Game Boy’s 30th Anniversary
I would like to wish a very happy birthday to Nintendo’s Game Boy! It was thirty years ago that we were introduced to the gray brick that revolutionized the way we play games and would pave the way for the glorious future of handheld gaming.
Nintendo took a bold risk with developing a system that would not only allow players to play on the go, but also have the ability to switch out their game cartridges to play whatever they wanted. Gone were the days of being stuck with playing a cheap arcade knockoff handheld game with dreadful controls and that would die within days of purchasing. Game Boy gave us the freedom to play what we wanted, when we wanted.
I was just a kid when the Game Boy released and I was instantly intrigued by it. I hoped that one of my friends would get one so I could try it out. Before too long, one of my cousins got one, but alas, I wasn’t allowed to play it. I could only watch over his shoulder as he enjoyed hours of entertainment. I begged and begged to be granted even a few precious moments of play time, but my pleading fell on deaf ears. So I decided to relent and opt for the more patient route and wait until Christmas to ask for one.
As the big day drew near, I was asked to provide a list of the gifts I most wished to receive that holiday season. I remember clearly that my list was exceedingly short with the Game Boy at the top of it. It was the only thing I truly desired. Then the big day came. My cousin opened his gift first and low and behold, there was a Game Boy! Since it was given to him from our grandma, I knew what was waiting for me under the tree, especially since we were the same age and always received the same gifts. My prize was so close I could almost feel it.
Next it was my turn to open a present and naturally, I chose the gift from our grandma. I opened the package with baited breath, my hands shaking with anticipation. As the colorful wrapping fell away from the parcel, I started to notice that shape of the box wasn’t quite the same as the one my cousin had opened. It was then the realization hit me. It wasn’t my coveted Game Boy hiding beneath the festive paper, but a Barbie instead. I was devastated. I didn’t even like Barbies. I asked my grandma why I got a Barbie while my cousin got a Game Boy, and she said, “because little girls should play with dollies and not boy things.” I hugged and thanked her, but the words still stung. Luckily those stereotypes are disappearing in this day and age.
No one else presented me with a Game Boy either that Christmas. Realizing that I could no longer count on getting it as a gift, I decided to get one myself. I did everything I could to get the money needed to buy one on my own. I searched couch cushions, did extra chores, and scoured the streets for loose change. I added all of this to the money I had saved up from birthdays and Christmas cards. Once I’d finally reached my goal of $79.99, I begged my mom to take me to the nearest Circuit City to buy one for myself. Yes I know I’m really dating myself here.
Holding that gray brick in my hands for the first time was one of the best feelings of my life. Not only had I finally gotten my prize, but I had acquired it completely on my own. It was truly mine. It was the first thing I had ever bought for myself. I popped in the Tetris cartridge that came with it and was in heaven. That Game Boy was my best friend for many years. On long car rides, sick days, less than fun family gatherings; it was there in my hands through all of it thanks to its portability. I’m pretty sure my parents were ready to throw it out the car window after hearing the music from Tetris for the millionth time though.
The battery life was surprisingly good too. Of course this is due to the fact that it took a whopping four AA batteries to keep it going, but still. Those pixelated images were the best thing in the world, unless it was nighttime. There was no backlighting to the system, so playing in the dark was impossible. That is until the arrival of the Game Light, which was an apparatus that clipped onto the Game Boy and shone two streaks of light onto the screen. It abated the pesky low-light issue, but the glare was a nightmare.
The next innovation was the Light Boy, which was a slightly magnifying attachment with lights on the sides of it so you had the option of playing whatever time of day you felt like. This also took four AA batteries to function and weighed almost as much as the Game Boy itself, but it was worth it to be able to play whenever you wanted. The weight from the two pieces combined made my tiny juvenile wrists cry out in agony after a while, but I pushed through the pain and continued playing nonetheless. Gamers never quit after all.
The Game Boy had quite the impressive list of titles before too long. From Tetris, Super Mario Land 1 and 2, Wario Land, Kirby’s Dream Land, the entire list of Pokemon games, to my personal favorite, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. There was so much variety to be explored and enjoyed. Sharing how to get to the next level or collect some hidden object with my friends during our lunch break was the highlight of our social interactions. Yes, I was a big nerd even back then and I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.
It was also shockingly resilient. Considering it was a system that was made to be taken everywhere, Game Boys were constantly thrown unceremoniously into backpacks, left in vehicles to bake in the sun, and constantly dropped. Regardless of the punishment they endured, they typically remained in good working order. I’m pretty sure Nokia modeled their phones in the 90’s after the Game Boy’s durability.
The Game Boy was an impressive venture into new portable gaming territory and it was deservedly wildly successful. From its versatility to play wherever you wanted, its impressive catalog of titles, to its incredible sturdiness, the Game Boy was a superior gaming machine for its time. I even just dug mine out of the closet and powered it up to find it still works as well now as it did thirty years ago, proving it has withstood the test of time. So my dear Game Boy, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being such an incredible and memorable electronic wonder.