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Published June 11, 2012

After 20 minutes of play, I thought I had seen everything Mario Tennis Open had to offer. Volleys back-and-forth, dumb A.I., unlockable baby versions of characters nobody asked for. Still, it’s not that the game was a major step back from its predecessors, but it’s a tennis game, just a really a fancy version of Pong with Toads and Shy Guys lining the courts.

But I’m here to tell you that 15 hours later, I can’t put the game down. Mario Tennis Open isn’t a terrific game, but collecting tennis duds and rackets has become an addiction I can’t shake. Never mind the fact that my current Boo costume makes it look like my Mii is wearing a diaper on his head – every knickknack I collect gives me more opportunities to customize my character and broadcast my creation to the world. It’s one of many instances in which Nintendo has tapped into a need for self-expression; MTO is just the latest proof that the 3DS is a very social device in need of a network.

I’ve talked about StreetPassing about as extensively as anyone, but it wasn’t until MTO that I realized how attached I was to my specialized Mii, or my Kid Icarus weapon gems, or even my Super Mario 3D Land fastest times. All of this information is self-contained, and in all likelihood, very few of you reading this will ever see any of it. It’s a shame, because even though none of these games have achievements, in a lot of ways, this info says so much more about a player’s skill and preferences. Whenever I encounter someone with over-powered Super Street Fighter IV trophies or a deep red weapon gem, I know that I’m dealing with someone who really knows his or her stuff. Someone who has invested the same stupid amount of time trying to compete with strangers I’ve never met.

But even when I’m not competing directly, I’m certainly comparing my dorky duds to theirs. StreetPassing compiles data from many games at once, meaning that a friend might simultaneously show me their Mario Kart 7 ride, obedient Nintendog pug and MTO all-star in one quick sweep. It’s genuinely thrilling to see the roads not traveled, the vast number of variations available. To this day, I still haven’t found the smiling Koopa Kar part in MK7, and I don’t know how that guy managed to unlock the Dry Bowser Suit in MTO so quickly, but it won’t stop me from trying in my quest to look “cooler.”

However, as cool as I find these features personally, I recognize that most normals don’t react to Mario-themed doodads the way I do. For those people, Nintendo needs to do something more, something akin to the social networking concepts it announced last week at E3. For the 3DS, it would behoove the online dinosaur to introduce a gaming equivalent of a mobile Facebook that could compile all of these random characters and items in one handy location. It’s not enough to share my Miis with my fellow commuters – I want to share my creations with all of you. Because you’d be drawing from a system that’s already family-friendly, there would be no need to fret about gaming’s seedy element, and all of these games presented at once would help give a richer picture of each individual gamer.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Nintendo has toyed with gaming as an extension of self. You can trace it all the way back to the Game Boy Camera, and even recently with the DSi, Nintendo has taken baby steps towards something more individualized before. But for the first time, Nintendo has all of the ingredients in place to make something more lasting. The social features on the Wii U suggest forward thinking, but the 3DS is about to be left out. Take a cue from Mario Tennis Open‘s clubhouse locker room and let us show off our Blooper rackets and Wario sneakers to the world!

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