Suddenly inspired, I check out Nintendo's Wi-Fi page and enter my zip code, to find hot spots near me. My itinerary set, I prepare to strike out. With my DS as my beacon, I decide the best strategy is just to look approachable. I style myself nattily, in heels, lipstick and cute pants, put my DS case in my of-the-minute metallic purse, and head out on the town. This time, I leave the headphones behind - I'm about to play it loud and proud, fellas. If there's anyone out there who still thinks gamers are light-starved, style-less and maladapted, I'm about to blow their doors off.

The nearest hotspot is just a few blocks from my home. I can hardly believe it; all this time, everything I've been looking for might have been right here, in a Spanish Harlem McDonald's. Who knew? It's a gorgeous afternoon, even a little warm for the season, the promise of spring on the air. I feel intrepid, an undiscovered hero.

On the way, I pass an outdoor shrine to the Virgin del Carmen and the open storefront of a local business that sells live poultry in cages. Inside the McDonald's, which probably looks like every other McDonald's, Latin music pipes in over the speakers. I take a seat upstairs - beside a deserted PlayPlace and a Hamburglar painting - and take out my DS.

PictoChat, displaying the signal bars of a successful connection, offers me four chat rooms. Each can hold 16 participants, but it looks like right now I'm the only one. With my stylus, I scribble "hello?" And beam it out into the universe. Just in case.

There's no answer. Not a fellow unit to be seen. Just a roomful of Spanish-speaking families eating French fries and stealing sidelong glances at the girl in the corner holding the light-up box.

I'm patient. I'm not to be discouraged. I play for a little while anyway, competing with the cacophony of ketchup-flinging toddlers, attempting the ambitious undertaking of scoring an "S" ranking on every stage in Elite Beat Agents' Hard Rock mode. The kids' moms - overweight, tired, harried - pass me gazes of curiosity that evolve into irritation. As they work and I play, I feel their resentment.

I'm sitting beside a McDonald's PlayPlace, tapping, scribbling and grinning, and parents are staring at me. I pack up and hit the streets again.

At a caf

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