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I feel like I’m holding porn when I play 3DS in public

I gave up a car when I moved to the Bay Area, and while I miss it sometimes, I've come to value the extra free time I get from riding public transit basically every day. If I'm not feverishly writing a feature or composing a mildly funny tweet, for gaming. That is, I use that time for gaming when I can overcome the feeling that every single person on the train is judging me for holding a 3DS in public.

I'll start by saying this: It could all be in my head--I wish I had the confidence of the models in the lifestyle shots I peppered throughout this article. But I can't get over this feeling of embarrassment when I start playing a handheld game in public, be it a Vita or 3DS. At times it feels like I’m being looked down upon by every single person on the train. The man watching Game of Thrones on his iPad. The young lady swiping at Candy Crush. The teen whose earbuds are so loud that I can hear the music through my own headphones. The hobo banging on an upturned bucket. All these people have now turned to face me, the sad loser who pulled out a toy among this collection of grown-up technology. And buckets. These are the emotions that make me pause when taking the system out of my bag, and I instead stare at my phone to better blend in with my fellow commuters.

Sometimes this feeling of shame follows me out of the train to my next destination. While riding last week, I wanted to get some DLC for the surprisingly addicting 3DS title Rusty's Real Deal Baseball. I knew the Starbucks right outside the station had free WiFi for 3DS, so I grabbed a seat and booted up the eShop. I idled as the game downloaded, giving me time to look around, becoming acutely aware that I was the only person with a game console--someone was even reading a physical book! I already felt out of place as a non-coffee drinker; now I felt like a teen that snuck into a bar, just waiting to get thrown out of this sophisticated environment.

I feel especially vulnerable about this when exercising. I just started going to the gym again, and I’m keenly aware of how out of shape I am compared to almost everyone else on the planet. After a few weeks, I’ve mostly acclimated to the atmosphere and friendly staff, but it’s hard to dig up the extra courage to boot up my Vita while I’m a sweaty, panting mess using the stationary bike in front of complete strangers. So instead I just watch some reality garbage on the nearby monitor--I’m so used to Hulu and Netflix that broadcast TV is basically unwatchable to me, but it’s preferable to feeling even more out of place in the gym.

Again, logically I know these are all unfounded fears that I should just kick to the curb, but that’s easier said than done. It’s a conflicted issue in the office, too. Some of my GamesRadar colleagues have smartly told me to stop giving a damn about what some may think of me, but others have felt a similar hesitation when playing a handheld in front of strangers. We’re all used to working in a safe space for gaming, and when we’re out of that bubble, I suspect it heightens the awkwardness of being seen with a portable system.

I first noticed this fear of appearing immature for playing games nearly a decade ago. As I was settling in for a cross-country flight, I was obsessed with unlocking everything in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. I was having a great time with the game, until a six-year-old sat down across the aisle from me and pulled out the exact same model of DS that I was using. I immediately felt foolish, like I was a nonfunctioning human not fit for this adult world, ready to be thrown off the plane. I imagined the kid’s parents thinking, “That grown man is playing with a child’s toy. What's his problem?" It didn't help my self worth that his parents then moved the kid to a window seat, far away from me.

From then on, imagined or not, I’ve felt society’s expectations of how to properly kill time whenever I play in public. The thing is, I don’t feel that same pressure if I use my phone or laptop in public. Everyone else is watching Mad Men on their tablet, or checking Twitter with their phone, so I feel safe doing the same--safer than indulging in Tearaway, anyway.

My paranoid glances at the people around me has the beneficial side effect of alerting me to how many everyday folks embrace mobile gaming. This more casual audience barely knows what a Vita is, but are certainly more than ready to play Candy Crush Saga or Flappy Bird for hours. I’ve had some good (if light) fun with the likes of Angry Birds, and I think it’s great if an investment banker, barista, or garbageman has a good time playing any type of game on their way to work. But if anyone should feel embarrassed, it should be that 20-something I saw playing a Despicable Me 2 endless runner on his iPad, not me, right?

I’m hoping that realization will be the key to eventually letting go of my fears and fully enjoying video games wherever and whenever I feel like it. We’re all gamers now, but some may not realize it because their distractions are safely confined to their phone. Maybe soon I can just ditch my irrational guilt and play some Fire Emblem at the gym, confident in the knowledge that this handheld can’t be as mind-numbing as watching Food Network star/douchebag Guy Fieri, just like the guy next to me. Much like getting healthy, it won’t happen overnight, but it’s achievable if you put in the work.

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51 comments

  • simon-mc-dougall - April 12, 2014 2:26 p.m.

    I mean really??. i play with my 3ds lord of the ring lego game and super mario every time i get on the bus. if people want to stare at me. i just say want shot of this.
  • doctorhino - April 11, 2014 9:10 a.m.

    Because of this I'm going downton today on the train to a court office with my Pokemon 3DS. Bet no one will even notice.
  • avedon-arcade - April 9, 2014 6:04 p.m.

    This is great because it's true. I've felt like that many times and still do from time to time depending on where I am. But then there are other times when I feel like I'm the only one in a crowded train car and I'm yelling, laughing and getting upset with myself for screwing up. And I can care less what people think, cause man I'm having fun and that fun is just erasing everything else in existence right now. And that's the point.
  • Outofmanyone - April 9, 2014 5:10 p.m.

    I've been guilty of this as well. Weird isn't it? Regarding the six-year old that sat across from you.. I've done the exact same thing. Heh, I shut close my DS and threw it in my bag so fast and started looking around to see if anyone had seen me. Then I see a Dad(probably in his 40's) flicking things across the screen of his tablet near me, and I'm thinking, if anybody looks out of place it should be this guy playing Cut the Rope! Maybe it has something to do with what our parents said to us growing up, making us feel like we were wasting time playing games and we should play outside, exercising, make more friends, learning something and so on. My theory is that were reminded of that dogma set by our parents and it makes us feel guilty.. at least those of us who's parents have done so.
  • The_Tingler - April 9, 2014 4:03 p.m.

    The only time I've ever judged someone for playing a games console in public is when I saw someone unironically using a Nokia N-Gage. Otherwise I just think "oh, cool" and whip my 3DS out.
  • SnakeinmyBoot - April 9, 2014 2:30 p.m.

    It wouldn't surprise me if a regular on that bus route did watch porn every once in a while during their ride to/from work. I've heard of people that will whip out their phone(and hopefully just that) right next to a complete stranger and pull up some nasty stuff in full view of everyone around him. That 's the person who should feel ashamed. At least they could wait until they're at home, alone. Everyone else is also just doing whatever entertains them for the duration of their trip, whether it's gossiping for no good reason on Facebook/twitter/texting, watching a show, listening to music, or playing any kind of game. I highly doubt anyone there is doing anything more productive than the other, unless there's a student trying to write a paper or business(wo)man trying to email several people because they both procrastinated too long. Otherwise even the most well dressed professional is even playing Words with Friends or telling their family to feed the dog. Don't feel judged, Henry. It keeps your mind occupied and healthy. My dad and I were bored with the garbage on a tv in a doctors office back when I was 20. He finally said f this and found one of the Death Wish movies playing. I didn't feel judged by anyone, even the receptionist who could see the whole, nearly empty room, while I watched Charles Bronson blast crooks with a hand cannon. And I will sit right next to the stack of magazines in the dentist office and read an article like this on my phone instead of the dated junk they got there.
  • lionheart1986 - April 9, 2014 1:33 p.m.

    I have the Zelda 3DS XL, so whenever I take it out in public everyone stops what they are doing and stares in awe. Then they come over and ask what I'm playing. "Pokemon X", I say. "How old are you?" they usually ask. "28." "You're pretty confident to be playing that in public." they might remark with a smirk. "You're right, I am." Own it. If you were going to be ashamed of the things you own, then don't buy them. That's the real part of growing up and accepting who you are as a person, and not letting what others think of you influence your actions and decisions.
  • SnakeinmyBoot - April 9, 2014 2:34 p.m.

    I got one of those, too. I'm 26 and just about the only things I won't do with it in public is play something that requires the gyroscope with my arms flailing around and voice commands.
  • Foodperson - April 9, 2014 10:40 a.m.

    People these days have their heads up their rears, and they're trying to look like they're productive when they are only being leisurely/lazy themselves. Screw those haters and rock out that 3DS, man! If it really was that embarrassing to use, then the 3DS would not have sold that much! If you check ReviewTechUSA on YouTube, he talks about this and why this is hypocritical. /watch?v=X_1OmkLwRtI
  • SuperSATA - April 9, 2014 12:49 p.m.

    Yeah, it's as if Rich was the one writing this article!
  • wittynickname - April 9, 2014 6:50 a.m.

    For every actual look of withering scorn you receive, there are five or six who are just curious. I've been repeatedly asked what game I'm playing, by clerks or fellow "standing around waiting for our orders to be ready" folks, over the years. On more than a few occasions my reply has elicited the name of a recent game they've played, and we compare notes on what we thought of them. I'm sure some are looking at me and thinking me pathetic for playing a videogame. Luckily, I could not care less about the opinions of people I don't know and will never see again.
  • bitcrusherrrr - April 9, 2014 6 a.m.

    I wouldnt worry what people think and just go for it. I've never had anyone say anything bad while gaming on the bus. I did have someone stop what they where playing on their iphone to watch me play Ultimate MVC3 on my vita though :)
  • P0ck3tC1am - April 9, 2014 4:31 a.m.

    What I was told when growing up...if someone has a problem with who you are or what you do....that's their problem, not yours.....That doesn't go along the lines of murder and stuff though....cause then, yeah....it's your problem then.
  • Cinaclov - April 9, 2014 3:58 a.m.

    I think it's pretty much in your head. The only time anyone has commented on me playing 3DS in public was when waiting at a restaurant (just an M&S, nothing swanky, regardless of what their advertising would have you believe :P) checking my own streetpasses and a dad came over to say his son recently got a 3DS and he (the dad that is) was wondering what the multiplayer (meaning streetpass) was all about. I just went through it all with him. And that was that, I've never had anyone say anything otherwise (and I think if anyone did it's more likely to be to ask what I'm playing rather than derogatory) My biggest concerns when deciding if to play it in public are 1) do I have time to (the XL usually lives in a carry case in my bag, there's no point unpacking it if I've only got 2 minutes before potentially having to go somewhere) and 2) is it rude to be distracting yourself with any kind of gadget at this point (it happens).
  • mafyooz - April 8, 2014 11:56 p.m.

    From the pages of the mafyooz self-help book: I've found there are two simple words to keep in mind when dealing with unsolicited criticism, real or imagined, from anyone who you don't know or whose opinion you don't give a crap about personally or professionally. They are simply "Fuck 'em". ;)
  • GOD - April 8, 2014 10:39 p.m.

    Henry, when New Smash 3DS comes out in the summer, this problem will solve itself because: -1. You'll want to play so bad that you won't care what others think. -2. See above.
  • Relayer71 - April 8, 2014 7:03 p.m.

    You should get the looks I get sometimes at my age (40 something) for playing my 3DS on the subway. Actually, that's wrong - it's probably ALL IN YOUR IMAGINATION. Now is a great time to be a gamer in public - you kinda said it yourself: everyone else is playing a phone game or on their Ipad or Kindle, NO ONE is paying attention to you or cares. Trust me. I'm actually the one giving the stares, thinking, "who the hell are you grandma? I've been a gamer since you started menopausing, decades ago! And now you think that because you can fling a few birds at pigs THAT MAKES YOU A GAMER???? EF ME? NO, EF YOU!!!!"
  • Redeater - April 8, 2014 6:59 p.m.

    I'm 6'1, in my mid 30's and constantly have people fucking tell me I look like Opie from SOA. I am so beyond giving a fuck what other people think it isn't even funny. I bring my 3DS with me often and play it where I want without any concern of other people. Personally, I always get a kick out the idea that some kid is going to get a street pass and out pops my scruffy avatar with my hard earned NES hat. Life is too goddamn short to be concerned about strangers. This article is everything that bothered me when I was a teenager right up till my late 20's.
  • Lurkero - April 8, 2014 6:44 p.m.

    Worrying so much about what other people think of your preferential activities will make you everything but yourself. I don't ever plan to stop playing video games or watching cartoons because those are things that entertain me. Those activities also do not hurt anyone. It's what I like to do and you can look at me however you want. I can probably think of something that other people do that would be just as "repugnant" to society as an adult playing video games.
  • ErikDigital - April 8, 2014 5:38 p.m.

    Almost 35 year old here. I grew up loving video games and I feel that I'm old enough that I don't need to be embarassed about what ever hobbies or interests I have. Heck, I spent the weekend at a fighting game tournament. My 3DS XL was safely packed away in my fightstick bag getting Street Pass tags all weekend. I noticed over a year ago that my oldest nephew, (he was 12 at the time) was taking less and less interest in Pokemon even though he was alway passionate about Pokemon. This didn't bother me until I found out that it was out of fear of his peers looking down upon him that he was shying away from something he truly enjoyed. I then showed him the OSU marching band halftime show that featured several video games, pointing out to him that those people in the crowd cheering for Picachu, Mario, and Zelda weren't little kids, but college students and grown adults. I explained to him that he shouldn't give up something that he likes just to fit in or impress others. Turns out, him and all of his buddies are knee deep in Pokemon X and Y right now. Again, I'm almost 35. I have a 15 year old son (he loves video games as well). I make decent money. I probably spend WAY too much on video games and gadgets. Not a single fuck is given. Keep your head up high, Henry. Unless of course you're playing your 3DS.

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