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Pushing Buttons: readers’ memories of the game-changing Game Boy at 35
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Pushing Buttons: readers’ memories of the game-changing Game Boy at 35

Not to make anyone feel old, but the Game Boy turned 35 at the weekend.

That small grey box was millions of people’s first introduction to video games. It was shared among families, played with equal enthusiasm by girls, boys, men and women. When I asked people for their most cherished Game Boy memories last week, almost a hundred people got in touch to share their reminiscences of playing it on the commute to work, on long car journeys, on family holidays and under the covers after bedtime (with a torch for the screen, naturally). The Game Boy liberated games from the TV and brought them into those pockets of free time in everyday life. It felt more intimate, and despite its rubbish screen and rather rudimentary tech, it acted as a private portal to other worlds.

You can read my thoughts on the Game Boy and its impact in this anniversary feature, so for today’s newsletter, I’m handing it over to readers. Here are your memories of the Game Boy. Thank you so much to everyone else who sent something in.

Travel companion … the original Game Boy.View image in fullscreen

‘I took batteries out of my gran’s TV remote to play’
“I grew up with the OG Game Boy and remember vividly the day I got it: my mum took me to G-Force on Union Street in Glasgow on my eighth birthday and got me a Game Boy and Tetris. We were visiting family and I hadn’t brought batteries with me, so I took the ones out of my gran’s TV remote. At Christmas that year I got Link’s Awakening and it blew my mind having A Link to the Past (my favourite game of then and all time) on a handheld. My Game Boy came everywhere with me, from family holidays to Scarborough, playing by motorway lights in the car, to sitting with a towel over my head in Crete playing Super Mario Land 2. The system lives on for me and my Analogue Pocket is now my go-to travel device. – George

‘It makes me yearn to be nine years old again’
“I had a yellow Game Boy that was stolen from a summer holiday daycare group. The culprit was never found. But it did mean I was bought a grey one, bundled with Tetris. That little plastic box is intrinsically linked with my childhood. Many of those memories are musical, playing on repeat in my head: the chirps of Super Mario Land, which I first finished before I was 10 (a feat I don’t think I could replicate now); the map music of its sequel, 6 Golden Coins, and the heartbreak as it suddenly cut out after I went through another load of AA batteries; the sad ‘walking away’ music of Wave Race when you lost; the tiny chirrup when you hatched a Yoshi in Mario and Yoshi. I bought a magnifier with a torch so I could play it at night, huddled beneath the covers. I sat on a boat from Newcastle to Rotterdam, exchanging Pokémon with my brother with the link cable (he on Red, I on Blue). My Game Boy went everywhere with me. Even now, somewhere in my parents’ house, there’s a zipped-up Nintendo satchel full of games full of adventures waiting to be revisited. As dangerous as overdosing on nostalgia can be, looking back on it does make me yearn to be nine years old again, when my biggest trouble was a dust bunny in the cartridge slot.” – Jon

Pokémon on a vintage Game Boy Color console, introduced in 1998.View image in fullscreen

‘I spent 25 years proving my dad wrong’
I was eight when my dad said the Game Boy wasn’t for girls because it’s called a Game Boy and not a Game Girl, and I spent the next 25 years proving him wrong by becoming a game dev. – Anisa Sanusi, game developer and founder of Limit Break

‘The Game Boy kept me gaming when I felt I shouldn’t any more’
When the Pokémon craze was in full force just before Christmas 2000, I remember my mum asking me the strangest questions, and I kind of clocked on that I was probably getting a Game Boy for Christmas – but I played along. Now my mum is no longer here, I’m glad I didn’t say anything, because of the joy she got out of buying it for me. In the mid-00s, when I was a teen, I sold almost all my game consoles and games because I thought I should grow out of it. But I kept my Game Boy and games and looking back, that was because it was easy to be private with it – my secret hobby while, on the outside I was just the ‘regular’ music-loving, hanging-out-with-friends teen. The Game Boy kept me gaming when I felt I shouldn’t any more. Eventually, towards the end of completing a masters degree, I spent the last bit of student loan buying back everything I sold. God, I love the Game Boy! It still works and I still buy games for it! – Helen

‘The OG had the best bass’
I’ve got a red brick OG Game Boy. We got it for Pokémon, but I used to use it to do gigs with a nanoloop ROM. The back of the battery container fell off and I used to have to hold in the batteries while dancing around the stage. The OG had the best bass, too. – Tom Betts, artist, academic and coder

An incredible piece of kit … the Game Boy camera and printer.View image in fullscreen

‘The mini-games were filled with strange humour’
I don’t think the Game Boy Camera gets enough praise as an incredible piece of kit. It was the first digital camera many of us will have had, a portable purikura device, and a way to edit and add filters to snaps on the go way before smartphones. The mini-games were imaginative and filled with strange humour, and the printer accessory offered some cool connections with other GB titles. Nintendo often winds up making interesting game/peripheral/accessory combinations; some become hugely popular, others are evolutionary cul-de-sacs. But you could give anyone a Game Boy Camera today and they’d still have fun with it. – Rory

Keep safe
There’s a very high probability I was the first person to play a Game Boy on the bus in the UK. We got them very early as we were developing a game for Rare, and I got the bus to work in Manchester. I was shitting it in case someone robbed me. – Ste Pickford, game developer

And fail save
On a long holiday to France in the back of my dad’s car, I was playing Pokémon with my Game Boy plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter for power. After hours of not saving the game, he pulled over without warning and turned off the car’s engine, which killed power to my Game Boy. Safe to say I went ballistic. – Euan

‘I was obsessed with the world of Link’s Awakening’
My brother and I were raised by a single parent, and my mum would try to get things second-hand. A handheld console was the perfect way to placate us during long car journeys, so she went to a local supermarket in our small village to post an advert on the noticeboard, hoping to get two consoles for us. She did eventually find some second-hand Game Boys, as well as a big case of games and accessories. It came with the weird magnifier that made the screen bigger, and a worm light (the sun sets early in Scotland, so we’d often be driving while it was dark). My favourite game was Link’s Awakening. I was obsessed with the world of that island, and I wasn’t too surprised to learn that it was inspired by Twin Peaks, since that later became my favourite TV show. – Matt

Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy.View image in fullscreen

‘I thought if I could wipe out all the Metroids, it would wipe out my mum’s cancer’
My parents bought me and my brother a Game Boy each for Christmas in 1989, the year it first came out … My mum got sick with leukaemia in late 1991, and we spent a difficult and morbid Christmas together knowing it would be her last. She was in bed for most of it, and I retreated into playing Metroid II, thinking with my 12-year-old brain that if I could just wipe out all the Metroids on SR-388 that would somehow help the blood transfusions wipe out the cancerous cells in my mother’s blood. It didn’t work – I completed the game (with 100% items), but she died the following January.

I was pretty miserable for the following year, and my dad didn’t really know how to help. He would often just buy me things to try and cheer me up – often a new game when we went travelling. I remember finishing Kirby’s Dream Land in about an hour during a trip to Holland, and reading about Super Mario Land 2 in a gaming magazine, only to find it in the airport that same day and getting him to buy it for me. The one game I loved the most on that old console was Link’s Awakening. I remember buying a sheet of graph paper and making my own map of the overworld.

When my dad died and I had to go through all the old stuff in his home, deciding what to sell and what to keep, I found my old Game Boy (which still worked!) and its games (those mentioned above, plus Donkey Kong, Mega Man and Castlevania), along with the accessories and my carry-case. I ended up auctioning it off, along with loads of my dad’s stuff. I got more money for it than for any other single thing. – Mark Oosterveen, director of Grand Theft Hamlet

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What to play

The Game Boy library, via Nintendo Switch.View image in fullscreen

You can play many old Game Boy favourites today on your Switch, via the Nintendo Switch Online subscription – including Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons; Super Mario Land 2; Wario Land 3; BurgerTime (a lot of people have fond memories of that one); Metroid II; Pokémon Trading Card Game (I loved that as a child); and, of course, Tetris. Nostalgic screen filters bring that low-tech charm and, unlike in the late 1980s, you can rewind and retry tricky sections of games and save them any time. Don’t sleep on Gargoyle’s Quest, either – it’s one of the most innovative games the Game Boy ever had.

Available on: Nintendo Switch
Approximate playtime: as long as your nostalgia trip lasts

What to read

Billie Eilish is headed to the Fortnite festival.View image in fullscreen
  • Billie Eilish is to be Fortnite festival’s next featured artist, in a headline spot filled in previous years by the Weeknd and Lady Gaga.

  • Embracer Group, which has been gobbling up game studios for the past few years before shutting several of them down after a funding deal with Saudi Arabia fell through, is now splitting into three companies. This marks the end, for now, of a restructuring period that has left more than 1,400 people without jobs.

  • Speaking of Fortnite, Stephen Totilo of the newsletter Game File got hold of its former boss and co-creator Donald Mustard for a wide-ranging interview about the game’s origins and transformation into a pop-cultural touchstone. Mustard wrote the first design documentation of the battle royale mode that would make Fortnite famous in the back of an Uber on the way to a meeting.

  • I was moved by Alyssa Mercante’s review of Tales of Kenzara: Zau, a game inspired by Bantu mythology and by the death of creator (and actor) Abubakar Salim’s father. “There is something very special at play in Tales of Kenzera, something that … transcends video games and expands into a larger cultural commentary,” writes Mercante. “What he’s created is a beautiful tool for all of us to combat that dark corner in our mind, the prickling of tears in our eyes.”

What to click

  • The Game Boy at 35: a portal to other magical worlds

  • Success of Fallout proves video game adaptations have gone mainstream

  • ‘Games are more important to Apple than ever’: what’s next for Apple Arcade?

  • ‘I was trying to create the sound of a really warm hug’: the poignant story behind Monument Valley 2’s music

  • Reigns Beyond review – sci-fi silliness meets rock band road trip

Question Block

No Question Block as today’s is a bumper edition – but if you have a question I can answer in a future email, or anything else to say about the newsletter, just hit reply or send a note to [email protected].

Source: theguardian.com