How the Nintendo DS Destroyed My Reading Habits

I was never a huge fan of handheld gaming.  I had a Game Boy Color in high school strictly for the purposes of playing Pokémon Red (and yes, I caught them all :P) while a friend played Pokémon Blue.  I never purchased another game for the Game Boy Color, and as a result, it left me with the impression that handheld systems just weren’t worth it.

That was before the PSP caught my eye, and the games from the franchises I followed began to creep out on the portable platform: Metal Gear Acid, Silent Hill: Homecoming, God of War: Chains of Olympus.  I knew they would be coming out and wanted to experience them.  I had friends who owned PSPs and saw what they could do.  I was making good income.  So I splurged and picked up a PSP.  Yay for another shiny toy to play with! :)

I took the PSP on my commutes to work, which allowed me up to 1.5 hours of play time per day.  I played it a little a home too, but found that to be tedious because I could only enjoy my console at home.  But after a while, I found that the PSP wasn’t designed with the commuter in mind.  The games I enjoyed were still of the RPG or adventure variety, and required longer time investments to appreciate the story and gameplay than my commute could afford.  So the PSP became a handheld that I played at home.

During this entire time, there was always a novel in my travel bag.  I love to read.  I love storytelling and will whore myself out to get it in any way possible.  As an avid reader at home and during my six years of commuting, I’ve managed to breeze through most books in a week, two at the most.  The PSP never affected my reading habits because I quickly determined that it wasn’t commuter friendly enough for me.

Then the DS came along.  All my friends had one, and the temptation of wanting to connect with them in another way led me to pick one up.  I was particularly drawn to the massive number of puzzle games for the DS (Brain Age, Picross, Warioware) because I love anything that mentally allows me to strategize and plan.  So with a few games, I began packing my DS into my travel bag.  I played it on the subway and the bus.  I played it when I was waiting for either to arrive.  And what I learned was that the DS, and the games I chose, were perfectly suited to a “pick up and play” style.  Before I knew it, I was robotically reaching into my bag to grab the DS whenever I had to commute anywhere: downtown, to a friend’s house, in a car or on a train.  The DS was always with me and I loved it.

Where were my books?  At first they were in the same travel bag as the DS, but I neglected them time and again.  After a while I considered the books to be taking up space in my travel bag (that could by better used for extra snacks, for example), and so I left them at home.  The DS became my exclusive travel companion.

How many books do I read now?  About one every two months.  That’s about 20% of the books I used to read before the DS entered my life.  To this day, I would still choose to play the DS rather than read during my commute.  It happened this morning, in fact (there’s no book in my bag as I type this).  When I do manage to read a book, I feel the slowness with which my eyes drag across the page.  I feel my attention span growing thin.  I feel myself not wanting to invest in a book.  My lifelong habit of reading has steadily been destroyed.

I didn’t see this consequence coming.  I thought the DS would just be another fun way for me to access games that I love.  The problem is that the DS makes things too easy.  I don’t condone Nintendo for inventing the handheld (I don’t need to tell you how clever or successful it is), but I condone myself for falling into the trap that Nintendo wanted me to fall into.  The same can be said of any company that sells a product.

But no thanks to my own choices, the Nintendo DS has destroyed my reading habits.  To this day, I would much rather have it with me than a book, which fills me with a sadness I can’t really describe.  I’m not bored with books; there are over 40 of them on my bookshelf that I have yet to read, and really want to read.  But frankly, the video gaming industry has become too skilled at the products they deliver that it has become nigh impossible for me to resist them!  There are just good games everywhere!

This particular post isn’t about questions or answers.  I don’t have any suggestions for game developers or comments about the industry other than the fact that it works well, and I’m proud to have experienced the rise of the industry since the days of the Atari and the Sega Master System.  You know you’re doing things right when you can supplant one’s favourite pastime with video games.  Now it’s up to me to find a way to make them balance so that I can enjoy both of the pastimes that I love.  But something tells me that the video game industry won’t be making that easy for me any time soon.

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