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Communication is the essential instrument in passing on information. It allows us to pass down our thoughts, our goals, and our dreams to each other, resulting in a common understanding. We write literature based on philosophical standpoints. Our songs portray the current ideals of our society. But fancy words aside, communication allows us to understand what our fellow humans are doing. Without it, we’d be left gaping silently at each other, forced to fend for ourselves in an untamed wilderness devoid of progress. With the advent of the Internet, people across the globe are now able to present their ideals and culture with minimal effort, using websites, chat rooms and instant messaging as their medium. In an attempt to appeal to the millions of instant messaging users worldwide, Nintendo created PictoChat, a program that could bring the legions of new DS users together.

Internet savvy gamers have been using chat rooms and forums for years, creating insightful discussions about our existence or spamming it with nonsensical jargon. Nevertheless, they are wonderful places to get to know people, be it the supposedly hot sixteen-year-old girl from California or that one weirdo that’s obsessed with Starcraft. PictoChat has taken the simple concept of the chat room and allows up to four separate rooms on a single DS. With so much free space to communicate with, there’s the potential for having a huge group chatting their lives away at once, resulting in some interesting results. However, it can have some more practical uses. Although the size of the DS makes it a little hard to wield as you go about your daily routine, PictoChat could be used as a makeshift organizer as well as a communication tool. You could be watching a crappy movie and bash it silently with your friends, or you could send class lecture notes, To-Do Lists, email addresses, or whatever other information that might be needed.

But no matter what ideas you want to convey, you’ll have to use the touch pad on the DS. Once you’ve gained access to the onscreen keyboard, you can use your stylus to hunt and peck the individual letters that make up your message. It starts with the standard computer keyboard layout, with the usual Shift, Space, and Caps Lock keys. However, you can rummage through a few hidden keyboard layouts, letting you choose among numbers, accented letters, the Japanese alphabet, symbols, and countless other little things that we as Internet users tend to take for granted. But if you’re not patient enough to search for every single letter, you can use the stylus to do your message in your own writing. This nifty little feature also allows you to make drawings, which can range from a miniature Picasso work to the basic game of Hangman. You could come up with a neat little birthday card for your special someone, or just waste away your boredom by doodling random objects. With this decent variety in communication tools, you can spend hours creating some truly entertaining conversations.

But despite the cool typing and drawing features, there’s just one nasty problem that brings the pleasure of this program to a screeching halt. PictoChat’s communication range is pathetic. You can communicate with DS users that are only a mere hundred feet from you. Bedroom walls and bad weather aren’t helpful, either. If you have a PictoChat user in your vicinity, the range of your communication will expand another hundred feet. But if you’re living in some remote area with no other DS owners, PictoChat is essentially useless for communication. You’re stuck within this wireless sphere, with nothing but those empty chat rooms to keep you company. When compared to AIM and other instant messaging, Nintendo’s seemingly illustrious system doesn’t seem quite so useful. Maybe you’re lucky and have siblings with their own DS. Maybe you can take your DS to school or work without fear of it getting stolen. But if you can’t carry your DS around as you go about your daily business, chances are slim to none that you’ll ever use the PictoChat. It’ll sit neglected in the default menu of the DS, getting no attention as you become obsessed with the other DS games.

However, Nintendo is on the right track with this rendition of the chat rooms that make up the Internet. It can be used as a means of fast communication, allowing you and your friends to share conversations without so much as opening your mouth. The drawing feature is an excellent addition, allowing those with a creative side to use the DS stylus for some fun. Even though it comes with no actual games, you can use your imagination to come with some simple fun for you and your fellow DS users. For all of you folks on the go, it can be used as a spiffy personal organizer, although several Palm Pilots on the market have far more to offer. The only thing that really makes PictoChat suffer is the extremely limited range. It’s up to you to seek out other users in your area if you hope to ever make use of this great messaging program. But if you and your little posse are all sporting a DS, you’ll get to look forward to plenty of fun conversations. And if you’re alone with no one to chat with, keep looking. Someday PictoChat may come in handy for you.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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