When The Nintendo DS Took Over My Niece's Mind

Rare Sighting: Me And My Niece Without A DSSometimes I think it was a bad idea to let my little niece see my Nintendo DS. I didn't know what those things could do.

Was I this bad at age four, this obsessed with video games that I couldn't play very well? Or does my DS simply emit a sub-sonic siren song that makes it as irresistible as The Wiggles and Dora The Explorer?

I will protect my niece's identity to shield her from generous people who might send her a free DS -- and cause her to spontaneously combust with joy. So I'm not naming her. But she is four, has been in love with my DS for over a year, and seems to consider it the most exciting aspect of any visit my wife and I take to see her and the rest of my wife's family in the South.

Just a week ago, after my wife and I returned from a six-day Christmas visit, my DS-fixated niece asked one of other uncles if he had a DS. It seems that she was jonesing. When he said no, she said he was "stupid."

Given that kind of attitude, I think Reggie Fils-Aime should consider making my niece the American spokeswoman for the system.

I'm curious about how such an obsession happens. I wonder what synapses fire in a little kid's mind. Is it the flashing lights that are cool? The fact that you can touch it and make something happen? I believe it is all that and the fact that it can be folded up. Plus, it has games she loves, even though she can't play them well at all.

Let me explain…because, in case you don't know, the love that hardcore gamers have for games has nothing on the fixation a four-year-old can posess.

It started when she was three and she spotted my DS. I don't even remember if I was playing it. It may have just been lying in an open suitcase. She got curious. So a year ago we started the habit -- no, the obsession -- of playing the DS any time we weren't eating little ham sandwiches, playing hide and seek or driving around town (which isn't to say she didn't try to play instead of eat, hide with the DS or ask to take the thing with us in the car).

"Kirby has to go to the bathroom"

A year ago she got obsessed with "Kirby Squeak Squad," though her little thumb could only get Kirby to run to the left -- a problem given that the game is a right-ward oriented side-scroller. I asked her why she wouldn't make Kirby run to the right. Why leave him stuck on the left, where the game wouldn't scroll back? "Kirby has to go to the bathroom," she'd tell me. She liked a coloring-based mini-game in the game that she dubbed "The Shirt Game," and asked me in subsequent visits if we could play that. Would she have understood if I told her I traded "Kirby" in at GameStop?

She loves that you can open and close the DS, and that this pauses any DS game that's running on it. She will pull me away from talking to adults so that we can sit on the stairs and play DS, but then she'll quickly close the system and say we should do something else. So we'll go upstairs or downstairs and, without even a minute having passed, she'll open it back up and say we should play some more. She also likes carrying the DS in a little bag.

"Chibi Robot" and "The Driving Game"

We don't really play the DS together. She just lets me watch her play. This past Christmas break I watched her play "Chibi Robo: Park Patrol" -- excuse me, I meant, "Chibi Robot" -- in which all she wanted to do was walk around in the flowers.

She doesn't really like it when I offer to help, unless, it's on the connect-the-dots mini-game in "Kirby Canvas Curse." That part of the game is still hard for her even though, after a year of occasional visits, she's gotten pretty good at using the DS stylus. She loved the mine-cart mini-game, which she has dubbed "The Driving Game." She's actually pretty good at it, because it can be controlled by scribbles. She knows she's got some skills there and kept looking up at me happily during Christmas break, exclaiming "I won!" -- even, at times, when the screen just indicated that she lost. Getting to the finish line is victory enough.

Santa Fails To Deliver

My niece asked Santa for a DS for Christmas 2007. Santa did not come through. My niece's cousins, six and eight, got a DS each. But my niece's parents thought that at four, she might be too young (perhaps they're also wary of the obsession they've witnessed?). I agreed with them. She can't actually play any of the games I've brought her well. She can't hit a single note in "Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan," for example. And she did seem thoroughly disinterested in "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations," for reasons, that, actually, don't escape me. She only whispered to me once, post-Christmas, that she wished she got one. I believe this is before she learned that one of her nine-year-old relatives also got a DS.

When will my niece be fully ready to own her very own Nintendo handheld? I don't know. All I know right now is that when her mom asked her who she was more excited to see, me or my wife (who is her blood relative), she said me. But when her mom asked if she was more excited to see me or my DS? Well, you know what she said.

Hey Nintendo, what do you put in these things?