Appleton: Game Boy celebrates 25 years

The Fresno BeeApril 25, 2014 

The Game Boy turned 25 on Monday. PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER FILE

THE GAME BOY TURNED 25 ON MONDAY. PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER FILE — The Game Boy turned 25 on Monday. PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER FILE

Nintendo's flagship hand-held gaming platform, Game Boy, turned 25 on Monday. I am also 25. Game Boy and I have seen the world change pretty drastically over the past 20 years, and we have changed right along with it. It's hard not to be nostalgic when the system that brought me into the gaming world celebrates a milestone.

In 1993, my parents took me to Hong Kong. We traveled a lot back then, and my mother had a Game Boy that was only used to play Tetris on long plane rides. I don't remember much of the trip, but I do remember waiting in the most crowded shopping mall I had ever seen to buy a new game for mom's Game Boy.

I had just finished kindergarten, so I could barely make out the English title on the new game: "32-in-1." There were 32 full games on this tiny cartridge. I didn't know that a Game Boy could do anything beyond stacking blocks in the Soviet Union. I ran from mean looking pixels in "Lode Runner," and I matched the patterns on various pills in "Dr. Mario." The games were all in Chinese, but that was perfect for a 5-year-old who didn't want to read anyway. It was a perfect match, and I was hooked on gaming by the time our plane landed back in the United States.

My parents divorced not long after that trip. Up until that point, I had lived with my mother, father and grandmother, so I pretty much always had an adult to watch me play outside in our huge yards or color with me inside on rainy days.

Mom and I moved into a small apartment, and she worked very long hours to keep us comfortable. I had to entertain myself, and the Game Boy carried much of that burden. I could take it with me on car rides to various day-care facilities or baby sitters and continue playing when I got there.

Portability is what made Game Boy such an influential and unique gaming system. At 7 years old, I would sit and play in a crowded airport. I might look up after 45 minutes or so and see a rebellious teenager in a Soundgarden shirt playing his Game Boy. I could scan the room and find a 40-year-old man in a business suit on his Game Boy, too. It was 1995. Cellphones and laptops barely existed, and they certainly couldn't access the Internet. Game Boy was the definitive answer to public boredom.

The portability also led to the formation of a strange bond between kids and their Game Boys. I took it with me everywhere. It saw my school, my different houses and dozens of foreign countries.

My Sega Genesis stayed at home. I loved playing it, but it was a clunky box that was attached to my TV. It was a machine that I used, but the Game Boy was a companion.

I realize now, as an adult, that such an attachment to an inanimate object is silly. Game Boy kids are all grown up, and we certainly don't neglect traditional social interaction in order to waste hours and hours on a tiny piece of hand-held technology anymore. That would be crazy.

Game Boy also matured over the years. Better processors and displays allowed Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS to continue Nintendo's dominance over the hand-held market.

However, the key to that dominance was Pokémon. Pokémon was a game-changer. It has been going strong for almost two decades, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The most recent versions, "Pokémon X" and "Pokémon Y," have sold 12 million copies to date. Virtually every Game Boy console's top-selling game is a Pokémon game.

I still love Pokémon, but Game Boy and I have drifted apart.

We are both different now. We like different things. I have less time for video games. When I do play, I like to play challenging and mature games with the best graphics on the best equipment.

Game Boy is still marketing to children. Its weight is behind simple, family-friendly games and the console's tried-and-true portability. Those things are great, but they don't appeal to me anymore. I have a cellphone that can do everything except call in missile strikes. My phone satisfies my short attention span when on the go, so I don't really need a portable gaming system anymore.

I may not have much use for Game Boys anymore, but that doesn't diminish its achievement. A quarter-century is a very long time in gaming years. I don't know how many years the old girl has left in her, but I wanted to thank her for the vast influence she has had on my life and the lives of so many other people. I hope that I get to cover Game Boy's 50th birthday.

 

Rory Appleton is a journalism major at Fresno State and a freelance gaming journalist. He can be reached at (559) 441-6015, rappleton@fresnobee.com or on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.

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