The great Nintendo 3DS headache saga

As newspapers report that the 3DS is being returned following complaints of headaches, we take a look at the controversy surrounding Nintendo’s new system…

Nintendo 3DS

If you were to some recent reports in the UK tabloid press, playing the Nintendo 3DS for an extended period of time provides the same kind of headache you’d experience if you drank a case of Belgian lager.

In a series of uncharacteristically excitable news stories, the Sun has repeatedly warned readers that the 3DS “makes gamers dizzy and sick”, and that the system was “now the most returned games console ever as users struggle with its display.”

While both Nintendo and retailer Game were quick to refute the claims that the 3DS was being returned to stores in record quantities, the Sun has continued to publish stories that warn of the console’s potential health risk.

Earlier this week, the Sun reported that a 27-year-old parent had tried to return his 3DS when, having played the device for three minutes, he began to experience headaches.

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On the 6th April, the paper conducted a scientific experiment, in which a 22-year-old member of staff had his blood pressure and pulse taken after playing the 3DS in different situations – at rest, while walking, or while taking a ride in a car. The Sun came to the startling conclusion that the man’s pulse and blood pressure were higher while walking than while sitting down, yet concluded, apropos of nothing, “Children should not be left to play on it for hours.”

The article neglects to point out that a raised blood pressure and pulse is perfectly normal, and you’re as likely to experience such a physical response while walking and reading a book as you are when playing the 3DS. Nor does the article mention that it’s quite normal for one’s heart rate to increase while playing a fast-paced or mentally taxing game – which, again, isn’t a response purely relegated to the new-fangled 3DS.

Elsewhere in the article, Sun doctor Carol Cooper wrote, with a haiku-like sense of poetry, “Technology can make a plain 2D picture look 3D by bombarding different images into each eye. It may be a clever trick, but it’s not at all natural and can cause problems. In normal life, each eye gets images that are only very slightly different. The human body works best when all the senses receive compatible messages.”

Given the broad popularity of Nintendo’s DS and Wii in recent years, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the 3DS has come under so much scrutiny from all sectors of the media. And with the 3DS offering an unusual, headline-grabbing technical feature like glasses-free 3D (a phrase we’ve seen countless times over the last few months), it’s not surprising that the device has been regarded with a fair amount of suspicion, too.

The fact is, the 3DS’ stereoscopic display isn’t going to work for everybody, and in fairness to Nintendo, it’s been quite clear on that issue since it began ramping up the pre-release hype for the console last year.

In my own experience, the response from my friends towards the device has been mixed. Some have cooed excitedly over it, while others have been nonplussed.

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Extended periods of play have left me with eye-strain, on occasions, but then again, so have visits to the cinema to watch 3D movies – I left the extended cut of Avatar with a dreadful headache that lasted for hours, in fact.

The real issue with the 3DS, perhaps, is that Nintendo has marketed the 3D display of the console to the exclusion of almost everything else. Little has been made of its other improvements over the outgoing DS, such as its improved graphics and processing power, its superior online support, the addition of a circle pad, or the potentially exciting possibilities of its innovative Augmented Reality cards.

So while tabloid newspapers have, predictably, blown a story about eyestrain and headaches out of proportion, as they’re wont to do, some of the blame for these negative stories should be shouldered by Nintendo itself, perhaps.

Had the console’s 3D capability been marketed as an exciting bonus, instead of its one unique selling point, perhaps the media reaction to it would have been rather less shrill.

The Sun

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