In December 2004, my friend showed up at my door with a box. "I brought you a present!" he said clearly excited. "Open it!"
It's the time of year, I thought, and unpacked it. I turned the box over. "A … Nintendo … DS? Is that like … a Game Boy?"
As I was struggling through layers of cardboard and plastic to open my new toy, he pulled a matching unit out of his own shoulder bag, opened it, and began to explain. I'd never owned a portable console before – I'd barely owned a regular console, I was a lifelong PC gamer – and while I tried to greet the gift in a good mood, I bluntly had no idea why on earth he had given it to me.
He could tell I wasn't quite on board. "Trust me," he said. "It's great for the train." I lived in Boston, he lived in Manhattan; We spent a lot of time on trains. "You will love it."
I hate giving him boastful rights, but he was right. My relationship with the Nintendo DS has outlasted my relationship with it for more than a dozen years, and I am sad to have to grieve for it.
Enlarge /. The 3DS XL line was designed for larger hands and bulkier pixels.
We now know that this week marks the end of an era: after 16 years and nearly a dozen models, the Nintendo DS family of handheld gaming systems is no more. Nintendo has sold well over 200 million cumulative units of the dual screen devices over the years, but times are changing.
I wasn't the only person to greet the launch of the Nintendo DS with confusion rather than joy. The DS was a pretty weird little device when it hit the market, filling a niche that I didn't yet know I wanted to fill.
Video games for on the go weren't a new idea in 2004. In many ways, the DS was simply the next iteration of Nintendo's incredibly popular Game Boy range of handheld consoles, which first launched in 1989. The DS wasn't even the first fold: The last major product in the Game Boy range, the Game Boy Advance SP from 2003, has a rechargeable internal battery and can be easily folded into a clamshell so that you can put it back in at any time In your pocket or purse.
However, the DS has been optimized for the beginning of the 21st century. It had Wi-Fi support from the start and was ready for a world of multiplayer games. And the "dual" in "dual screen" was the real selling point. Back in 2004, the idea of a working, affordable touchscreen device in your pocket was a cool new concept – one that early DS games unfortunately mostly used for gimmicks, if they used it at all.
In the beginning I didn't use my starter model "phat" DS that often. I finished my final semester of graduate school and lived close enough to campus that walking was honestly faster than waiting for the T at least half the time. I still preferred books about the frequent, long bus or train journeys from Boston to New York – especially since a lot of them were read in school again. Also, playing Super Mario 64 – the only game I had first – made me motion sick during the transit trip.
The months passed. I finished my studies and left Boston to move into the basement of a brownstone in Brooklyn with my boyfriend. I had to make money quickly while looking for a full-time job. When I passed a GameStop with a "Help Wanted" sign in the window a few weeks after landing in the Big Apple, I went inside.