She's watching you....

Nowadays, there are many alternative uses for video game handhelds.  From movies to Internet browsing, photo and video capabilities and beyond, gaming devices are no longer just for playing the newest Mario or Final Fantasy.  In fact, it can be used to solve....ACTUAL CRIMES.

10 Year Old Catches Pedophile with Nintendo Handheld

It's a horrible shame that this poor girl had actually COMPLAINED TO HER PARENTS about having been molested by the perpetrator before and that no action was taken (as a parent, this makes my blood boil).  However, instead of simply accepting the abuse, she used a Nintendo Handheld (the exact model was not mentioned, but I'm guessing that it was a DSi or a 3DS, as these models have built in cameras) to take a photo of the man grabbing her/touching her inappropriately.  The image evidence was used to convict and sentence the man, who had gotten away with many other instances of this sort of criminal behavior.

The Unblinking Eye of the Internetz

Now obviously, this sort of thing isn't going to happen every day, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of people who have handheld video game systems are kids.  Most adults prefer iPhones and other expensive gizmos (with expensive data plans to match *cough*hiddencosts*cough*), but many children will receive handheld video game devices (most notably Nintendo handhelds due to the plethora of semi-inexpensive games and kid-centric marketing), but while many of these devices allow for some network connectivity, the truth is that they can do way more than that.  From video to photo to recording (and editing) sound, these devices are giving a lot of freedom to kids in a fairly safe sort of environment (i.e. it's not nearly as expansive in options as a smart phone, and with parental controls it can be easy to keep younger children from playing certain titles or accessing certain content).

But as the example above shows, even with limits imposed, children can use handheld gaming devices to covertly take a picture of a criminal in action, or take an impromptu video of someone doing something hilarious- it opens the bounds of what a handheld can do-it changes the stigmas surrounding said handheld into a multi-faceted media device instead of simply being a game system.

Next time "cutechique2101" messages you, just imagine this guy on the other end of the screen....

Now, currently, there's a lot of fear from parents that video games and other devices that allow internet connectivity might lead to children being preyed on by predators, but my response to that is that children will generally be vulnerable to these sorts of creeps simply by being the age that they are.  The only way you can truly help protect children from predators is to teach them proper internet etiquette (do not share your personal information, block people who try and talk about inappropriate things, don't keep any secrets between yourself and strangers that you get a "funny" feeling about in your gut, etc), as well as good awareness skills while out and about in public.  It's amazing what an ounce of awareness and conversations on this subject can do to help children to keep themselves safe when faced with a dangerous person.


But beyond just safety or media applications, what are some of the biggest things that handhelds can do that most people don't realize they're capable of when they sneer and pull out their iPhone/Android?

1) Augmented Reality (that doesn't totally suck).

Yes, there are some apps that promise augmented reality options but the truth of the matter is that handhelds tend to have the screen resolution and processing power to actually do this better.  The 3DS can project 3D images on 3D real life images thanks to its cameras and I've seen several demonstrations on the PSVita that show that augmented reality really does have a chance to shine on the newest contender to the handheld marketplace.  Augmented reality has been hailed as one of the possible stepping stones to true virtual reality, and the potential for practical uses is huge.

2) A Musical Symphony In Your Pocket

Let's face it, most musical instruments don't fit in your pocket, and those that do can only do a limited amount of things.  I've mentioned Rhythm Core Alpha before, and there are obviously other games that do similar sorts of musical things (such as the DS KORG software and the simplistic Jam Sessions), but applications  like this are the future of music building for the person on the go.  For kids, this is actually pretty cool because it introduces them to making electronic music (and they often have the time to devote to getting good at this stuff).  Forget piano lessons- synth lessons just might end up being more interesting and fun.  But even for the intrepid adult, these sorts of softwares can be used to create a fairly wide range of music, all exportable, saveable and ready to output to a speaker.  You can even build songs live once you've gotten good enough, and that's just the beginning.  A true creativity tool that's also affordable (it's something like 6 bucks), it's a nice introduction to synth/electronic music, and it will keep you busy for HOURS if music is your thing.  Also, don't forget that the Nintendo 3DS has a sound/voice modifier so you can record your voice and make it sound super high or super low or do all sorts of other cool things to it. 

3) Touch options that don't leave your screen covered in greasy fingerprints.

You can call me OCD but I hate touching someone else's smart phone most of the time.  Even the people who keep their phones in a nice case tend to have nasty smudges and bits of nacho cheese grease on their screen.  It's like a biohazard, only portable.  So let me just say right now that the interfaces for handheld gaming systems are far superior when it comes to this problem (yeah, I know you can buy styluses for smartphones but no one ever uses them because of the fact that there is NO PLACE ON THE SMARTPHONE TO KEEP THE DANG THING).  Even though I do not own a Vita, I have sampled the touchpad at Game Stop on their display model and was pleasantly surprised at how seamless it reacted on the screen.  And the stylus on the 3DS is basically part of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra of Nintendo- in this incarnation, however, the stylus actually telescopes to a longer length, making it much more comfortable for gaming in longer intervals.

4) Wireless options without forcing you into a slavery contract with a cell company

Most people spend upwards of 50 bucks per phone on their cell phone plan.  And this is if you get one of those special deals where they make you pay the 50-60 bucks worth of tax on a 300 dollar phone that probably only cost 10 bucks to make.  And now with data plan restrictions and all the extra surcharges, fees and other miscellaneous crap, it's a wonder that most of us don't just take a bunch of tin cans and tie them together with string every time we want to talk to someone.  Both the 3DS and the PSVita give you the option of having a full-strength gaming handheld WITH wireless capabilities but WITHOUT a mandatory contract through a cell carrier.  I know that the PSVita has some deals going through with a cell carrier for data stuff, but to be honest, I think most gamers would prefer the non-data version, mainly because free wireless is everywhere, and unless you live in the hillbilly woods, you're going to be a stone's throw from a wireless network that you can use to access internet based materials.  For many kids, this is going to be much easier to sell to a parent as a possible birthday/Christmas present option than the iPhone.  Plus, they can only be friends with people they actively swap friendcodes with and other such "safety" options for making said consoles easier for parents to have peace of mind about what sorts of shenanigans the kids can get up to on their game systems.

Be a hero...anywhere...

But most of all, I honestly think that handhelds bring the most to the table when it comes to an actual gaming experience on the go because they are portable.  So much of our lives are spent waiting in unbearably long lines, stuck at boring social events that we're merely obligated to go to and no one wants to talk to us, or otherwise in a situation that gives you an hour to kill but you can't go home or go anywhere fun.  In our busy, overextended lives, handheld games fill that giant hole that is made by most people often being "in between" where they need to be and where they are.  And it certainly doesn't help that when there are so many deadlines, often being early means suffering the boredom of waiting around for things to start.

Of course, that's the beauty of it, right?  Handheld systems (and everything that they entail) will be there for you regardless of where you are- as close by as your pocket or backpack-when you need them.  In the end, all you have to do is seize the opportunity!


So what are your favorite "non-game" applications for handheld gaming systems?

Do you own any handheld game systems as of now?

And finally, what do you think about the future of handheld gaming- is it likely to die in an Angry Birds fireball or will we be seeing Nintendo and Sony handhelds even when we're 70 years old?