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Happy Birthday, Game Boy!

On April 21st, 1989, crowds gathered for a momentous, world-shaking event, whose repercussions would be felt over the next 25 years: That’s right, on this day, thousands gathered in the historical Tiananmen Square to support students protesting social injustice in China.

Oh, and Nintendo released the Game Boy, arguably the greatest handheld ever made.

While a case could be made for the Game Gear, the Game Boy was, for a time, the go-to thing to have in your little elementary-aged mitts on the bus or during road trips. For gamers of a certain age (oof, I feel old), there was nothing more satisfying than a two-hour stretch of endless Tetris in all of its green and grey glory on the Nintendo handheld.

We forget how revolutionary the Game Boy really was: sure, it wasn’t in color, but it was the next best thing to having a Nintendo on the go. With a seemingly endless collection of software, it paved the way for the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and the second revolution of handheld gaming with the DS and later, the 3DS.

Like its console big brother, the thing was seemingly indestructible, released in way more colors and weird bundle configurations than you could shake a stick at, and if you didn’t have one, you probably really, really wanted one.

A couple of our Nerdist writers had some thoughts on their time with the first Game Boy:

Dan Casey

I was born several months before the Game Boy made its debut, so most of my early Game Boy memories were pegged to the release of the Game Boy Pocket and the subsequent Pokémon craze. (Sidebar: I was the first kid in my middle school to capture all 151 original Pokemon. No one cared.) Still, I remember my first encounter with that handheld wonder, watching breathlessly as my cousins played sophisticated, addictive, eye-catching games like Tetris, Kirby’s Dream Land, and the uniquely Japanese nuttiness that is Harvest Moon. Playing through giant floppy disk classics (Root Beer Tapper, anyone?) on our old Apple IIE gave me a taste for gaming, but it was Game Boy that gave me the hunger. And I’ve been trying to sate my appetite ever since.

Malik Forte

My first Game Boy was actually a Game Boy Color, because coming from a low income upbringing, there was no way I’d be able to convince my mother to get me both a Game Boy and NES, so I ended up going with the latter. I was typically a well-behaved student during my run through middle school and high school– mainly due to the fact that I spent most of my time keeping to myself, being wrapped up in issues of GamePro and Nintendo Power, or just being flat out engrossed in playing my GBC.

My first trip to the principal’s office was warranted by my Social Studies teacher’s increased obsession with getting me to put my portable game device down, and focus in class. Yes, she was just doing her job, but surely she had to understand how important it was to me to conquer the Island Open and defeat Mario in a singles match on Castle Court in Mario Tennis, right? Well, she didn’t understand, and went and confiscated my Game Boy Color. My reaction was to flip her the bird, which in turn got me sent to the principal’s office and punished with a week of in-school suspension. Moral of the story: Game Boy ignited the flames of a true renegade inside of me. Thanks, Nintendo, “you da best!”

Armi Dimaranan
It wasn’t easy growing up with 5 older gaming siblings, so you can only imagine how much the Gameboy was a godsend to all of us when it came into the picture. Though my family and I begrudgingly had to share, fighting about the video games we all loved was possibly one of the most memorable times of my life.

While we had the most intense competitions over who can score the highest in Tetris, we were also there for one another when we needed help making our way through The Legend of Zelda: Links’ Awakening. And although newer consoles subsequently released, the Gameboy never failed to keep those long road trips entertaining, despite going through so many batteries and playing with the volume way too high when others were trying to sleep. Thanks, Nintendo for reinforcing family fights and fun times.

Charles Webb

Like Malik, my family wasn’t exactly able to get in on the handheld game in time with all of the other, more well-to-do families. The Game Boy was actually how I met my oldest friend, Chris, back in South Florida, another lonely fifth grader who wouldn’t put down his Game Boy to save his life.

It was one of these times that Chris was furiously concentrating on his Tetris game at lunch that I scooted my chair a little closer to his – I hadn’t actually seen the handheld up close and it seemed to have his full attention. I must have been really focused on his game, because after a few minutes, Chris noticed. Now, you have to understand how important that thing was to him and how, being the kinds of nerds we were, drawing attention from even other nerds was something to be suspicious about.

But he paused his game, looked up, and asked if I wanted to play. I think lunch went by extra fast that day, and that whole pass and play experience was responsible for one of the longest and most important friendships in my life.

What were some of your Game Boy memories?

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10 comments

  • My Game Boy was second to my heart, only behind my mother. It provided me the virtual space to survive a 1600-mile, three-day-each-way journey to the grandparent’s place in Michigan while wedged between my two older brothers in the back of an ’84 Datsun. Super Mario and the Seven Coins always beat out Tetris as my first choice in game selection, and I can still sing the theme music endlessly in my head at will. Good times!

  • Loved the Game Boy, still have one and a bunch of games, but while it was fun, most of the games weren’t that good overall. Game developers at the time still felt that making the games stupid hard was the best way for a gamer to get the most bang for their buck. (or should I say, our parents’ bucks!) It wasn’t just Game Boy games that were guilty of this (i.e. Castlevania III), but it was definitely the biggest offender!

  • My first was the GBC as well. Still have it, and the speakers haven’t worked in over a decade. I remember playing it Christmas morning after opening it up and playing Pokemon Blue and not quite figuring out how to save my progress for a few days, since the only other system I had was a Sega Genesis, and none of those games saved.

    I tried to go back a few months ago and play Pokemon Blue again, but I ended up getting frustrated because it came before the run feature, plus some more first gen flaws. But the memories still last.

  • My first experience with the Game Boy was when I was 7 or so. My dad and I were taking a road trip from Maryland to Florida and on the way there, on a complete whim, my dad stopped at a Walmart and bought me a Game Boy Pocket and Pokemon Red. The start of a new addiction.

  • 1989 christmas we were visiting my grandmother. All the kids got a gameboy. Everyone had a different game as well as the included tetris.Mine was supermarioland. Fuck that game was hard stupid alien and the sphinx bosses. Seeing how it kept me quiet for days (except when I got killed) that paved the way for a nintendo. Nintendo power magazine was responsible for me passing supermario 3 before all my friends who thought reading was stupid.

  • I had saved up 180 bucks to buy a 1963 Chevy Nova SS from my dad who wanted $250 for the car. I was like 14 and my parents let me drive their cars around our rural neighborhood at the time. I knew that I was gonna be 16 at some point and wanted a cool car to drive to school but some kid on the school bus kept letting me play his gameboy and i really liked it so I blew my money on a Gameboy. My dad sold the car a few years later and by that time I had traded my gameboy off to a buddy for something far less cool that a 1963 Nova!

  • I remember playing long hours of Tetris (actually still use my my 1989 version on my GBA) in Type B game, and I saw it. I saw a little green man next to a Rocketship blasting off. No one believed me.

    Oh yea I also remember that huge accessory that had a squared magnifying glass with speakers that folded like doors. That was fun

    Funny thing is that before this article was posted, I just made then 1989 GB Tetris Theme as my phone ringer.

  • My first Game Boy came down to me after my father, who played none other than Super Mario Land, and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Oracle Of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages. They were all my favorite games inthe past just as much as they were my father’s.