Twenty-five years ago, gaming broke the shackles of the living room television and entered into the palms of kids across the world. Nintendo’s Game Boy released on April 21st, 1989 in Japan, then a few months later in the US, much to the delight of grounded children and the chagrin of school teachers around the world.
The progression of video gaming since the early 70’s has been making gaming experiences more immersive for gamers. First, kids flocked to arcades to play things like Donkey Kong, Pac Man, and Space Invaders. Then, gamers brought video games home with systems like the Atari 2600(1977) and the Nintendo Entertainment System (1983). The Game Boy was a revolution in gaming culture. Not only did it make gaming portable, but it began a social movement that is continuing to evolve twenty five years later.
The Game Boy wasn’t the first handheld gaming device, but it sure mastered the craft. Rather than just being games, the cartridges which gave the device life were experiences; experiences that you could get no where else and could not be duplicated.
Tetris was the smash hit game that put Game Boy on the map. It was the killer app that told people why they had to have that specific device. Nintendo was brilliant in bundling Tetris in with every purchase of its console because it gave gamers everything they needed to start building a report with the Game Boy. “Some people say that Tetris made Game Boy, and some people say Game Boy made Tetris. I think both are true,” said Henk Rogers, gaming entrepreneur who helped Nintendo acquire the Tetris license for the Game Boy.
The original Game Boy boasted other console quality games along side Tetris. Nintendo used franchises it established on their home consoles the Nintendo Entertainment System and later the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to assure gamers that the games on the Game Boy were on par with the ones they already were familiar with. Games like Super Mario Land, Donkey Kong, Metroid, and Kirby were then, and continue on today to be some of the most recognizable and fun IP’s in the industry.
The Game Boy over the years has been updated to accommodate for evolving tech. With each iteration of the console, games that are addicting as they are iconic are brought to the world. The Game Boy Pocket released in 1996. It was a much smaller, much lighter version of the original, but with a larger screen and improved functionality. Its most notable games were the uber-popular Pokemon Red and Blue Versions which released state side in 1998. The Game Boy facilitated the entertainment phenomenon that Pokemon created and still creates to this day, second only behind Mario in most successful video game franchise.
Rounding out the original Game Boy form factor was the Game Boy Color. Simply put, it brought color to the black and grey pallet of the Pocket. After that came a big leap in handheld quality games. The Game Boy Advance released in 2001. It used a larger screen with a horizontal body. The GBA was capable of Super NES quality gaming, which endeared itself to the public by rereleasing new versions of old games, because gamers are if nothing else nostalgic. The GBA had two more iterations, the GBA SP and Game Boy Micro, both of which held the same experience, just in different cases.
Today, hand held gaming is something every kid takes for granted. With the advent of app stores on mobile devices, anyone can download a game from anywhere around the world within minutes and instantly connect with their friends who are playing the same game. The Game Boy paved the way for this sort of innovation. Though mobile games today are more powerful than their cartridge-confined ancestors, it is ultimately about the fun we get from partaking in these games. The experience a child of the 90’s got from grinding away at Pokemon Red, leveling up their party to their highest they can be, searching for hours to find that one elusive monster which they’ve pined so passionately for, and then linking up via a link cable to trade with their friends is unquestionably superior than the hollow experience a child today gets from tapping “download,” playing a game for a few minutes, then deleting the game because it takes up to much space on their phone’s drive.
As I said before, gamers are nothing if not nostalgic. Some of my greatest memories as a child involve me sitting in a car driving somewhere with my mom or waiting in a doctors office for what seemed like at the time hours, playing some game on my Game Boy which I cherished so deeply. The Game Boy was a staple of my childhood. As I get older, I hope the younger gamers coming up acknowledge and respect the games that came before them and don’t just brush them off as obsolete. In a way, I feel bad for them. They will never have the same intimate experience with games as I did growing up. Games for them will always be just another “thing” rather than the magical experiences I had.