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I Am Going to Bring Back StreetPass

A graphic of 2 people walking past each other as their 3DSs communicate with each other weirelessly via StreetPass. It’s superimposed over a blurred screenshot of the Miis available in a Mii Plaza.
A graphic of 2 people walking past each other as their 3DSs communicate with each other weirelessly via StreetPass. It’s superimposed over a blurred screenshot of the Miis available in a Mii Plaza.

The day I learned that there would be a 3DS Memorial StreetPass Community Meetup at PAX Australia in Melbourne was the day my eyes opened. Oh hey, I’m going to that! I should download all of the StreetPass Plaza games just in case! So I managed to go to Melbourne, despite otherwise being a ghost in your computer, StreetPassed as much as possible, and fell in love with it. Since not a lot of people get to do StreetPass as of late, I decided I wanted to write about its appeal, an exploration of the StreetPass Plaza games, and ruminating on why it hasn’t been (and sadly probably never will be) brought back unless we do it ourselves.

Table of contents:

What’s Even The Appeal Of StreetPass Anyway?

StreetPass is pretty simple: When your 3DS gets close to another 3DS that has wireless communication turned on, the two share information with each other for various games that you both have, and you see a little green LED light up on your 3DS when you do. As we’ll talk about later there are very good reasons that it was not brought back for the Switch, so it might be a little difficult to identify what the appeal of it is, but we can talk about what indirectly inspired this feature being added to the 3DS: walking your dog.

Walking your dog in a park can be a social activity for both parties. You get to talk to other dog owners, and your dog gets to socialise with other dogs. More often than not it doesn’t lead to any deep relationship, maybe nothing more than saying hi or making small talk a few times, but it’s still social interaction and it is still healthy for your brain to have some of those low stakes transient relationships.

Games prior to the 3DS had already tapped into this, and most relevant to our dog-walking analogy is, unsurprisingly, Nintendogs for the DS. It had a wireless mode called Bark Mode which is analogous to walking your Nintendog, and this is most likely the precursor to other games doing similar things. Instead of directly choosing a DS to connect wirelessly to like other multiplayer modes, you would switch on Bark Mode and put your DS in your pocket as you walked around. If your DS detected another DS operating in Bark Mode, the two consoles would swap information about the dog being walked. You could exchange gifts and play with that dog briefly, and send pre-recorded voice messages that the other person could view if they checked your trainer information.

A beagle taking a present to Bark Mode in Nintendogs.

Satoru Iwata briefly talks about Bark Mode in an Iwata Asks article about Nintendogs + Cats. He describes a flaw with this system: If people aren’t actively playing Nintendogs in Bark Mode when they walk around, they won’t be able to share data. Other DS games had something similar to Bark Mode and improved on this, though they still ran into limitations. The World Ends With You had a similar mode called Mingle Mode that grants Pin Points, which is basically experience for your equipment. When passing by another DS in Mingle Mode you would share data, similar to Bark Mode. However, you also gained these points when passing by a DS that was engaged in wireless communication for other games, meaning you can still get bonuses by being around any DS. You could also meet “Alients” which are believed to be randomly encountered if you can’t find anyone else with a DS nearby. While this means you don’t really need to be near people playing DS games wirelessly to make use of Mingle Mode, there is still a flaw with this system: You still have to actively be playing TWEWY to share data. If you want to both turn on Mingle Mode and Bark Mode, you can’t do that with just one DS.

The Mingle results screen in The World Ends With You. The player made contact with 3 Aliens, granting them 300 Mingle PP.
The Mingle results screen in The World Ends With You. The player made contact with 3 Aliens, granting them 300 Mingle PP.

To solve this, StreetPass is built directly into your 3DS at the OS level, and can share and receive information for games that you aren’t actively playing. For example, I might StreetPass someone, and receive their info for StreetPass Mii Plaza, send them something on Swapnote, and exchange secret base data for Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, even if one of us doesn’t have that game downloaded or inserted into our 3DS. The 3DS also has a currency built into the 3DS called Play Coins that you gain by walking around. We will talk about how they’re used as a substitute for StreetPassing people in the StreetPass Mii Plaza games later, but they also had non-StreetPass related uses. They can be used as an alternate currency for revival after death in Shin Megami Tensei IV, for example.

What this means is that just by walking around you’re always gonna be able to play the StreetPass Mii Plaza games, and if you StreetPass someone you’re always gonna get those transient social interactions no matter what you’re playing. The only exception is that StreetPass doesn’t work when playing a DS game, for security reasons that make sense when you remember that the reason the Wii was hacked involved manipulating the memory of the machine in GameCube mode with a pair of tweezers. I assume you also can’t gain Play Coins while in DS mode for the same reason. It’s kind of interesting that StreetPass was created was to fix a problem with Bark Mode and yet you can’t use it and Bark Mode at the same time!

This is all well and good, but there are other ways of doing asynchronous multiplayer, so why am I so enamoured with StreetPass and not those? To me, the difference between this and something like leaving messages in Dark Souls or corpses in Nier Automata (among other things) is the physical proximity. The reason you got to see that message from someone is that you walked passed them, instead of a server deciding it wanted you to see this. It’s also an excuse to meet up with someone to play DS or 3DS games with them: I asked someone I met to bring their 3DS to an arcade hang so we could StreetPass, and after the arcade we ended up sitting in a food court chatting and playing Mario Kart DS for an hour1. Many games’ StreetPass interactions allow you to help people out with their game, so you can do something nice for people just by going for a walk or being present with someone you know. It’s also just nice to see the LED glow green and know someone else is trying to do the exact same thing that you are.

Admittedly it could also be novelty. I never had a 3DS when it was a current console and only got one within the last few years with the intent of using it to play SNES and Mega Drive games, for instance. Regardless, I think I’ve covered the appeal, at least a little bit. It’s fun! If you have a 3DS, and know someone else who also has a 3DS, I would recommend trying it.

StreetPass Mii Plaza Games Roundup

Like I said, StreetPass was built into the OS of the 3DS, and it came with an application to demonstrate how it might work. That application is StreetPass Mii Plaza.

When you StreetPass someone, their Mii will show up in your plaza. They’ll tell you stuff like where they’re from, what their birthday is, the last game they played, and maybe a user-selected favourite hobby or dream for the future, along with a user submitted message. Then they’ll be standing in your plaza forever (until you StreetPass enough people that they disappear). If you pass someone enough, you get the ability to send a custom message to them instead of the message you send everyone.

Each time you StreetPass someone, they’ll be able to join you once for each of the games in the Plaza. By default the plaza has 2 games, Puzzle Swap and StreetPass Quest, and if you downloaded more content or bought or otherwise “buy” the DLCs you can play a lot more. Let’s start talking about them!

Puzzle Swap & StreetPass Quest

Oh by the way I’m gonna be using the names that appear to me as an Australian 3DS owner. So if you’re a US American and are confused, welcome to how it feels to live literally anywhere other than where you do. You’ll be able to figure it out anyway. I have faith in you!

Puzzle Swap is maybe the most interesting StreetPass Mii Plaza game because it differs from almost every other in a few key ways, and every downloadable game is based on how StreetPass Quest works. The basic gist of Puzzle Swap is that you keep track of puzzles of game art, and as you StreetPass other people you can choose pieces from their collection to copy and keep (which means they choose some from yours to keep). As time goes on, you have a chance to get additional pieces from the same puzzle outside of the one piece you picked. So, as more people StreetPass each other, more pieces get shared, and more people have more complete collections with which to share!

StreetPass Quest is a little more straightforward: everyone you StreetPass becomes a member of an adventuring party, and you go forth and defeat enemies to try and rescue the monarch (which is your Mii). Miis can either attack or do a magic spell, and which spell they can do depends on what favourite colour they selected. For example, red does a fire attack, purple poisons, orange and pink are buffs, etc. Enemies don’t attack: each Mii simply gets scared off or leaves after doing an action. Sometimes enemies have shields that only Miis of a specific colour can break and these suck.

An incomplete Xenoblade Chronicles puzzle in Puzzle Swap.
An incomplete Xenoblade Chronicles puzzle in Puzzle Swap.

For both games, you can spend Play Coins to play instead of needing to StreetPass. In StreetPass Quest, it gives you an adventurer as if you StreetPassed someone (with the head of a dog or cat, depending on what your Mii’s favourite animal is, instead of a human). In Puzzle Swap, it gives you a puzzle piece for a puzzle you haven’t completed yet, though it may give you a piece you already have for those puzzles. Importantly, if a spot for a piece in Puzzle Swap is pink, it can’t be obtained through Play Coins and can only be obtained through StreetPassing someone.

This is the first main difference Puzzle Swap has from every other StreetPass game: You can’t finish it only by spending Play Coins. Each new puzzle in Puzzle Swap also needs to be unlocked by taking pieces from someone that you StreetPassed: you can’t be randomly given a piece from a puzzle you haven’t seen by spending Play Coins. There’s also the fact that in every other StreetPass game, paying 2 Play Coins will either generate a Mii with a dog/cat head or re-use a Mii you already StreetPassed prior, whereas in Puzzle Swap it will give you 1 piece randomly (with no bonus chance like if you StreetPassed someone) and it might also not be one you want.

What I’m getting at is that Puzzle Swap is the one that feels the most directly collaborative. It has limitations on how much you can actually obtain using Play Coins, and you can only give to other people what you have, so there is an incentive to get out there and share what you have to others, because others will want to do the same with you! Meanwhile if you really wanted to you could just spend all your Play Coins on dog/cat Miis and finish StreetPass Quest ASAP. Every other Mii Plaza game is a lot closer to StreetPass Quest in this way.

It makes sense why Puzzle Swap is the only one like this, though: A downloadable game with a similar collaborative approach would not work nearly as well because there’s no guarantee you will StreetPass someone who also has it! Sharing specific things falls apart when a lot of people you StreetPass might not even have the ability to share it. More than anything I’m just glad Puzzle Swap exists as is.

As StreetPass Mii Plaza received updates, it also received 11 new downloadable games, most of them paid (not including StreetPass Quest 2, which I haven’t unlocked at time of writing, sorry). Some of them are good, and some of them aren’t! I won’t be talking about every single one, and instead I’m just gonna go over things that I think are interesting. Other pieces and wikis have gone into more detail about that, and I’ll add a footnote for one here if you’re interested.2

StreetPass Slot Racer

The mission screen in StreetPass Slot Racer. To unlock the EX Course, the player needs to finish within 36 seconds and get 3 EXCELLENTs in a row.
The mission screen in StreetPass Slot Racer. To unlock the EX Course, the player needs to finish within 36 seconds and get 3 EXCELLENTs in a row.

This game and StreetPass Trader were introduced in the 3rd set of DLC games that were released, but these ones were free! The catch was you could only pick one. However my 3DS is Really Cool and I have access to both at the same time Somehow :) The main thing I want to talk about with StreetPass Racer is how it handles the fact that not everyone has the game.

StreetPass Slot Racer is about racing slot cars. You hold accelerate and slow down when you get to corners otherwise you crash, and you’re racing against the people you’ve StreetPassed, who give you a bonus for the next race afterwards. It does give you the track times of anyone who’s completed the track after you’re done, and I assume it makes you race against their ghost data, but how do you control for the fact that you might StreetPass people who have never played it?

The answer it goes for is that it gives you challenges. Instead of asking you to beat ghost times or (what I assume it does for people without the game) randomly generated ghost data, it’ll give you challenges like “Don’t crash more than twice” or “Beat this track in 45 seconds.” I think this is a pretty good way of going about it, all things considered: You know what you have to do before the game starts and can focus on doing that while also trying to go as fast as you can and hopefully beating everyone. The whole “you are all racing for high times but can’t interact with each other” reminds me of Trackmania, to be honest, which I’m a fan of. Maybe that makes me fonder of it than I would be otherwise!

StreetPass Trader and StreetPass Chef

The results screen of StreetPass Chef. Above: A Mii named Lainy defeats a blood ghost. Below: Lainy reviews the Seafood Paella she ate by saying “Exactly what I ordered! Delicious!”
The results screen of StreetPass Chef. Above: A Mii named Lainy defeats a blood ghost. Below: Lainy reviews the Seafood Paella she ate by saying “Exactly what I ordered! Delicious!”

The two are notable because they both point to a semi-shared universe between all of the StreetPass Mii Plaza games.

StreetPass Chef’s premise is really cute: You’re cooking meals for the adventurers you StreetPass, who are going off to fight in StreetPass Quest! They bring their ingredients with them, and the better you cook the meal they’re after, the better they fight. Once you’re done you get a newspaper article showing off how well they did and what they thought of what you cooked. It doesn’t have any impact on StreetPass Quest to my knowledge but I think the premise owns.

StreetPass Trader involves day trading of stocks; buy low, sell high. All of the companies are based on other StreetPass Mii Plaza games, though. You start off with just Piece-by-Piece Deliveries and Kingfinder Studios, but as you progress you unlock new companies to invest in based on the other games. I don’t know if you have to have those games installed, but I had them, and they appeared for me. I would assume you don’t have to because that would be a little pay-to-win otherwise but who can say.

StreetPass Garden

A Mii named Lainy showing the player what they’re growing in StreetPass Garden. Above: She says “I’m growing a Rosa Regalis right now.” Below: She shows the camera the plant.
A Mii named Lainy showing the player what they’re growing in StreetPass Garden. Above: She says “I’m growing a Rosa Regalis right now.” Below: She shows the camera the plant.

StreetPass Garden is about growing plants and placing them in your garden. Your visitors come by and bring their own plants, allowing your plant to grow and cross-pollinate with their plants. Miis you meet via StreetPass (or Miis that are brought back by spending playcoins) may not have grown a plant at all if they don’t have the game: instead it assigns them a plant through some process I don’t know.

The main reason I bring this one up is that there is a LOT of stuff going on in this game. You can grow plants and cross-polinate with the plants others bring, and you can grow them in different colours and place them in your garden, which you can decorate by buying new pots and accessories and new gardens in general. This game has a lot of tutorials to cover these things too: I got to a point where I thought it was done while taking a break from writing this post, and then during that break I got another tutorial on possibly growing a seed who may grow something that doesn’t match it’s parents. Then after writing this I got another tutorial on how to control the colours of your plants. Then after publishing a version of this blog post for people to beta read I got another tutorial on plants you can only grow with people you’ve StreetPassed with more than once! Wild!!!

It is also a chill time, but I am saying that while the percentages for getting new plants are still in my favour. According to the article I footnoted above it can get pretty rough! But honestly decorating a little garden whenever I meet someone I can StreetPass with is a nice time.

StreetPass Zombies

A Mii named Lainy, whose hobby is “watching movies,” giving the player a ray gun in StreetPass Zombies. The Mii says “Blast zombies with a futuristic ray gun, just like in the movies.”
A Mii named Lainy, whose hobby is “watching movies,” giving the player a ray gun in StreetPass Zombies. The Mii says “Blast zombies with a futuristic ray gun, just like in the movies.”

Even though I don’t really play this one, I want to mention how it uses a Mii’s favourite hobby selection. This game involves beating up zombies, and the people you StreetPass give you weapons to fight with. However, the weapon you get is based on what that Mii’s favourite hobby is. Someone who’s favourite hobby is gaming will give you a Wiimote, for example.

When most other Plaza games use a property of the Mii to determine what thing you get, they use the Mii’s colour. It determines the type of bait in StreetPass Fishing, the ingredient in StreetPass Chef, or the colour of the piece you get in StreetPass Mansion, for example. I just thought this difference was neat!

StreetPass Fishing

A Mii fishing from a boat. Text says “Clear Challenge: Catch the legendary monster!”
A Mii fishing from a boat. Text says “Clear Challenge: Catch the legendary monster!”

This is one of my favourite StreetPass games. You go fishing off the coasts of various islands, combining bait given to you by the people you StreetPass. They also come on the trip with you and can help you pull in big fish. The act of reeling in a fish feels good too: you spin the little circle pad, letting go briefly when the fish is thrashing. It feels fun! You can share aquariums of the fish you catch via StreetPass as well.

The main thing I want to bring up here is that the soundtrack for this game is not only super good but super big too. The theme for the second area you get to, Sylvana River, sounds like this, and when I heard it I not only thought “oh cool we get more than one fishing area theme” but “oh cool this goes fucking hard.” Based on what I have downloaded, StreetPass Fishing has a total of 88 tracks!! Not all of these tracks are unique, and there are variants of other tracks with different layers of instrumentation present. Other variants of Sylvana River’s theme include the themes for Eureka River and Mistfall River, for example.

The amount of tracks in this game, compared to others which may have 20 at most, is fucking staggering. They really did not need to go this hard on the soundtrack for a fishing minigame like this but I’m glad they did.

StreetPass Mansion

A Mii named Lainy looks scared and says “Waaah! Why is this happening to me?! Here, have this piece, just help me!” with the option to take the piece from her selected.
A Mii named Lainy looks scared and says “Waaah! Why is this happening to me?! Here, have this piece, just help me!” with the option to take the piece from her selected.

StreetPass Mansion might be my favourite if not for StreetPass Fishing. You explore a haunted mansion, and each person you StreetPass gives you a piece to put on a grid. Placing the same colour of piece in a 2x2 square will give you a treasure, and different coloured adjacent pieces will cause you to have a new room and possibly an enemy encounter. You battle ghosts in an ATB-like system where you can charge up weapons.

To be honest I haven’t done much of the combat so far because most of what I’ve been doing has been StreetPassing the same person and filling floors with their colour of pieces to maximise the amount of treasures I get, hehehe… But I’m surprised there is so much going on with this game, in terms of weapons and upgrades for weapons and consumable and passive buffs in your inventory. Both this and StreetPass Fishing were developed by Prope, who made a lot of the Plaza games I like, so hats of to them! Maybe Yuji Naka did something right for once.

Why They (Rightfully) Didn’t Add StreetPass To The Switch

So all of this seems pretty cool, but Nintendo didn’t stop making handheld consoles after the 3DS. The Switch is part handheld and it doesn’t have StreetPass. So why could that be? Thankfully, we can point to a lot of examples of why this technology may not have been brought back, some directly related to StreetPass and some not.

When I only had vague ideas of what I wanted this piece to be, my friend Holly pointed out Swapnote to me. It’s a downloadable 3DS game that allowed players to draw pictures or attach photos and either trade them online with friends or in person via StreetPass, and Holly also pointed out to me the reason it was killed (which we will talk about in just a second). This shaped my understanding of StreetPass as something that is not unambiguously good. I love it, but it has problems, and a lot of recent coverage I’ve seen of StreetPass doesn’t really acknowledge them. Most YouTube videos about StreetPass are either people asking “Can I get a StreetPass From Someone Random In 2023?” (the answer as someone who lives in a major Australian city is yes and I wasn’t even trying btw) or missing it and talking about it in (deservedly) positive terms. These people are almost certainly adults looking back on it with nostalgia, whether or not they were adults when it was more widely used. Evidently it did not get brought back for multiple reasons, and it’s worth interrogating and speculating why.

Swapnote and Profane Material

Screenshot of a tutorial SwapNote. Nikki says “Remember: Don’t send notes that may make someone feel uncomfortable.” accompanied by a doodle of someone looking uncomfortable.
Screenshot of a tutorial SwapNote. Nikki says “Remember: Don’t send notes that may make someone feel uncomfortable.” accompanied by a doodle of someone looking uncomfortable.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use Swapnote much, but I like it! However, the functionality to trade messages and photos online with friends was discontinued abruptly on the 31st of October, 2013. An article on Kotaku titled “Accused Child Predator Allegedly Used Nintendo’s Swapnote Service”3 gives more details on why though I won’t repeat them here for reasons that should be obvious from the title. I believe the StreetPass functionality remained, however, although StreetPass functionality did not return in its successor, Swapdoodle.

Nintendo is a company that seeks a family-friendly image, and StreetPass is unmoderatable. StreetPass Mii Plaza can kind of detect slurs and hide messages that contain them, but technology from 2011 does this far from perfectly. You can send people drawings of penises (and actual literal images of penises too) via Swapnote if you like. Detecting these things is quite difficult: AI has made attempts and perhaps had some success detecting drawings of penises as far back as 2019, but the 3DS and also most likely the Switch in 2017 would not have been able to. I have also had trouble finding more recent literature on this topic though I imagine the huge strides in image classification AI as of late would help with it4. Suffice to say, imagine walking past an area with children in it like, for example, a video game convention where lots of people are going to have their 3DS, and the ease of essentially airdropping profane material to kids that easily without the ability to moderate is enough to make them consider StreetPass too big a liability.

Information Security

There are also 2 types of security that StreetPass directly rubs up against. The first type is information security. Imagine if your phone automatically told other phones around you “Hi! I’m here! Here’s my name and my birthday! We’ve met 5 times now!” and how damaging that would be for privacy.

I don’t know whether or not this was actually a concern of the development teams or business people at Nintendo. In fact, I lean toward it not being one at the time of the Switch’s development. That being said, it is something that I want to bring up as someone who cares a lot (i.e. is maybe too paranoid) about infosec. I’m not the only one either: people generally dislike other entities knowing this sort of thing about them! For examples of this, we should talk briefly about COVID contact tracing apps like TraceTogether and COVIDSafe.

During the first year or two of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain governments developed mobile apps that automatically detected close contact. This is kind of like StreetPass, obviously, except using Low Energy Bluetooth instead of Wifi and used for health outcomes instead of games. TraceTogether, which was used in Singapore and had a very high adoption rate due to it being mandatory, did manage to assist contact tracers in their work and speed it up. That being said, the vast majority of cases it found could have already been confirmed by contact tracers through other means. In Australia we had COVIDSafe, which was not mandatory and had at most around 23% of the population using it at any given time. It’s difficult to find out how much COVIDsafe helped speed up the existing work of contact tracers in Australia, but it only found 2 cases that traditional contact tracing couldn’t find.

Additionally these apps had privacy concerns. At launch, malicious third parties could potentially figure out the identifiers used by the app and therefore, through other malicious means, potentially track lots of people at a given time. This was eventually fixed,5 and privacy experts still chose to use it and recommended that others do so6, but anecdotally I can remember lots of people in my life telling me they weren’t going to use it because they “didn’t want the government knowing where they are.” My housemate was one of these people, and he had an Alexa in his room just to turn his lights on and off! Amazon co-operates with the USA and therefore Australian governments you know!!! People have weird contradictory opinions on what violates their privacy and what doesn’t, even if they’re technically savvy. If the Switch added StreetPass tomorrow, I don’t think people would be too happy with it tracking each other in that way. I can imagine someone spinning a conspiracy about it, for example, in the same people did so for contact tracing apps.

The point is, people don’t like being followed around. If they did, they would have downloaded that app when it wasn’t mandatory. Also, there would be apps and games taking advantage of that! StreetPass is well known enough that someone would have done something similar for a popular mobile game, but to my knowledge this has not been the case.

Computer Security

The second type is just general computer security. StreetPass is a very scary avenue for attack because your 3DS automatically downloads information from other people nearby. If that information is intentionally manipulated to cause remote code execution then congratulations, you just downloaded potentially self-replicating malware. There was at least one case of this before 2020, in fact, as that was when Swapnote received a patch to fix an remote code execution exploit7, and I’m sure it’s not the only one. Thanks Swapnote! Not only are you cool but you’re really illustrative of a lot of problems with this technology.

At the time that I write this, there’s another example of why short range wireless communications like this could have potentially disastrous results. Shortly before the 2023 convention Midwest FurFest someone posted a video of them using a Flipper Zero to remotely turn Bluetooth vibrators on and off. It does this by sending a lot of Bluetooth packets to any device that’s around. These are requests to pair, which means they don’t need a user’s approval to be received and processed by a receiving device. This is what makes it similar to StreetPass: both are sending data wirelessly that is accepted without user input. Since that video, people did this at the convention, and this has resulted in people’s phones or point-of-sale systems rebooting at best and harmful interference for internet-of-things medical devices such as insulin pumps at worst.

When you have local wireless communications like in both of these examples, where the client accepts whatever it’s sent without user input, it opens the floodgates for big security issue. Most of these devices will not actually end up being fixed because most companies don’t have any incentive to, so there is always the possibility of doing various kinds of harm with wireless communication like this. Nintendo does patch the 3DS for “security reasons” to disable homebrew methods, even after the closure of the 3DS eShop, but who’s to say how long they are going to do it for?

Computers and therefore game consoles are not simply toys anymore, no matter how much we yearn for a more toy-like past. A Tamagotchi has wireless communications via infrared but everything within a Tamagotchi (or most of them at least) is self contained so the stakes of it being hacked are very different. Meanwhile, your 3DS can make purchases using your credit card info! Given how much we rely on computers for genuinely really important things we need to take security into consideration and make it a very high priority, and a technology like StreetPass does not.

So, that’s a lot of reasons! I talked at the beginning about bringing back StreetPass, because I’m sad I missed an opportunity to properly engage with it. It’s a design ethos that simply does not exist anymore and that I miss from the small encounters I’ve had with it. So I can’t help but wonder about something:

How We Can Bring it Back Ourselves

What would that look like? Can we even do that?

First let me be clear: For all the reasons I outlined above (plus others like the fact that we still live in a pandemic), I think bringing back StreetPass or any similar feature at an OS level on any widely used console or smart device would genuinely be a bad idea. On the information security front it may be met with genuine hostility, even. But we can “bring StreetPass back” in a few ways despite this, though it requires us to question what that means.

As time has gone on, video game consoles have become less like toys and more and more like general purpose computers. This is good in some ways and bad in others. It’s cool to be able to do whatever the fuck you want with a modded Switch, but the people who make general purpose computers need to be responsible about security and privacy, which can clash with more toy-like features like StreetPass. Scannerz makes sense when it’s a standalone toy; it doesn’t make sense when it’s on a device that’s connected to your wireless network and (like I mentioned before) can make purchases on your credit card. Too much is tied up in our use of computers for this to not be the case. We can’t go back to a past where consoles like these are treated like toys which have no bearing on anything else.

With that point and its implications on security and privacy in mind, the assumption I want to question is that “bringing StreetPass back” ONLY means that some new portable console adds something like StreetPass and it becomes widely adopted. I have only really used StreetPass after its “death” and I’ve found it a really cool non-standard gaming thing to spend a tiny bit of time with every week. I ask people I meet up with to bring their 3DS with them if they have one and I get to see their little guy defeat monsters and help me cook meals or grow plants or explore a haunted mansion. From that perspective, StreetPass is not “dead” and most likely will not be for a long time. Add on to the fact that the 3DS is no longer officially supported in most senses8 and it becomes safer to use (though not totally safe). I think this is a much more responsible use of this technology.

What I’m getting at is that we need to detatch the idea of a game or technology succeeding from whether its rate of adoption is constantly increasing. The 3DS sold roughly 75 million units over the course of its life and it’s no longer being produced, and a lot of people StreetPassed a lot during that time, so that sounds like a success. StreetPass is a localised technology that doesn’t depend on servers and is therefore something people can still take part in, and they are. At that event at PAX Australia 2023 I StreetPassed at least 50 people, so that was a huge success. I am using it with my friends and my partner and we are having a good time doing so and that means it’s a big success. There are ways to engage with it still and get things out of it! And remember, the 3DS is a general purpose computer, which means you can hack it and put whatever you want on it and install a Play Coin generating 3DS app and use that alongside actual StreetPasses you get in order to be able engage with them more. Why not? The world is your oyster. We can bring StreetPass back just by using it in whatever way we want to.

A screenshot of the Miis available in my Mii Plaza after StreetPassing at the PAX Australia event. 22 of the 61 Miis in my Plaza with various colours and headwear are in view and all of them are holding up the game they last played.
A screenshot of the Miis available in my Mii Plaza after StreetPassing at the PAX Australia event. 22 of the 61 Miis in my Plaza with various colours and headwear are in view and all of them are holding up the game they last played.

So that’s the first is to go about bringing it back: StreetPass with your friends, and maybe at an event. You can host the event! It doesn’t need to be in a room at a big gaming convention! Have some friends over and have them all bring their 3DSs. Maybe someone could even set up a StreetPass Relay using something like PiPass. Bring your 3DS to meetups and tell people you’re going to do that. StreetPassing doesn’t even need to be the main draw to any of this; it can just be incidental. I bought a 2DS from a Cash Converters for 99 dollars: If someone doesn’t have a 3DS and can afford a AAA video game they can, with a little extra saved, get a used 3DS of some kind instead. They can play a lot of things too, across a lot of consoles if you hack it, so in that sense it’s much more worthwhile. This has its limitations of course: not everyone can afford a 3DS, for one, or they might not judge it a good use of their time or money, and obviously there aren’t a lot of people who would be doing it. It’s ok if there aren’t a lot of people though: it means less avenues for all of the security and privacy flaws above.

The second is not specifically about StreetPass as it exists on the 3DS and is more than a little technical but it’s still worth discussing: we, as technical people, as game and app developers, can bring similar technologies to StreetPass back by using existing technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy when making mobile games to give them StreetPass-like functionality. With Bluetooth Low Energy being widely supported the cat is out of the bag so we may as well use it. It doesn’t need to have huge usage numbers to be a success either, and in fact from a security perspective that’s probably desirable as no one is gonna figure out how to hack your phone through something that most people are not engaging with. People will use it, though: If people I know bringing their 3DS with them to hang out with me is any indication, people are definitely going to do it if all they need to do is download an app.

Do I have any proof about whether people will actually do that, though? Not really. I can point to that but it’s hard to say how much people would actually do that.

That being said while I was conceptualising this part of the essay I was like oh. Maybe I should actually do that. So now I am. I don’t exactly want this to be the point of the essay (because I may not finish it) but I am trying to make a little Chao Garden-like game with StreetPass-like functionality and utilising other things such as QR codes to have a kind of asynchronous multiplayer that the player has a little more control over. I don’t really intend for anyone to play it other than my friends, but maybe people will. Who can say?

Maybe it’s possible to extrapolate this a little further, and instead of just “bringing back StreetPass” we can starting bringing back the design ethos that allowed for StreetPass and weird peripherals and the like in the first place. The sad thing is that I don’t think that’s going to happen just by my advocating for it: If you are reading this you are absolutely not in the position to make and market and distribute peripherals with your game, as much as I wish it could be true. The Playdate is cool, it has a crank you can dial just because, but so few consumer electronics companies are trying experimental stuff like this I don’t see how this design trend will “take off” in any sense. The closest we are getting is people making their own controllers for rhythm and fighting games, and while that’s cool that’s not the specific thing I am talking about here.

Additionally, I joked in my blog post about the DS game and robot toy Wappy Dog9 where I talked about making a Twine that can listen to its language of beeps and output responses, but this isn’t really a joke: even without making new peripherals, we can still get weird and experimental with existing “peripherals” like microphones and cameras. This isn’t hypothetical either: Before Your Eyes is a game you control by blinking in real life, which is detected by your webcam. There is only so much of this design space that we as programmers can explore without people manufacturing new devices but it is still out there to be explored.

As time has gone on we have spent a lot of time convincing people that video games are not just toys, but I personally believe we have overcorrected. Games can be meaningful works of art, it’s true! In fact, they have been for decades: Photopia is 25 years old. Those art games, however, coexisted alongside game consoles and devices designed with a more experimental and toy-like ethos. We got weird peripherals and a focus on just having fun, as monetisation outside of just buying a game was more difficult, less acceptable, and less foolproof than it is now with microtransactions and the collection of massive amounts of metrics. As video games became more widely accepted as an “entertainment product”, and as the cost to make both consoles and games accelerated, the desire to experiment with video games in this fashion evaporated for the companies actually capable of doing so. Independent developers can only pick up so much of the slack: they can make weird games, but they can’t really make new peripherals or operating system modifications.

EyeToy Play 3 has a mode where you can just move around and see some funny effects (and I plan on writing about the EyeToy in relation to these points next year). The closest modern analogue would be things like Snapchat filters, but that only exists because so much of your biometric data can be stolen over the course of using those. The Switch’s joycons have motion sensors in them but why use those when everyone is already used to more standard controllers? Which large company is going to make Wappy Dog in 2023 when it’s much easier to make and monetise a gatcha game? Why go to the effort of making the Switch’s UI look and feel fun when something serviceable will work well enough for developers to get back to working on things that help with revenue?

There is only so much we can do to bring back toy-like design in video games as individual consumers of video game media. As much as I would love to end this on a more positive note, widespread adoption of this design ethos is, in all likelihood, never coming back. Yet it already existed, and things have already been made with this in mind, and we can still get them. Devices like the 3DS still exist, and you can still StreetPass, and you can organise with your friends to do so. You can go out of your way to play things from older consoles with their original controllers, and track down older peripherals. You can support new toy-like consoles like the Playdate. Play some whacky and weird games. Play games that are experiments. Play games that need weird control things like microphones or cameras or MIDI data. Make those games yourself, if you can.

Tell people about them, too! That’s what this article is, in a way. In between this and my writing on Wappy Dog, I have realised how much I had missed about this era of video games, and how much I want to foster a love and understanding of this design ethos that’s no longer used, yet is still possible to engage with. We can engage with it and share it with others and it can bring us closer together. We can meet up with each other to share data with our 3DSes, or to show each other funny robot dogs, or to share our experiences of a game controlled by blinking, or by using a device with a crank to share both moving art and fun gameplay experiences. Together, we can bring back StreetPass and so much more.

  1. You might be interested to know that her name is also April! Though I only go by April online so it’s not as annoying as it sounds, hehe…

  2. “The Nintendo 3DS StreetPass Games, ranked from worst to best” by Heidi Kemps, published on the 18th of September 2016. http://gaming.moe/?p=2046. As an aside, I do not agree with all of their opinions (I didn’t really like StreetPass Ninja tbh) but it’s still a good overview!

  3. “Accused Child Predator Allegedly Used Nintendo’s Swapnote Service,” by Brian Ashcraft, published 6th of November 2013. https://kotaku.com/child-predators-were-using-nintendos-swapnote-service-1459304126

  4. To make my position on AI crystal clear: I think AI as a technology is not only incompatable with correctly attributing artists or otherwise discussing influences and also will be used under out current economic system to deprive artists of jobs doing the thing that they like. None of that matters to Nintendo of course: they would still use it as they want to make sure kids don’t see that.

  5. “Privacy issues discovered in the BLE implementation of the COVIDSafe Android app” by Jim Mussared, last updated on the 15th of May 2020. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1u5a5ersKBH6eG362atALrzuXo3zuZ70qrGomWVEC27U/preview

  6. “Experts Explain Why They’re Not Worried About COVIDSafe” by Tegan Jones, published on the 30th of April 2020. https://gizmodo.com.au/2020/04/covidsafe-source-code-teardown-privacy-security/

  7. “[3DS][StreetPass] Heap Overflow in Swapnote parser leads to userland StreetPass RCE” disclosed via HackerOne. https://hackerone.com/reports/923240

  8. Technically this is retrocomputing, if you want to stretch the definition far enough (and I do)

  9. Could you imagine if the Wappy Dog DS game had Bark Mode? I would cry (positive)

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