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A Closer Look At The Dreamcast Internet Starter Kit

In this day and age we kind of take it for granted that the internet is a thing we have at our disposal with almost effortless availability. It truly is a ubiquitous resource of entertainment, learning, communication and screaming at each other on forums. The internet is, I'm pretty confident in stating, one of the most important inventions the human race has ever come up with. I'd even put it up there with the wheel, the microchip, the instant noodle and the screw-top beer bottle. Yes, old Tim Berners-Lee really hit on something back in the early 1990s when he and his motley crew of super nerds at CERN gave birth to what we now more commonly refer to as the t'interwebs. It goes without saying that anybody reading this right now is doing so using the power of said network, be it on a mobile phone, a tablet, their watch, games console or even - heaven forfend - an actual desktop PC or Mac.

Now, the Dreamcast was - as most of you will be aware - the first console to come as standard with a modem and the ability to browse the internet and access multiplayer games right out of the box. Well, unless you lived in Europe for the first few months...but that's a moot point. The fact of the matter is that the Dreamcast was marketed first and foremost as a games machine, but also as a cost-effective way for people to get a taste of the internet without having to buy a computer; and in those heady days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when flannel shirts, Backstreet Boys and Eiffel 65 were still en vogue, that wasn't something to be sniffed at.
For my sins, I did go through a short-lived spell of buying a UK-based magazine called .net after getting my Dreamcast, just so I could sit on the bus reading it looking like I was 'jacked in' to the power of the 'information superhighway.' In reality I still looked like a scruffy, fat nerd. But this is the point I'm trying to make - back in 1999, the internet wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now and people didn't have 3G and 4G enabled smart phones bouncing around in their pockets, getting scratched up by a bunch of keys. The internet for many - me included - was a vast and wondrous new frontier and by God I was ready to ride the wave on my digital surfboard, tits akimbo.
But herein lies the conundrum. Sega probably knew that the pseudo tech-savvy among its target demographic for the Dreamcast would be onboard with this idea of web surfing and online gaming. How then, would the Japanese firm entice the average person? The outliers in this new digital wonderland? The ones who didn't know a byte from a flimflam, or a googolplex from a Yahoo!? Here's how: by devising a 'starter kit' for the unlearned, one that was created with basic and easy to understand instructions and a guide to what this whole 'internet' thingy was all about. And to top it all off, by including an internet guide...for housewives.

Before you spit your cornflakes everywhere, I'm not making this up. The Dreamcast Internet Starter Kit is a boxset that includes everything the average technical luddite needs to get a Dreamcast online (well, in Japan...in the late 1990s and early 2000s) and also includes a rather quaint little tome simply titled 'The Internet For Housewives.' This clearly wouldn't fly in the modern climate of internet outrage at everything that moves, but this is a thing that harks back to a different time and a different culture to the one that I (and probably you) now live in. But let's cut to the chase and have a look at the contents of this lovely little oddity that was sent to me by my Dreamcast Junkyard colleague Ross O'Reilly. Before I go further though, I want to cite both DCGaga and IGN as the main sources of English information I could find online, and without them I'd pretty much be relying on Ross to help me translate the contents of the package and decipher what the different books actually are.

Contents:
  • Dreamcast Keyboard
  • Dreamcast Mouse
  • Mouse Pad
  • Dream Passport 3 'Urban Style'
  • The Internet For Housewives
  • Start Up Manual
  • Dream Passport 3 Help Software
  • Dream Passport 3 Guide book
Keyboard
Obviously, if you wanted to enjoy a trip into the digital unknown of the internet circa 2000, you were going to need a suitable input device, and the Internet Starter Kit delivered straight off the bat. This is a rather nice (and apparently exclusive) skeleton-style translucent keyboard that's smaller that the standard PAL and NTSC-U keyboards, and also features dual language markings on the keys with both English and Kanji characters displayed throughout.
The code for this keyboard is HKT-4000 which incidentally is the same as the standard NTSC-J keyboard, however the one bundled in the Internet Starter Kit has some extra command details marked on the ESC, S1, S2, Del, Back Space and Enter keys. As far as I can tell, the only way to get this slight variant on the HKT-4000 keyboard is by purchasing this kit.

Mouse
Matching the skeleton/translucent colour scheme of the keyboard, the mouse bundled here is the standard NTSC-J HKT-9900. It's a lot smaller than the one you may be familiar with if you're more used to using (or collecting) NTSC-U or PAL peripherals.
It isn't a laser mouse, instead using a ball mechanism that was common at the time of the Dreamcast's reign. Two buttons and a scroll wheel mean the mouse is fully compatible with the browser, and can also be used to play games. The smaller size is curious, and makes me wonder if the dimensions are/were a result of perceived differences in the hand sizes of indigenous peoples of Japan. All the Japanese people I've ever met have had bigger hands than me though (and they've mostly been women, arf arf!), so I'm skeptical.

Mouse Pad
Another exclusive item, the mouse pad included with the Internet Starter Kit is a large, flat plastic disc in a similar hue to the mouse and keyboard, and also has a Dreamcast logo imprinted. The example shown here hasn't been removed from the plastic sleeve, hence the wrinkles.
Unlike most mouse pads of the era, this thing isn't in the slightest bit spongy and is - as stated - quite simply a plastic disc. Did I mention the plastic disc-iness of it? Tis a plastic disc. It doubles up quite nicely as a frisbee too. Not really much more to say about this but as far as I can ascertain it wasn't possible to purchase this item separately. Plastic disc.

Dream Passport 3 'Urban Style'
A bespoke version of Dream Passport 3 with the slightly odd subtitle of 'Urban Style.' Again, this browser disc is exclusive to the Internet Starter Kit and features simplified instructions and menus, as well as audio prompts for the menus according to DCGaga's entry on it. To compliment this, there is a pretty in-depth guide to using Dream Passport 3, which is full of great illustrations and is in full colour too.
Alongside this, there are a couple of other quick start guides that I'm sure would be useful if you could read them, but they're hardly worth giving their own paragraphs. So I won't.

The Internet For Housewives
This is one of the more interesting items included in this set. As stated earlier, this was most likely included (and somehow ties in with the strange image of a little girl eating spaghetti/noodles on the front of the box) in order to entice typical non-gamers (i.e. housewives) to consider buying a Dreamcast for its internet surfing abilities and less for its killer ports of Crazy Taxi and Soul Calibur.
Here's what IGN said about the book back in August 2000:

"Let's explore that "The Internet For Housewives" book. This item was designed under the watch of actual women, and deals with such topics as increasing your cooking recipe repertoire, finding information on allergies, and other such house-wife matters. Who says Sega doesn't care?

"The main point of this set as a whole seems to be to open up a whole new group of people to the internet - it's not meant for people like the IGNDC readers (except for the collectors out there who simply can't go on unless they have "The Internet for Housewives" next to their copies of "Cooking with Ultraman" and "This Gas We Pass"). But will this help to drive Dreamcast into new homes across Japan?"
- IGN, August 2000

Looking through the book itself, it does have a distinct style, and a family of cartoon rabbits is used to display the various scrapes and situations a typical family might find themselves in. The various chapters are set out under a multitude of themes, such as how to use the internet to shop, find places of interest, restaurants, and how to use email etc. While I'm sure many women may find the guide highly insulting (my girlfriend did when I showed this to her), I'm pretty sure it was crafted in good faith and only ever to be as helpful a guide a possible for people who weren't familiar or confident with the online world. It's full of pretty pictures too, bless.
The Internet Starter Kit (like the Karaoke Unit, and to a lesser extent the Dreameye) is quite useless today but represents a curious glimpse at the wide and varied range of peripheral sets released for the Dreamcast. It certainly isn't an expensive or particularly rare boxset, but for the collectors out there it's well worth picking up if only for the novelty value and that exclusive keyboard.
Thoughts? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation in our Facebook group.

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3 comments:

Damon Fillman said...

I'm...speechless. That is one nifty keyboard though.

Damon Fillman said...

Thanks as always Tom for exploring demented Dreamcast little known items.

Rebecca McIvor said...

Thank you, without people like you this information would be lost to time. Keep up the good work :)