BlackBerrys and iPhones might dominate the attentions of most square-eyed Metro commuters, but if you look around during your next rush-hour trip, you might see a rat racer glued to something a little more flashy: a Nintendo 3DS, the handheld gaming system that features candy-colored plastic shells, two screens, and a glasses-free 3D effect. The device’s coolest trick is its ability to wirelessly connect to other nearby 3DS units, silently and automatically linking two gamers who might never otherwise have known that the other existed.
This connecting function, called StreetPass, isn’t the privacy nightmare it might sound like; users trade only small, non-identifying, and mostly-asinine bits of information (“I like dogs!”) with each hit. When a StreetPass occurs, your 3DS calls out, Gatsby-like, with a pulsing green light, a signal that you can now check out the mini avatar of your new, anonymous friend. If that user is the first person you’ve met from a particular region or state, your system will shade in that part of a map that tracks which visitors from far-flung corners of the world you’ve been rubbing elbows with.
When StreetPass first dropped in 2011, it was possible for an early adopter to go weeks without running into another 3DS owner. A Facebook group called StreetPass DC, apparently the first of its kind, formed specifically to bring gamers together so they could collect those coveted hits, which inspired similar groups to form worldwide.
As 3DS sales have continued to chug along, it’s become downright easy to collect StreetPass hits in the city; it’s now entirely possible to get one or two per Metro ride (I recently cleared 600 unique hits), and most groups like StreetPass DC have disbanded. But Metro hits tend to be almost entirely with other D.C.-area owners, frustrating map geeks’ attempts to collect hits from gamers from far-off lands. To fulfill your quest for world StreetPass map domination, you’ve got to go where your D.C.-local instincts tell you not to: where the tourists are.
A lap around the National Mall is your best year-round bet for those elusive StreetPass meetings with people from all over the globe (the Tidal Basin makes for even better hunting grounds, but only in the spring). Just remember to check your device every so often (the system can record up to 10 visitors per use before refusing to accept more hits) and you’ll be the StreetPass king in no time.