Parent Trap: StreetPass Makes Social Networks Social Again

StreetPass is social networking without the junk, says Andy Robertson

We all have peculiar reasons to like particular videogame hardware. Whether it’s the diminutive form factor of the Game Boy Micro, the wonderful ergonomics of the GameCube controller or the ingenious speaker on the Wii Remote, these designs trigger something inside us that buzzes with excitement each time we encounter them.

The 3DS of course has plenty of these novelties from its telescopic stylus, bullet proof clamshell closure and festive collection of multicoloured LEDs. However, there is one novelty that has connected so widely across gamers of all ages that it has almost become the de facto feature of the system: StreetPass.

While this was at first eclipsed by the big visual bump, camera, augmented reality and 3D features of the system, in my family (and many others, it seems) it has become the most used and most beloved aspect of our 3DS, 2DS and 3DS XL army.

Along with the game specific StreetPass data swap, it’s the steadily expanding StreetPass Plaza that we use the most. Head out the door, put your foot on the road and you never know who you are going to pass in the street. There is often a whoop of excitement as we walk into town and one of the children notices a little flashing light on the corner of the 3DS to signify that all important exchange of information.

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This now happens much more regularly with the StreetPass Zones popping up all over the place that harvest and share passing 3DSs to increase the number of potential streetpasses you’ll get and proliferate the related data further and quicker.

Each of the children use it in a different way. My youngest is content to simply increase the number of Mii characters in his Plaza (and play a bit of Puzzle Swap), while his older brother is slowly working through the new StreetPass Plaza games (StreetPass Battle being his current favourite). My oldest has got into collecting regions, taking her 3DS with her overseas on family holidays to hunt those rarer parts of the globe.

Something I hadn’t realised was the pedigree of the different developers behind the new games released in June.

StreetPass Squad (Mii Force in US) is a classic arcade shoot 'em up game developed by Good Feel (Mario & Luigi: Dream Team), where the Miis you collect determine the expandable fire-power your spaceship has.

StreetPass Garden (Flower Town in the US) is a gardening simulation developed by Grezzo (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D) with its own system of genetics and pollination. Players can cross their species of flower with others they StreetPass.

StreetPass Battle (Warrior's Way in US) is a strategy game developed by Spike Chunsoft (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity) drawing on risk where the player pits their different troops against enemies. StreetPasses enable you to build up bigger armies and challenge other players to virtual battles.

StreetPass Mansion (Monster Manor in US) is a puzzle game developed by Prope (Let's Catch, Let's Tap) with battle encounters. Players explore a haunted house by placing Tetris-style blocks and then encounter different ghosts to fight. StreetPasses determine how many lives they have during each exploration.

I’ll admit that as a parent I was initially a little wary of letting my kids exchange data with passers-by on the street, but after understanding what exactly is exchanged I was reassured. While it is possible to pass messages back and forth between two people who regularly pass each other, the limited number of letters and restricted character set mean that these are too brief to be concerning. Add to that the unseen nature of whom and where you are exchanging data and there is considerable anonymity for StreetPass players.

If parents or guardians are concerned they can of course turn the feature off (or not turn it on in the first place), but I’d suggest the better approach is to use StreetPass with your children – they also get more out of the experience from sharing it with a parent. You can also see a full list of all the streetpasses in the Plaza and look at details for each Mii. In my family this has actually been a great low key way to talk about what information is appropriate to share on social networks and what interactions should be concerning.

I’m much happier for my children to StreetPass than Facebook or Twitter. There’s a purity of interaction here that creates connections and fun rather than tempting them to click on another link for another Farm management game, or the "best viral videos ever".

The final piece of the StreetPass puzzle for families is in that growing collection of StreetPass games. While we restrict other games to the weekend we are a little more relaxed about StreetPassing. Once you have used up your collected StreetPass Miis in each of the games you have to go out and collect some more before you can play again.

StreetPass games, by their nature, are played only in short bursts and only once a day. Add to that the built-in mechanic to get families and children outside in the big wide world and it is quite possibly one of the healthiest video-games I’ve come across.

Perhaps the only downside is that so few parents even realise it’s there, or many assume these kind of features are the same on any platform, citing Near on the PlayStation Vita as case in point. Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth, although I do find myself wishing I could StreetPass with my iPhone.

Perhaps the Nintendo Phone isn’t such a bad idea after all?

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