Our regular Aestheticons contributor, Dominic Baker, delves back into his childhood to reveal an iconic toy that redefined “play” for children and adults alike.
The instant smash hit that was the Game Boy by Nintendo was the hand-held console that went on sale in Japan in 1989, in Europe in 1990 and it ceased sales in 2008. It sold in excess of 118 million units worldwide. At the time it went up against the technically superior hand-helds, like the Lynx and Sega’s Game Gear but it blew the competition clean out of the water. It is only just been beaten by the PS2 to the title of “The Best Selling Portable Console of All Time”
It had a tiny 2.6inch LCD display and that had a poultry 160×144 pixels – which by today’s standards wouldn’t be good enough for a low end mobile phone !
It was unbelievably easy to use. The iconic 8 way ‘D’ pad and the mauve ‘A & B’ buttons, not forgetting the games cartridges that would slot in nicely after a quick blow across the top to remove any dust. The biggest selling game was, of course, the brick-tumbling “Tetris” that logged sales of a staggering 35 million units with its distinctive tune – that would stay in your head for days afterwards!
It was the first gender equal console; it being one of the primary reasons why it beat the challenge from consoles, such as the Xbox, was the game’s diversity – not being aimed at just the boys. Nintendo claimed that in the mid-1990’s over 46% of gamers were girls although actual figures were closer to 30%. The Game Boy was a rugged design, more so perhaps than its counterparts – you could even spill water onto the cartridges and they would be fine after drying off. Thousands of delighted children found this out after Mum had put their school clothes through the wash.
The Game Boy was also the first console to go into space – in 1993 Cosmonaut Aleksandr Serebrov took his Game Boy to the Mir Space station! The well-travelled Game Boy was then sold at auction at Bonham’s in New York for $1220.
It was compact and light; add to this a 30 hour battery life (on the equivalent of 4xAA batteries) and it could beat any of the battery-draining colour screen competitors!
Game Boy generated huge revenues for Nintendo from its accessories. These ranged from gamer-sharing devices, such as the Game Boy link, the Game Boy camera (the world’s smallest camera on a handheld at the time), the Game Boy print – a printer the allowed the user to print low res. photos. The Game Boy fishing/sonar (only available in Japan) was an attachment that enabled the user to locate fish using sonar up to 20m underwater which would then be displayed on the screen. The Game Boy light & magnify, Game Boy sewing and also the attachment for a pair of stereo speakers. Given so many attachments your Game Boy could end up looking like a creamy coloured “Transformer” – every 1990’s child’s dream!
Although now re-invented and modified with the Game Boy colour and Game Boy advance, we still all remember and love the original – truly a timeless classic.