oldds.jpgPhiladelphia ABC-6 Action News at 11 tonight poses the question, "Is the Nintendo DS connecting your child with Strangers?" It also asks, using an exclamation point instead of a question mark, "Are unsuspecting kids being lured into dangerous chat rooms using this toy!"

"Never did I think I had to warn her..." reads an unattributed quote.

We've been struggling in trying to figure out how kids can be "lured into dangerous chat rooms" while using the Nintendo DS, considering that the DS's chat program, PictoChat, can not be used over the internet, and also keeping in mind that the only way to interact with a living being over the internet through your Nintendo DS is to do so through a game that supports Nintendo WiFi Connection, all of which require both parties to input "friend codes" before they can play with each other.

GameSetWatch co-editor Brandon Sheffield suggests that a potential dangerous chatroom lurer could post an ad on CraigsList asking children to email him or her to exchange Animal Crossing friends codes. Once the friends code exchange is made, the child can visit the stranger's town and chat, awkwardly, one slow and character-limited line at a time. By the time the child has picked all of the stranger's fruit, bought out the shop, trampled a few flowers and left, the stranger might, in theory, be able to say "what are you weari-"

My plan is a little more elaborate, and involves the only other WiFi-enabled DS games people might actually own, Mario Kart DS. Now, there's no chat feature in Mario Kart DS, so we potential predators could not say naughty things in-game to other players. And while it is possible to race against strangers using an internet connection, there is no way to communicate with them, before during or after the race.

However, I think I've found a loophole. Mario Kart DS has a custom icon option, which enables players to draw their own decal to use on their karts. For those with no pixel skill, there is a free online converter to downsample a picture of your choosing into a decal. Theoretically, a dangerous chatroom lurer could use this option for communication with strangers - i.e., children!

Now, for this example, we'll assume that our predator wants to lure people into a particular chatroom...let's say, "teenchat" through America Online. I don't know if such a room exists, but it sounds likely - and dangerous - enough. Using the custom decal maker, a predator could make an image such as this one:


Which, when downsampled and displayed on a DS, looks like this:


Now, this isn't easy to read, but it's not impossible. And while most decals are displayed either on the hood or the sides of a cart, Donkey Kong does have one car that can display a decal on the back side. So a child-to-dangerous-chatroom facilitator could use this car, display their message icon, and try to drive in front of a player as much as possible, hoping that a) the person is a child, b) the child can read the text somehow, c) the child has AOL, and d) the child is curious enough to go into the chatroom, where the evil predator is waiting to do dangerous things!

We're pretty sure this is the answer ABC-6 will have tonight.

[UPDATE - 7.54pm PST, 02/14/06: ABC-6 has the article version of their story up now, which makes it clear that they're talking about Pictochat and citing a particular incident, and includes 'Internet Safety Expert' Keith Dunn's dire warning: "Predators are using Nintendo DS anywhere in the world" - thanks to commenters for pointing this out.]