vitalife1 -
vitalife1 -

I have a fairly lengthy commute into the towers: 50 minutes on a good day, well over an hour and a half on a bad one. So, I make the most of it by getting lost in Drake's Golden Abyss, or rolling giant balls across the cosmos.

The problem is, taking out a dedicated handheld gaming device on a packed commuter train still appears to be frowned upon. In the two weeks that I've tried gaming on the go, I've regularly received those odd, disapproving looks from all walks of society. You know the kind of look I mean, that type of glance where you can tell they're thinking, 'isn't he a little too old to be playing games?'

It doesn't seem to matter if other commuters are gaming on their mobile, either. Playing Angry Birds or Solitaire on your iOS device, it seems, has been accepted as a social norm. But attempting to play Uncharted on your Vita still appears to be seen as a relative abnormality. I dread to think what kind of looks I'd get if I were to pull something as big as a 3DS XL out of my bag.

But why is it still considered odd for an adult to play games in public? Is it because I, a 26-year-old guy on his way to work, am playing on a dedicated gaming device, and by extension clearly a socially awkward nerd? Should I know better at my age?

"Whenever I see someone playing a handheld on a train, it's usually a kid," Editor Tom Orry said when I questioned him on the subject. "It's very rare to see an adult playing on a dedicated handheld.

"I'd be much more comfortable watching a film on my tablet than playing a handheld game around other people, but that's more my problem than anyone else's".

Maybe that's the point entirely: That gaming is still seen by some as juvenile, children's entertainment. A medium that people will happily enjoy in the comfort of their own home, or play online with a tight group of friends or under relative anonymity, but are scared will damage their image when playing in public.

vitalife2 -

But that still doesn't answer my question as to why gaming on a multi-functional, lifestyle device appears any more appropriate than playing games on a dedicated handheld.

"There have been times when I've had Vita in my bag and not played it for fear of looking like a dweeb," Reviews Editor Martin Gaston added. "I would immediately think someone playing their Vita in public was a dork. I wouldn't have a problem playing games on my phone, though."

For balance, I questioned a couple of other non-gaming friends on the subject, both being the typical sort of professionals that you'd expect to find on the 7:38 into central London.

"People would probably say most people who play games in public are geeks," said one of them, adding that the person's look and fashion sense contributes fairly heavily to his overall opinion of the player.

"Looking scruffy with a handheld isn't a great look," he told me, saying that those dressed smartly wouldn't be deemed quite so 'geeky'.

A second friend, however (five years younger than the other it's perhaps worth pointing out), said that he "wouldn't really think twice" about someone playing on their 3DS or Vita in public.

"I don't think its particularly unacceptable," he added. "You get people doing all sorts on trains: full size laptops, DSs, Kindles, books, iPhone games...

"To be fair, most people probably just don't know what it is. Vitas are slightly weird looking, and they aren't particularly well known."

Fair point.

But no matter how much headway the industry has made in getting gaming accepted into the living room, there's a clear indication that dedicated handheld gaming still has a fair way to go until it's seen as a social normality. And given the state of the handheld market right now, there's a considerable risk that it never will be.

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User Comments

CheekyLee's Avatar

CheekyLee@ mydeaddog

I know several people who are not called Barry.

Your friends are correct. In fact, the further north you get, the friendlier they become. This may sound impossible to you, but I now have multiple friends who I originally met when we were waiting for the same bus. I've added them on facebook, been for drinks, and even stayed in the houses of some.

The first time that somebody randomly started talking to me up North, I didn't know what to do with it. Where I come from, the way to deal with that kind of behaviour is to stab them, run away, and get a different bus a couple of hours later. But in Northumberland, talking to people you just met is just what people do. In my 2 years of living in London, I only got to talk to 3 strangers on tube trains. I had 2 sets of neighbours, but only ever spoke to 1 side. Here? I've been in this village for 4 months, now, and know mostly everybody on the street.

And the chips are MUCH better. We can even get them with gravy! (Although I do kind of miss Saveloys.)
Posted 13:40 on 22 June 2012
Clockpunk's Avatar


I usually drive into the city - and the only gaming-related activity I can engage in is listening to podcasts.

I usually walk into work - ditto.

During lunchbreaks I usually take the opportunity to check forums/gaming news.

Any other time, I'm at home - where I can play consoles.
Posted 13:27 on 22 June 2012
dav2612's Avatar

dav2612@ squidman

Lunchbreaks in my work are less relaxing than a commute to work on the train e.g. my Gravity Rush session today was exceptionally interrupted by a colleague who doesn't believe in breaks, he'd stand outside the toilet door still discussing an issue if I'd let him.

If I got the train to work then I'd play on the train. When I worked in Glasgow I used to play my GBA every night on the way home (I didn't in the morning as I was out for the count) and nobody bothered.

I imported my PSP from the States and played it on the train from Perth to Torquay several months before the PSP got a UK release and even then nobody gave it a 2nd look.

I play my Vita in the park when I'm being ignored for a couple of hours by my daughter.

Perhaps I was too engrossed in my game to notice if I get any looks.
Posted 13:24 on 22 June 2012
mydeaddog's Avatar


I think it's also worth pointing out that a lot of the time people on public transport hate it if you do anything out of the ordinary.

Activities regarded as being "out of the ordinary" include:

- Eating
- Playing a videogame
- Making eye contact
- Talking, especially to strangers
- Reading anything that looks like it might be religious
- Making sudden movements
- Public masturbation

Interestingly, most (if not all) of these actions are socially acceptable if you're on a bus or train on a Friday or Saturday night. Why? Because everyone is wasted, and their iinhibitions are lowered.

This dynamic is particularly evident in London, although various friends of mine insist that things are a good deal friendlier up North.

The way they paint it, everyone greets everyone else by their first name (Barry), and bus/train rides consist of everybody celebrating how brilliant The Beatles/The Smiths/Oasis were, while eating chips that are cheaper and much better than the chips you get down South.

But then again, I'm a Southern Ponce with an asymetrical haircut who eats paninis and wastes his money on expensive foreign lager...

Show Spoiler I'm only kidding. My Dad's a scouser, and I'm really quite fond of the cities up North.
Posted 13:21 on 22 June 2012
guyderman's Avatar

guyderman@ squidman

Not a fan of the Vita then - lol!
Posted 12:56 on 22 June 2012


I play my 3DS and Vita whenever I damn well like. But then I have no shame about being a Geek and no false image to uphold ;)

In the end it's not other people's problem, it's yours and the sooner people just don't care about being stared at, the sooner it becomes the norm.
Posted 12:44 on 22 June 2012
altaranga's Avatar


Why is handheld gaming still socially unacceptable in this country?

The Japanese have a very different opinion towards handheld gaming. It's not a surprise that the two main, dedicated handhelds are both Japanese and that M'Soft have not bothered to make one considering their penetration into Japan's market (or lack there of). The Western world is yet to fully embrace the concept, which is a shame.
Posted 12:41 on 22 June 2012
squidman's Avatar

squidman@ dav2612

I think it's a very different scenario at something like lunch, though. Things tend to be quieter, you'd don't have to pay any attention to where you are, you can relax a bit more and you've got a lot more time. I wouldn't play a Vita on a train but I definitely would at lunch or in the evening (if it ever gets any decent games, that is)

I wasn't really aware Dave was going to be mushing together about five minutes of me talking into one disjointed sentence: I have a 17 minute commute, so yeah, if I see someone on a train playing a Vita they're usually pretty dorky. By the time the silly thing has even loaded it's pretty much time to get off the train. And I'd never take a handheld onto the tube because the tube is too loud to really focus on games other than something really really basic and that's just not the kind of thing Vita trades in.

If I was doing the 4ish hour journey from London to Dorset to see my family, well, it would be a very different scenario. Or a plane. Or something like that. But when standing up on a train in the morning? Yeah, in my experience we're looking at pretty dorky people here. Sorry.

I have less problem with phones because they tend to fit with how I use my phone on a train - it's not because I think phones are totally cool and Vita is totally lame. I could do a single level of something with one hand while I'm squeezed up against a door and my other arm is holding the bar, and then I'll usually flick over to Twitter or E-mail or read an article with Instapaper or something. Activities where I don't need to be fully engaged with what's going on and I can keep myself aware of where the train is. If Vita could ever do that (it certainly can't at the moment) I'd be more likely to use it in that way.

I don't really play games on my phone when I commute, either - It's not a style, fashion or appearance thing. I like to read the paper in the morning to keep up with the news, and in the evening my brain is usually so frazzled I'm not in the mood for games in any form and am more focused on thinking about my dinner.

But if that's how you want to get to work and back, more power to you.
Posted 12:30 on 22 June 2012
CheekyLee's Avatar


Frequently play on either my phone or my 3DS on the bus to work, or just about anywhere, and I can't say I have ever noticed any funny looks at me. And if I did? I really wouldn't care. What is different about what I do than reading a Kindle or listening to an iPod?

Once, some kid about 6 or 7 crossed the aisle to sit behind me and watch what I was playing on my iPhone. I would even have answered if he had started talking, and when he pulled out his old-school GameBoy just as I was getting off the bus I kinda felt a little envious. (I was in my 20's when the GB came out, so I never got anywhere near the feeling of magic that he would have done from it.)

I do think I am in the minority, though, especially up in the North East. I almost never get any StreetPass hits.
Posted 12:28 on 22 June 2012
FantasyMeister's Avatar


If I pulled out a Vita on my daily commute I'd get 3 points on my driving licence and a £60 fine, suit or no suit.

As I haven't used public transport for years I've no idea what is and isn't socially acceptable anymore during such journeys, but I'd imagine that if someone next to me whipped out a Vita and started playing it on a bus I'd think "Cool, a gamer." Unless they started reading a DC Comic on it, in which case I might think "Oh, a geek."

Ergo it's not the device, it's what you're doing with it. Whip out a Saints Row 3 dildo bat and start an ad hoc game of cricket on the tube, no problem. Whip out a Saints Row 3 dildo bat without any intention of playing cricket on the tube, problem.

Posted 12:27 on 22 June 2012
munkee's Avatar


"there's a clear indication that dedicated handheld gaming still has a fair way to go until it's seen as a social normality"

That's pretty much all there is to it really. It's just not "normal" to see an adult playing games in public. The more people that do it, the more it will become acceptably mainstream. Imagine what the first Kindle and iPad people looked like. What about in the 80's when people had huge mobile phones with ariels on them? It just needs to become more commonplace.
Posted 12:24 on 22 June 2012
guyderman's Avatar


I play at work and like Dav no one bats an eye lid.
The only thing that puts me off playing in public is that people may be watching me and laughing at how Sh!t I am!
Posted 12:21 on 22 June 2012
dav2612's Avatar


Whilst I don't play my Vita on the way to work as I drive, I do play during my lunchbreak. At 37, I'm the 2nd youngest in my office and nobody has given my gaming a thought, if anything they come and have a look to see what I am playing.
Posted 12:13 on 22 June 2012
Woffls's Avatar


It's telling that younger people might think it's fine. It's just one of those things that will eventually phase into societal acceptance, and nobody will really care.

I think it's about mental age perception more than anything, which is why wearing a suit while playing Vita is apparently fine. It's still a hobby associated with young people, but if you dress yourself up to fit the archetypal mature figure of someone who takes themselves seriously, then that causes people to question their beliefs.

Obviously you won't change someone's opinion by suiting up or putting on whatever it is that girls wear in offices these days, but gradually the stigma will disappear.
Posted 12:08 on 22 June 2012
atheistium's Avatar


The only time I'm funny about playing games on handholds in public is because I'm scared someone is going to steal it ^^;;

I've seen a lot of people (adults) playing DS and PSP though on the tubes in London. I've had a few odd looks when I got my 3DS on the tube (streetpass ftw). Nothing that bothers me so much though...
Posted 11:58 on 22 June 2012

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