object — Game Boy

It’s boxy, but it’s good.

On Christmas in 1990, I received a Game Boy! Though I was never much of a video game player, I was very excited about this little, handheld system. There was something about it that felt magical to me — so much more so than the Nintendo system we had connected to the TV.

Maybe that was it; that it had its own screen meant I could take it to any place I wanted to be. Under the covers at night. Outside, under a tree in my yard I liked best. On the school bus. Today, we carry multiple little screens with us everywhere, and I think we’ve lost the sense of wonder that came with the first times we were able to do that. It was like carrying around a little window onto a world of imagination. People forget that imagination was the original Augmented Reality.

The first games I had were Tetris and Super Mario Brothers. As I recall, they both came with the Game Boy when it was first sold. I never ended up accumulating many more games, though. I was pretty satisfied with these two. Tetris, especially, never got old. It’s not the sort of game I could ever play for hours, but as far as 15-minute diversions go, I’ll take Tetris over Wordle or CandyCrush any day.

But what an object this was! Take a close look at this thing and remember that it is thirty-two years old! It looks as good as new. Now, to be fair, it spent quite a few of those years packed away, but still, dereliction takes its tool as much as use. Its aesthetics, too, have aged as well as its materials. The simplicity of its design and the Nintendo branding makes the Game Boy look good despite being suitable for placement in the Hill Valley antique shop. A single-use device, not to mention a portable player of any physical media in 2023, after all, has almost no place in 2023 other than for the nostalgic. Unless, of course, you prefer the focused, intentional, and slow experience that kind of device can create. Or even the aesthetics of physical media — the cartridges for Game Boy were tiny, pocketable squares that have endured fabulously over the decades. Like minidiscs! But that’s another post…

The only thing that doesn’t look as good now as I thought it did then is the screen. It’s just not a great image. I love the aesthetics of it — the pixelation, even the monochrome picture. But it’s not sharp and not especially bright. People are doing some pretty impressive — an apparently simple — screen mods to replace the old yellow screens with much sharper LCDs. I’m kind of tempted to try that, but I probably won’t as I’m biased toward preservation of the actual thing. It’s flawed in 2023, but it wasn’t in 1990.

One last thought I had was about the name: GameBoy. It wouldn’t have occurred to me as a ten-year old to wonder whether a gender-neutral name would have been preferable. Today, though, I do wonder about that. GamePal? GameBud? GamePod? Would names like those have cost the GameBoy its success or expanded it?

Written by Christopher Butler on April 26, 2023,   In Log

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