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Will the 3D Gimmick Last?

The 3D movement in video games holds about as much worth to me as the one going on in the motion picture industry. It looks cool and can be impressive when done right, but for now, it's a novelty. Whether 3D has the staying power to last in either industry is uncertain. So should we be saying our goodbyes to the 3DS hardware's main selling point?

Probably, but for the time it takes the handheld to live out its shelf life, the fascination with 3D will still be on the minds of blockbuster enthusiasts. Movies are a huge force in America, and Hollywood isn't showing any signs of slowing their wave of 3D-enhanced films. The recently released Shark Night 3D is just one of the many movies in the past couple years to cash in on the trend. But while moviegoers have to wear thick glasses that are only slightly less dorky than the paper red-and-blue ones of old, 3DS players don't need to accessorize. The handheld does the work for them.

Maybe the greatest threat to the 3DS's livelihood is how convenient and easy the 3D is to manage. When you pay a noticeably extra fee to see a movie in 3D rather than 2D, you keep the glasses on, no matter how funny you look in them or how annoying it is to double up. With the 3DS, a game costs the same (even if it is a pricey $40) no matter which way you play it, so you don't have to feel bad about turning the 3D on the Nintendo all the way down. There's no comparing the price you pay to another option, and it's doubtful that the cost of Vita games will do much to influence whether 3DS gamers play in 3D or 2D. It's easy to take the feature for granted.

In its purest form, 3D accentuates what you already see on the screen in 2D. It gives images more dimension and appeal, but it's not doing much to improve gameplay. Wii motion controls often fail when developers tack on special movements without much thought to how they integrate with their game. In a competitive market, it's the games that use motion strategically that make the Wii more than a gimmick—like the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which challenges gamers to wield the Wiimote in a variety of ways to take down enemies. Good motion controls aren't just waggle, and 3D needs to be more than just visual pop. It needs to elevate the experience in a manner that isn't surface-deep.

If rumors are true, then Nintendo is losing confidence in the power of 3D. According to speculation on French site 01Net (as noticed by Game Informer), Nintendo is preparing a 3DS successor that will show off a new design, tone down the 3D, and possibly even go by a new name. Scaling back the 3D might not be a bad idea. Because, reportedly, not everyone can properly see the 3D effect, Nintendo may limit the number of games that require it for play so not to lose potential customers. Viewing on-screen images in 3D may also cause eye strain or headaches, problems that may be due to the natural alignment of your eyes or astigmatism.

Apparently, movies are similarly subject to the problems presented by 3D technology. In a letter sent earlier this year to Roger Ebert, Walter Murch, whom Ebert calls "the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema," explained the dilemma of 3D. He outlined several points but credited the biggest issue to convergence and focus. According to Murch, "3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another," but living things have always converged and focused at a single point. Our brains have never learned to do this easily in 600 million years of evolution, said Murch. Just like a 3D game must attempt revolutionary things to be worthwhile, "a good story," Murch writes, "will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with"—more dimensionality than 3D alone. Ebert titled his article and contained printing of Murch's letter "Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed."

But even more troublesome for Nintendo: how do you turn regular 3D graphics into a viewing phenomenon that interlocks with gameplay? It's difficult to determine what kind of game or gameplay would bump the gimmick out of 3D and gain it credibility, but whether Nintendo chooses to stick by its 3D visuals or dump them early, the 3D movement itself is bound to fail.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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