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Summer sun and games to go: why summer and portable gaming are the best union ever
by Andrew Testerman

It’s 2000, and I’m driving down the interstate with my mother. Canyons and trees pass my window, and the road rushes beneath us with great speed, but I’m locked in mortal combat with a Club Master in Pokémon Trading Card Game for my Game Boy Color. I’ve been down three prizes the whole match, but I’ve finally managed to turn the tables on this Electric-type-using card shark, defeating him with my Sandslash. Throwing up my hands, I recline in my chair, gazing at the beautiful landscape flying by, relishing my victory.

Portable gaming has been a staple of my virtual diet for nearly fourteen years, and is as dear to me now as when I first picked up my trusty Game Boy at the age of ten. If there’s a time when my love of all things handheld comes to the front, though, it’s during the June-through-August period when the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and it’s too damn hot to go outside. That’s right; summer is my time for gaming on the go, and arguably the best time for anyone with a knack for portable gaming.

The most obvious reason why consoles like the DS and PSP see more play from me during summer is because, historically, people tend to travel more during the summer months. Whether it’s a flight to see distant relatives, or merely a long car trip to see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, portable games play an invaluable role in staving off boredom during extended periods of travel or sitting around. In some cases, they even add to memories of the trip; I find myself looking back on vacations past and remembering how much fun I had with certain games in certain places.

It’s 2003, and I’m dockside at Lindbergh Lake. My parents are vacation, so I’m staying with my grandma in their absence, and we’re spending the day at the family cabin. The Ataris’ 'So Long Astoria' blares from my Discman, and the orange early-evening light tells me the sun is just starting to descend towards the mountains. I pull my sunglasses back down my face and get back to my game, Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World for the Game Boy Advance. I look around at the many trees surrounding the lake, and back at the Game Boy screen, where I start a level in the Forest of Illusion. I smile to myself as I imagine what sorts of adventures I would have if our trees were teaming with Goombas and Piranha Plants.

Depending on the game I’m playing, I’ve even found aspects of my vacations are affected by what I’ve been rocking on my DS or PSP. If I’m playing a JRPG like Legend of Heroes or Pokémon, unfamiliar locales become strange and foreign lands to explore, where - in the right mindset - something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store can take on a quest-y aspect. If I’m playing a fighting game, new city streets and clearings become potential grounds for my character to lay some smack down. If I’m playing a platformer, you’d better believe I’m spending my time looking for those nooks and crannies where hidden collectables are sure to be found. Perhaps it sounds a bit mental, but a little imagination helps keep my vacation time fresh, and I channel my games for inspiration.

It’s 2006, and I’ve just woken up in my family’s hotel room. I can’t believe how lucky I am at having the chance to holiday in Italy for my stepdad’s family reunion, but the airline misplaced our luggage, and now we don’t have the requisite plug adaptors needed for our electronics. After dressing, I switch on my DS as I wait for the elevator. I take in the cool, mocha-colored tiles and spindly metals of the elevator shaft before starting the only game I know I can enjoy while conserving battery life: Brain Age, which I bought at the behest of the many gaming publications I follow. As I tap the large, disembodied face of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, I groggily reflect that it may even help to wake me from my tired torpor before the day begins.

Portable games can also be similar to summer books. By now, umpteen “Summer Reading” lists have made their way onto various news sites and blogs, suggesting several books for vacation-goers to chew through during their leisure period; books of epic tales, true stories, pulpy thrills and new ideas. As gamers, we too have access to rich narratives, escapist pleasures and enjoyable time-wasters, all accessible from the palm of our hands. Perhaps gaming publications should put out a “Summer Playing” list, for gamers looking to kick it by the pool or camp out under the stars.

Then again, a summer playing list could come in handy for any gamer for one simple reason: the drought. Whilst movie studios treat the summer season as an excuse to through summer tentpole after summer tentpole at filmgoers, game publishers have historically been tepid about releasing their precious triple-A franchises outside of the holiday season, leaving the June-through-August season barren and empty, with only a few notable exceptions. During this time of seldom releases, players can catch up on notable handheld games they may have missed whilst on holiday (and this year, we’ve had some good ones).

It’s 2007, and I’m sitting in car with my best friend. After eight hours of driving and rest stops, we’ve finally reached Salt Lake City, and are setting up our tents at the KOA ground we rented. Dilated Peoples are pumping out of the stereo as everyone takes a break, tired from the trip but excited for our day at the Warped Tour the next morning. I’m finding my Zen place, unwinding with my copy of Planet Puzzle League for the DS. Dragging and shifting differently-coloured blocks around, I feel myself becoming aware of my friends outside, the rhythm of the music, and the camaraderie we’re all sharing in the calm before the oncoming storm. The blocks reach the top of the screen, and I close my DS and move towards the campsite, ready to sleep and meet the Warped Tour madness in full effect tomorrow.

Even for players who don’t normally play DS or PSP, summer provides ample opportunity to experience the joys of gaming on the go. Whether it’s exploring new lands whilst lying on the beach, going for a high score during family downtime, or simply trying to get through six hours of extended air travel, portable games are at their best during the season of high temperatures and vacation time, and summer simply wouldn’t be the same without them.

It’s 2010, and I’m back at the lake. The weather has been unseasonably rainy for the past two days, and my family is huddled by the fireplace. It’s dark outside, and there’s mist over the mountains, giving the warm interior of the cabin a cozy feeling. My mom is reading a Dan Brown novel, my friend flips through an old Carl Barks Donald Duck comic book, and I’m wrapped in a blanket by the window, playing Lumines for the PSP. The bright colours and hypnotic pulse of the music provide a cheerful distraction to the grey exterior as everyone finds their own ways to entertain themselves. I glance out at the water one more time, reflecting on how fortunate I’ve been to have such amazing experiences with my family and friends, and thankful for all of the fond memories I’ve experienced with the help of portable gaming.

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- Andrew Testerman

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