The Nintendo 3DS’ Surprisingly Social Legacy

I tell this story a lot: I didn’t have much of a life before the Nintendo 3DS.

It happened a year after I moved to New York. Aside from my housemates and a couple of over-friendly acquaintances, I didn’t know a lot of people, and certainly none who’d play video games with me. It was a sunny fall day in 2014 when Nintendo released its free demo for Super Smash Bros. 4 on the handheld 3DS system. The competitive fighting game’s launch, a month from then, was slated to be my highlight of the year. I’d celebrated every Smash launch before it. Unconscionable snack foods, hours of screaming in basements packed with friends and friends-of-friends left back in prior homes. As Smash 4’s launch approached, I prayed for a good online versus mode.

I loved the demo, but sitting alone in bed, I quickly became bored of pummeling Smash 4’s CPUs. I packed my pearl-pink 3DS into a backpack and walked over to the nearest coffee shop. On the back patio, I sipped too-strong cold brew and practiced Zelda’s aerial combos. I was absorbed, not noticing the people around me, and hoping that, in a space better suited to ostentatious reading and Tinder dates, nobody would notice me. I looked up briefly between sips of coffee. Just people. Then, I noticed them: three Nintendo 3DSes, all at one table, and all running the Smash 4 demo. Whoa.

I walked over to the table and introduced myself, a little too loudly. Two coders, a video game developer, and a musician. They invited me to sit down and play. We traded friend codes. It was my first multiplayer match against humans; they were good, too. Turned out they lived a couple of blocks from me. After friend codes, we traded numbers. A month later, when Smash 4 came out in full, there would be a party, and many after, with lots of screaming.

After that, everything got better. My neighbors introduced me to their friends, who introduced me to the arcades, bars, and events frequented by New York’s welcoming network of adult gamers with jobs. At one, I met my current partner of four years. At another, I met a video editor who recommended me for my first full-time journalism job. In 2018, when Smash Ultimate released for the Nintendo Switch, I was able to pack every room of my Brooklyn apartment with friendly, screaming faces.

The End of an Era

Nintendo has sold over 75 million 3DSes since its release in 2011, 14 million more units than its widely beloved Nintendo Switch. Nine years later, last night, Nintendo announced it had discontinued the device and its immediate family—the 3DS XL, the 2DS, and the 2DS XL. It was a versatile little thing: dual screens (for maps and menus), foldable (for storage), 3D (with a toggle), and touchscreen-capable (a stylus snapped inside). It was easy to love, but nine years later, just as easy to move on from.

The tech wasn’t what sold the 3DS. Few games took full advantage of the 3DS’s two screens. On single-screen consoles, maps and menus appeared with just one button push; a whole, dedicated display was unnecessary. And without the second screen, the 3DS would have been half as thick; no need to fold. Then there was the whole 3D thing, which, if toggled to “max,” made Fire Emblem: Awakening fights too dizzying for me to concentrate on. The stylus, though; it was fun. A whole world of drawing games opened up, and it felt good to tap menu options with a pen when my button-muscles were atrophied.

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