Games on a Plane

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Flying with a budget airline seems like a great idea right up until the point you come to actually get on the plane.

I realised my mistake fairly quickly. Almost as soon as my arse entered into its three hour long embrace with the chair my knees started complaining, knocking and scraping against the seat in front of me with every effort I made to get comfortable.

It’s not surprising then that for the duration of the flight my primary objective was to escape, if not physically than certainly mentally. To this end my tool was simple; a Gameboy Advance with a  copy of A Link to the Past secured squarely in its cartridge slot.

The game – as is nigh on every Zelda game in existence – is superb, that much doesn’t bear dispute, and frankly I’m just so glad I could play it legally. I could of course have installed a SNES emulator on my PSP – a path not exactly condemned, but certainly not condoned by Nintendo – but instead I dug out a dated console, paid money to a second hand shop, and got myself a legal copy of the game, without a penny of my expenditure making its way to the people that actually made it.

Funnily enough, the ridiculous state of the legality of retro gaming wasn’t my biggest problem on the flight.

The first indication this wasn’t going to be a pleasant gaming session was the in-flight safety announcements. Then came the shopping cart. Then dinner. Then tea. Finally the gentleman seated next to me decided an hour and a half into the flight to develop a hacking cough which sent a shotgun blast of flem onto the seat in front of him at regular intervals, and combined with the less than stable state of aircraft seating, quite literally shook me to my very core.

I almost began to envy those seated around me having their entertainment delivered to them by the likes of Dan Brown and Tom Clancy. Their ability to switch attention from book, to flight attendant, to the flemalomaniac behind them was something I so desperately craved. Instead whenever I paused to take delivery of a particularly well cling-filmed ready meal I well and truly lost my place. What followed would have sullied the pacing of the greatest of games. In the best case scenario a trip to the dungeon map was necessary, in the worst I had to retrace my steps around the entire place to find that locked door that I now had the key for, or that previously inaccessible cave entrance.

Though I’m at risk here of conforming to a stereotype which has dogged gamers since the beginning of time itself (which by my estimation must have occurred in around the year 1951) I crave solitude whilst I game. In a perfect world I’d be able to sink multiple hours into a single session, plugged into headphones that mute out everything short of a bomb going off in my house, completely uninterrupted by friends, family, or hungry cats.

I came away from my flight not just with an increased appreciation of handkerchiefs (unhygienic they may be, but they’re better than nothing at all), but with an increased sense of frustration at this insatiable demand made by gamers for console experiences on a handheld. A Link to the Past may require a large degree of spatial awareness to enjoy, but it’s nothing compared to modern 3D games.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who played through the vast majority of Liberty City Stories and Portable Ops whilst sitting on my bed at home.

The handheld gaming experience is one quite

unlike anything else gaming has to offer. It’s one fraught with distractions, battery life, and a giant burning ball of hydrogen that will guarantee to put your screen out of action at the most inopportune times. Bearing this in mind in mind, rather than graphical power, or second analogue sticks, is what truly makes or breaks a handheld console. I just hope it’s something that everyone remembers for years to come.


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