive little blue box has been the alternate reality games, tiny, little experiences that are barely-dressed-up pack-in tech demos. Take a picture of your wife’s face, have it morphed into a sphere, and shoot it as it flies around the room at you, in full 360 degrees. Slap a question block card on the table and watch as it morphs and distorts the piece of furniture into a shooting gallery. Cycle through the various poses of Mario, Link, and Captain Olimar’s Pikmin as they pop out of their own cards so that you might add their virtual likenesses to your three-dimensional photo album.
Cheesy? Sure. Laughable? Probably, although I’ve heard similar sentiments from plenty of others thus far. Gimmicky? Yes… and therein lies the crux of the matter. ARGs – at least, the 3DS’s photographic version – are most certainly a gimmick, along with Steel Diver’s periscope missions and a whole score of other applications seen in the launch library. Hell, the 3D itself, the very heart of Nintendo’s fourth-generation handheld, is nothing but a giant gimmick. But a quick survey of gaming’s finest moments yields surprising results: a goodly number of the most engaging, most enjoyable, and certainly the most unique experiences in videogames’ past come at the hands of some rather questionable methods. Clicking away on the myriad plastic peripherals that Guitar Hero has produced is some of the most fun I’ve had in gaming since I first played Super Mario Bros. in the arcade, with Star Fox 64’s force feedback or Pac-Man Versus’s interconnected GameCube-Game Boy Advance set-up not too far behind.
And then there’s the smaller stuff. Psycho Mantis bidding me to place my Dual Shock on the floor so that he might move it with the power of his mind strikes all three of the 3DS’s trifecta of lame chords – cheesy, laughable, and obviously gimmicky – but it’s also one of the single most clever beats I’ve ever encountered in a game. Playing as your Mii for the first time in Wii Sports never fails to bring a smile to one’s face, no matter how jaded he may be; rolling up everyday, household items in Katamari Damacy grows thin surprisingly quickly, but it never quite loses the hold that it (quite rightly) places on you. The versatility and the depth, the pervasiveness and resilience of the gimmick is nothing short of remarkable, really.
As it should be; for, at the end of the day, videogames are merely the latest extension – and, arguably, the fullest embodiment – of technology, and technology is nothing if not gimmicky. Text messages, GPSes, MP3 players, Blu-ray DVDs, karaoke machines… all are sizzle-in-the-pan deviations and recreations of a culture constantly attempting to titillate and capitalize. The gimmick is the special-edition, one-for-every state coin of the realm – which, just sometimes, can henceforth become the new, de facto standard, the one currency to rule them all forevermore (until, of course, the next new variation on the retired theme comes bouncing along). Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter; the fun is in the experiencing, after all.
All of which means that the 3DS’s launch day, whether the ARGs’ novelty fades quickly away or their uniqueness makes them a permanent mainstay, is pure and simple fun.