I feel like Im 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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.
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